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Russian tennis ace Maria Sharapova, who was raised in Sochi, will carry the Olympic flag for her country at the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27.

Sochi is the host of the Winter Olympic and Paralympics in 2014, making Sharapova a particularly fitting choice.

The 25-year-old (pictured top), the world's highest paid female athlete, won her fourth Grand Slam title at the French Open last month.

She will hope for better fortune on the grass at Wimbledon during the Olympics, though, after surprisingly losing in the fourth round of the Grand Slam event there last week.

"Sharapova will carry our flag," said Alexander Zhukov, President of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).

"She was the most worthy candidate among all our athletes.

The honour of carrying the flag was previously given to famous male athletes, such as the renowned Greco-Roman wrestling champion Alexander Karelin and basketball player Andrei Kirilenko, who carried it in Beijing four years ago.

Sharapova will be the first woman to have carried the flag at the Opening Ceremony for Russia.

London 2012 will be Sharapova's first Olympic Games after missing out on Beijing four years ago through injury, and she was thrilled to be given the honour.

"I am so honoured, and especially excited as it will be my first Olympics in my career," she said on her website.

"I have had to keep this hush hush for two weeks and keeping secrets is not my best quality!"

Zhukov is hopeful that Sharapova can help Russia to win one of at least 25 gold medals they are aiming to win this summer.

"Judging from the results of recent world championships we should win the region of 25 gold medals," he said.

Russia is targeting third place if they can reach their target and are sending 436 athletes to London.

They may have a fight on their hands from the hosts for that particular target, though, after Britain came fourth in Beijing.

-David Gold

Source: www.insidethegames.biz