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Liguori: Maria Sharapova Is Mentally Tougher Than Any Woman In Tennis

By Ann Liguori
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Mentally, I don't think that there is any player in the women's game that is tougher than Maria Sharapova.

The 25-year-old showed yet again what she is made of, rallying back from a set down to beat a much-improved Marion Bartoli -- the 11th seed from France -- 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. With the victory, she's moving on to her first semifinal in Flushing Meadows since winning the US Open title in 2006.

Based on body language alone, nobody looked like they wanted to win more than Bartoli. She jumped up and down, moved nonstop in between points, pumped her fist and continually did things to keep herself psyched up. Remarkably, Sharapova was able to ignore all of Bartoli's distracting movements and came up with winners to counterpunch Bartoli's strong play.

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The 27-year-old Bartoli raced out to a four-love lead on Tuesday in their first set, and then the rain came and the match resumed on Wednesday afternoon. When Sharapova returned she was refreshed, refocused and was able to win the bigger points, smacking 44 winners to Bartoli's 18. The Russian also saved 12 of 16 break points in a match that was even more compelling to watch than the scores indicate.

Sharapova, who won the French Open title this year to complete a career Grand Slam, digs deep and comes up with the goods, time after time, to get the job done. Just the fact that she came back from shoulder surgery and won a fourth major displays her mental toughness and tenacity.

12 of Maria's matches this season have gone into a third set, and she has remarkably won all 12 of them.

"It's a great statistic," Sharapova said. "It shows that I enjoy the battle, no matter what the score is.  The third set is the last set out there, and there's no reason why you shouldn't put everything out there.  That's kind of how I treat those situations."

She is amazing to watch when she's down in a match. She always maintains her cool, never gives up, never gives in and somehow manages to compose herself -- physically and mentally -- through all kinds of challenges  that opponents throw her way. With Bartoli so hyped up, Sharapova looked like she did everything she could to slow the match down. In between points she often turns her back to her opponent, regroups, and then proceeds. One can only imagine what she's telling herself during these moments.

Last week, Sharapova was asked about her personal life, and she said that her engagement to former NBA player Sasha Vujacic was off.

Sharapova rarely discusses her personal life, so it would be difficult to know if she is struggling in that department, aside from the fact that she does look a tad thinner.

MORE: Full coverage from Flushing Meadows

She is extremely professional on and off the court, and a dynamo in the business world. She has been named the wealthiest female athlete for the past eight years by Forbes Magazine.

The mental game is so much a part of being a champion. If it was the only part, Sharapova would beat up on everybody.

How do you like Maria's chances against Victoria Azarenka in the semis? Let us know in the comments section below...

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