Sharapova finds herself as the veteran

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Once a teen sensation, Maria Sharapova is finding herself as the elder stateswoman at Wimbledon this year.

At 24, the Russian and three-time grand slam champion is the oldest of the women's semifinalists at the All England Club, and by far the most experienced.

The other three remaining players - Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova and Sabine Lisicki - are all 21 and have no grand slam finals among them. Only Kvitova has reached a grand slam semifinal before, having made the last four at Wimbledon last year as well.

Being the veteran is a new situation for Sharapova, who was just 17 when she won her only Wimbledon title in 2004.

"I think a few years don't really make that much of a difference," the fifth-seeded Sharapova said. "I think maybe if I achieved big things when I was a little bit older, not 17, maybe I wouldn't be seen as more of a veteran. I'd still be considered young. But I don't regret for a second that I had a lot of success when I was young, because I feel like I got to learn so much more than players at my age."

Sharapova will play Lisicki today, the 62nd-ranked German who became only the second wildcard to reach the women's semis at Wimbledon after China's Zheng Jie in 2008. The fifth-ranked Azarenka of Belarus plays No. 8 Kvitova of the Czech Republic.

Sharapova followed up her Wimbledon title by winning the 2006 US Open and 2008 Australian Open, before shoulder surgery that year derailed the next 10 months and forced her to drastically change her serve. But after dominating Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-1, 6-1 on Tuesday, she finally looks close to being the same player who reached the No. 1 ranking in 2005.

Young challengers

Sharapova hasn't been this far at Wimbledon since 2006, with the Williams sisters having dominated the grasscourt grand slam since Sharapova's 2004 victory. She just has to get past those young challengers first. None of them are exactly new faces in women's tennis, the way Sharapova was when she had her breakthrough.

"In one sense, yeah, they're coming up, because they're reaching the bigger stages of the grand slams and they're trying to win their first one as well," Sharapova said. "But I also feel it's not the first time I'm seeing them in the draw or seeing them at the tournament, as well. It's not like they're 15 or 16 years old."

Still, regardless of who wins this year, it will be the youngest women's champion since Sharapova's victory.

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