Sharapova became the most marketable female athlete in the world not just because of her quality tennis but also her stunning figure and glamorous dresses and lifestyle.
Many cynical tennis players say Sharapova is just using tennis as a commercial platform.
In 2004 Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon for the first time as a 17-year-old, upsetting favourite Serena Williams. Sharapova played aggressive, agile and fearless tennis and the tennis world was delighted that a new star had arrived. The domination of the Williams sisters, since the start of the new millennium, was at last being partially halted.
Sharapova’s innocence was even more evident in her on-court interview with Sue Barker after winning Wimbledon. She had rushed to grab a mobile phone and was seen frantically trying to dial a number and talk to somebody. Barker asked her if she had got through to whom she was phoning. Sharapova showed all the frustration of a teenager and said. “I kept saying come on technology.” Sharapova was not brash but charming when she praised runner up Serena and said that she was glad that her opponent was not at her best today. She hoped that this could be the start of a new rivalry.
In 2006 she won her first US Open title beating Belgium’s Justine Henine-Hardenne in the final. Till then she was just a glamorous teenager, who had a blistering forehand, grunted a lot on the court and attracted a lot of fans because of her statuesque beauty. However some years later, there was a metamorphosis in Sharapova’s character.
She became the most marketable female athlete in the world not just because of her quality tennis but also her stunning figure and glamorous dresses and lifestyle. She became a commercial icon. Suddenly she was no more the bubbling teenager who played good tennis and lived life to the full. In the second decade of the 21st century her popularity in the dressing rooms around the world tumbled.
There was a universal air of frosty hauteur about her and most of the women tennis players did not care for her. Sharapova’s ice-cool charisma and loud screams made her eminently marketable, but she might not be so successful and certainly not popular among her fellow professionals. Her brand consciousness has made her a megastar but has alienated her from other players on the tour. Many were quite happy at her fifteen month suspension. Unlike Roger Federer, she is not very likeable. But Sharapova wants to be successful and not popular on tour.
Players started resenting the favours that her celebrity brings. Many cynical tennis players say that she is just using tennis as a commercial platform. Simona Halep (Romania) who lost the first round match at the 2017 US Open to her made a sarcastic remark before the match. “The tournament decided to give Sharapova a wildcard so they can do anything they want.” Caroline Wozniacki had said in March 2017 that it is strange she is being given wildcard entries. The former top ranked women’s player Angelique Kerber also supported this view. Even the men’s world no 1 Andy Murray was also critical and said. “I think you should really have to work your way back.” This sentiment was echoed by Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) also.
The resentment against Sharapova is that she gets favours because of her glamour. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) overlooked the fact that she was returning from a 15 month doping suspension (caught using Meldonium after it was banned as a performance enhancer) and helped her by giving a wildcard straight into the main draw. Normally a tennis player ranked at 145 would have to play the qualifying rounds.
However for the organisers and host broadcasters, commercial interests and glamour triumphs over rules. With Serena Williams not playing the host broadcasters, ESPN wanted a glamorous name to ensure high ratings and they are elated that she won her first round match. Ethics do not matter. The show was popular. There were 24,000 spectators at the Arthur Ashe stadium at New York and TV ratings were sky-high.
Sharapova has also not helped her cause. She also runs her own confectionery and lifestyle company called Sugarpova. In the 2015 US Open, she wanted to change her name to Maria Sugarpova because it would help her commercial interests. This was ultimate opportunism and further angered her fellow professionals.
Creditably she always dresses well and knows how to put on a show. In her first round victory over Halep, she wore a black, lacy, crystal-studded designer dress. On the dress were Swarovski crystals (estimated cost about $500). Her game maybe still rusty but her sparkling outfit shows she still has massive appeal and star quality.