Sugarpova, a tacky gimmick that quickly turned sour

Ms Sugarpova regrets that she cannot come out to play on Saturday.

She would, nevertheless, kinda like to use the stage to sell her candies to the kiddies, her Nike range to the players, her exclusive scent and fashion line and soap opera story to anyone out there who tunes in for this year's final Grand Slam, the US Open at Flushing Meadows, New York.

Even as a mere male, I admit that line has a certain bitchiness.

Sugarpova, however, was invented by other script writers.

It is the name of a range of sweets that Maria Sharapova is pushing at children. Having launched the product to coincide with last year's tournament, the tennis star and her publicity team had a brainwave to boost sales this week.

They applied to the Supreme Court of Florida to rename her in time for the tournament.

Had it gone through, the scheme was for the No.3 seed to be billed as Maria Sugarpova.

Red tape spoiled the plot. While her agent was in full denial of the story, Sharapova said on camera that she wanted to do it, but the logistics just couldn't be overcome in time for the US Open starts on Monday.

As fate has it, Maria, 26, won't be competing there anyway.

On Tuesday, she spoke of the name change at a promotional event in New York with the candy company. On Wednesday, she practised under the supervision of her dad, Yuri Sharapov, at the Louis Armstrong Stadium, but later that evening announced her withdrawal.

She has apparently been battling shoulder pain ever since losing in the second round of Wimbledon to the 131st-ranked qualifier, Michelle Larcher de Brito.

"Withdrawing from the US Open has been a really tough decision to make," Sharapova announced on her Facebook page. "I have done everything I could since Wimbledon to get myself ready, but it just wasn't enough time. I have done many tests, received several opinions, and it all comes down to taking the proper amount of time to heal my shoulder injury properly."

These have been turbulent times for Maria.

She departed Wimbledon making unwarranted gossip in a Californian magazine, Rolling Stone, concerning the relationship between Serena Williams and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

A tangled affair, this, given that Sharapova is dating a Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov who was also once coached by Mouratoglou.

In the meantime, Sharapova had withdrawn from a couple of tournaments citing a hip injury she first felt at Wimbledon in June, and at a subsequent first- round loss at an event in Ohio.

The latter turned out to be the one and only event for which Sharapova was coached by Jimmy Connors. She had dismissed her regular trainer Thomas Hogstedt and turned to her "good friend" Jimbo. But that didn't work, so she went back to daddy.

This is a familiar story in women's tennis. Sharapova senior borrowed the money to take his champ from Russia to the US when she was a big-hitting, determined child. He enrolled her at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Florida at age 9.

Wimbledon was the making of the blonde bombshell. It was her first Grand Slam triumph and she was just Sweet 17.

Too much too soon?

A torn rotator cuff muscle in the right shoulder in 2008 may well have been the repetitive strain of hitting the ball with the shrieking intensity that Sharapova and others have done from such a tender age.

Life has its compensations. There may be better tennis players out there - Serena Williams for one - but none with Maria's promotional appeal.

Forbes reckons that this Russian has been the world's No.1 money-spinning female athlete for nine successive years. On court, her career prize money stacks up to US$26,695,815 or almost S$34 million.

Multiply that five-fold and you get somewhere near the pitch of her modelling contracts, her wrist watch, head wear, fashion, cover story, appearance income. The Maria-Nike contract extended in 2010 could amount to US$70 million over eight years.

So the pain game, and the willingness to put her body on the line literally and figuratively, have their compensations.

For a girl whose family evacuated their home near Chernobyl (and who are involved in the campaign to help redevelop that blighted region), the gossip and the saleswoman gimmicks seem unnecessarily tacky.

The sweets might be particularly inappropriate.

Her candy brand, pushed by an American retailer, bills it like this: "Sugarpova is a premium candy line that reflects the fun, fashionable, sweet side of international tennis sensation Maria Sharapova.

"The line currently consists of 15 different flavours that range from Flirty to Smitten Sour to Splashy."

Each pack comes with the Sharapova imprint of pouting lips in red, blue and other colours.

And each sweet shoved down the throat of kids is pledged to give a portion of the proceeds to the Maria Sharapova Foundation.

Whoever refused to fast-track the name change application through the Supreme Court of Florida this week probably did everyone a favour.

Whatever next? The defending US men's champion Andy Murray rebranded as Mr Murray Mint?

stsports@sph.com.sg


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