Maria Sharapova stood in the spotlight and surveyed the frenzied crowd around her yesterday, as she has done many times during her career.
Except yesterday, it was not the lush turf of Wimbledon or the red clay of Roland Garros under her feet. Instead, it was the concrete pavements outside Robinsons The Heeren, where the world No. 2, rocking a black jumpsuit with snakeskin prints, was making an appearance - not to deliver a tennis masterclass, but to promote her candy line, Sugarpova, which was originally launched in 2012.
Indeed, for someone who has topped Forbes' list of highest-paid female athletes for the past 10 years, Sharapova, 27, is the quintessential modern athlete - she is first a tennis player, but off the court she is also a commercial machine skilled at marketing herself globally on the basis of her sporting prowess.
The hot and humid Singapore weather yesterday did not stop Sharapova from turning on her charm and getting into the business side of things, as she autographed 201 Sugarpova packets in 30 minutes, gamely posing for photos with fans, some of whom started queuing for more than an hour before the event. It was par for the course for the five-time grand slam winner.
After all, of the US$24.4 million (S$31 million) she pocketed in the past 12 months, more than 90 per cent has come from her commercial deals with top brands like TAG Heuer, Porsche, Nike and Samsung. Still, she said: "I never thought that after only two years of being into the (candy) business I'll have this amount of support. To see all my fans come out and support the brand... it's really meaningful."
She has high hopes for Sugarpova, and intends for it to be more than a candy brand in the future. "I really want to establish myself in the candy world. It's a very competitive market, but I do want to turn Sugarpova into a lifestyle luxury brand, especially when I stop (playing professional tennis), maybe in the future," said Sharapova, who will be gracing a Porsche event today.
With her stunning looks and fame off the court, comparisons with fellow Russian and ex-pro Anna Kournikova are inevitable. But, unlike Kournikova who never won a grand slam title, Sharapova has been able to stay at the top of her game since bursting on to the scene as the 17-year-old who beat Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final.
After battling a chronic shoulder injury last year, which limited her to just one match from June to December, she found form again this year, winning her most recent grand slam singles title, the French Open, in June. She also won the China Open last Sunday, and finished the season as world No. 2, earning a berth in the BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore.
The first Russian woman to top the world rankings, Sharapova said: "Both careers (sporting and commercial) are very competitive. I respect each one. You have to give maximum effort for each thing. (The WTA Finals) is the last tournament of the year with very high competition, and it's one that I always look forward to. I'm looking forward to every challenge that comes my way."
This article was first published on Oct 16, 2014.
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