Sharapova smoothly moves into third round

WIMBLEDON, England -- Less than three months after her 17th birthday, Maria Sharapova shrieked through the Wimbledon field -- quite literally -- beating former champions Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals and Serena Williams in the final.

That was three years ago, an eternity for Sharapova.

"I mean, I get goose bumps every time I drive through the Village, I see my name on the board by the trophies," Sharapova said. "It's an incredible feeling. I don't know, it's a bit surreal because I feel like it happened so long ago.

"When I do see my name, it's a bit of a reality check because I'm like, 'Yes, that did really happen.' Every year I get my [All England Club] member's badge. I'm like, 'Ha, ha.' It's really special because you don't think about it on a daily basis: 'Wow, I'm a Wimbledon champion.'"

She is 20 now, and an established star, and not just in tennis. Last fall, she left behind the tenuous title of one-hit wonder -- goodbye, Iva Majoli, Jana Novotna and Gabriela Sabatini -- when she won the U.S. Open. Now, the question begs itself, can she win a third Grand Slam title here at Wimbledon?

Although there are only two obvious contenders on the men's side (No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal), the women's field features a six-horse race: Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo, Serena and Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic -- and Sharapova.

The No. 2 seed handled Severine Bremond of France 6-0, 6-3 on Thursday. The victory was more of an accomplishment than it might appear. Bremond, who had never been beyond the second round of a Grand Slam event, reached the quarterfinals here last year.

"She has good slice, serves and volleys," Sharapova said. "In the past, when I used to play those kinds of opponents, I wasn't patient enough. I used to go for too much off slices, try to win the point as quickly as I could. When you guys ask me what I've been improving, that's definitely one of the things."

Sharapova is blissfully comfortable here on the green lawns of the All England Club. Her heavy serve and flat groundstrokes play well on the fast courts. The record here is a sizzling 22-3; after reaching the fourth round in her 2003 debut, she hasn't failed to reach the semifinals in the past three tournaments.

That won't be easy this year because she's on course to meet Venus Williams in the fourth round, Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, Mauresmo in the semifinals, then Henin, Serena Williams or Jankovic in the final.

Winning would salvage what has been a curiously unsatisfying season in which she has failed to win a tournament. Sharapova won her first six matches in the Australian Open, but the only one people remember was the seventh -- when she was embarrassed by Serena Williams, 6-1, 6-2, in the final. It happened again in the round of 16 at Miami, when Williams won 6-1, 6-1.

At the French Open, playing on the surface least friendly to her game, Sharapova surprisingly reached the semifinals before losing to Ana Ivanovic. In the grass warm-up at Birmingham, she won four matches before Jankovic took her out in a spirited three-set final.

Although most eyes will be on Sharapova's "Swan Lake"-inspired dress, the real focus should be on her right shoulder. After injuring it in Miami back in March, she played only three tournaments before Wimbledon. Her serve is affected most and, although it gradually has grown stronger, it still isn't full speed.

Against Bremond, Sharapova had only one ace and her average first serve traveled 98 miles per hour; by contrast, Venus Williams' averaged 110 miles per hour. But placement always has been more important than pure speed for Sharapova. She did not lose a single service game.

"I've played a lot of matches in the last few months," she said. "Despite the injury, I still feel like today was a big improvement from my first round. It's only going to get tougher from here."

Could this be her year -- again?

"Sure," she said, "why not? I try to sense that every year. Then, sometimes, you're proved wrong."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.