Photo: Paul ZimmerMaria Sharapova (RUS)
In mid-April 2002 the ITF Pro Circuit arrived in Gunma, Japan of the first time, this tournament also marked a landmark moment in the career of one of tennis’ best known stars, Maria Sharapova.
Now, ten years on and on the day of the Russian’s 25th birthday, we take a look back at this tournament in which she won her first pro tennis title.
There are not too many people in the world now who have not heard of Maria Sharapova but back then, as a 14-year-old going on fifteen, she was making only her third appearance in a professional tennis tournament.
Sharapova came into this tournament, her second ITF Pro Circuit tournament of the year, with a WTA singles ranking of 535 and was in her fifth week of holding a world ranking having debuted five weeks earlier on the WTA rankings on 18 March 2002 at 532.
With just one victory and two losses on the ITF Pro Circuit to her name prior to this tournament, Sharapova wasted little time in levelling this count to 2-2 as she raced to a 61 61 win to record her first professional straight sets victory. The first set was also the first time she had won a set in professional tennis without requiring the winning of seven games to do so.
Her second round match saw her concede just one game more in another comfortable win. The straight sets wins did not end there. In her first professional quarterfinal appearance she saw off the number three seed 62 75 and followed that by stunning the second seed 61 61 in the semifinals!
A first professional singles title was now within reach and facing her across the net was Aiko Nakamura, a qualifier who had eliminated the number one seed, Su Wei Hsieh, by coming from a set down to win in three sets, in her semifinal.
Having turned 15 during the course of this tournament she gave herself the perfect gift when, with a 64 61 triumph, she claimed her first professional tennis title. Sharapova would prove this was no fluke as she would go on to appear in a further four ITF Pro Circuit singles finals, winning two, before the end of the year.
Sharapova’s last appearance on the ITF Pro Circuit came in May 2003 at the Sea Island, GA, USA tournament. In the semifinals she, and the attending fans, were denied a match up against another popular Russian in Anna Kournikova who was forced to withdraw from the tournament handing Sharapova passage into the final. In what has been, to date, her last match on the ITF Pro Circuit, Sharapova signed-off in style with another title win.
A mere fourteen months after her maiden title win in Gunma, Japan, the talented Russian would be breaking into the WTA Top 100 for the first time and by the end of the first week of July 2004 would have a first Grand Slam title to her name with success at Wimbledon. A little over a year later she would ascend to the number one position in the WTA rankings.
$10,000 Gunma, Japan
15-21 April 2002
1st round d. Tomoko Taira 61 61
2nd round d. Nana Wada 61 62
Quarterfinal d. Yumiko Kitamura 62 75
Semifinal d. Satomi Kinjo 61 61
Final d. Aiko Nakamura 64 61
Sharapova's ITF Pro Circuit titles
15 April 2002 $10,000 Gunma, JPN
29 July 2002 $25,000 Vancouver, CAN
09 September 2002 $25,000 Peachtree City, GA, USA
05 May 2003 $25,000 Sea Island, GA, USA