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Sharapova peels away banana question

| Monday, Sept. 11, 2006

NEW YORK - Surrounded by a dozen people, including three police officers, Maria Sharapova strode the grounds of the U.S. Open on Sunday, doing a champion's duties.

She posed for photographs with her second Grand Slam trophy, met with members of the media to rehash her 6-4, 6-4 victory over Justine Henin-Hardenne in Saturday night's final, and stood in the players' lounge to autograph tennis balls, ticket stubs and other items.

And, much to her chagrin, Sharapova was asked to address again the apparent signals she received from her father and her hitting partner during matches at the Open, including holding up four fingers or waving a banana.

In-match coaching isn't allowed in tennis, but she and her agent offered this explanation: Sharapova focuses so much on the task at hand when she plays that she sometimes forgets to drink as much as she should to stay hydrated — and the hand signals were simply meant as a reminder.

When asked about it after the final, Sharapova deflected the question, saying it wasn't what she wanted to be talking about on a night she earned a major championship.

"I believe, at the end of the day, personally, my life is not about a banana," Sharapova said Saturday night. "It's not about what I wear. It's not about the friends that I have. My career right now is about winning a tennis match. And right now, I'm sitting here as a U.S. Open champion, and the last thing I think people need to worry about is a banana."

Since winning Wimbledon at age 17 in 2004, Sharapova had gone 0-5 in major semifinals, until this tournament.

"Wimbledon was a shock win for me. I never expected to win a Grand Slam at such a young age. And going onto the court for this one, I felt like I've done it before, and I felt the experience of it," Sharapova said Sunday. "Obviously, they're totally different Grand Slams, but I'm so totally thrilled and honored that I could win both of them."

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