Maria Sharapova almost lost her name this week but she might also be losing the plot.
When the story broke on Monday that she was applying to a court in Florida to have her name changed to Sugarpova (candy she has made famous beyond its culinary merit) for the duration of the upcoming US Open, it looked as if the world No3 had gone one commercial stunt too far.
The prospect of her being announced on court over the next fortnight as Miss Sugarpova was too absurd for even her inventive management team to contemplate and her agent, Max Eisenbud, told ESPN on Tuesday: "We ultimately decided against it. Maria has pushed her team to do fun, out-of-the-box-type things to get the word out about Sugarpova.
"In Miami, we're going to fill a glass truck full of candy and drive it around town. This was an idea that fell along those lines but, at the end of the day, we would have to change all her identification She has to travel to Japan and China right after the tournament and it was going to be very difficult."
The product contributed $1.9m to her estimated $29m earnings over the past 12 months, making her the richest athlete in women's sport, according to Forbes magazine. But Sharapova is not bringing a lot of performance to support her wealth and her celebrity – nor a coach to the US Open, which starts on Monday.
After losing to Sloane Stephens in Cincinnati last week, she had her father, Yuri, ring Jimmy Connors and sack him after only one match together. She hired the eight-time slam champion after parting with Thomas Hogstedt when she went out in the second round at Wimbledon.
Sharapova nevertheless arrived in New York in buoyant mood. A willing and effective representative of all her sponsors, from the water she drinks to the shoes she wears, she has found gaps in her training schedule over the past couple of days to tweet enthusiastically on their behalf.
Still, she is not above sending herself up and blushed when she saw herself on the cover of Shape magazine when buying butter in New York this week.
Within the covers of the current issue of that magazine there is not a lot of discussion about her faltering serve and quite a lot of emphasis on her looks. She also reminded her 510,658 Twitter followers that she was scheduled to be at Henri Brendel in Manhattan on Tuesday night, plugging handbags – and those sweets of hers.
Sharapova makes no apology for maximising her earnings away from tennis but since winning the fourth of her slam titles, at Roland Garros last year, an expected revival has not properly materialised. While she won titles in Indian Wells and Stuttgart this year, a hip injury forced her to withdraw from tournaments in Stanford and Toronto, and her serving shoulder is a perennial problem.
In an era of monochrome baseline-bashers, Sharapova is the biggest earner in her sport, even though her game is rooted to the discipline of two-fisted, risk-free effort from the back of the court.
And her commercial appeal elevates her above the herd to the point where comparisons with Serena Williams, her arch rival on and off the court, have become embarrassing. A website that charts these issues, celebritydbi.com, said, "Ninety per cent of Americans like Sharapova versus 85% that like Serena Williams." Which might explain why the organisers of the Cincinnati Open dressed up the entrance of their tournament with a large poster of Sharapova, headlined: "The best players in the world are here."
Williams's presence was considerably less significant.
Sharapova by some way out-earns Williams, even though she has not beaten the world No1 since winning the first of her slam titles, as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon nine years and 14 contests ago. Their exchange of score-settling insults at Wimbledon, in which Sharapova chided Williams for her relationship with her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, followed the American's domination of her in the final of the French Open a month before.
The fact that Williams was once linked with the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, a one-time Mouratoglou prospect and currently Sharapova's boyfriend, added piquancy to the spat.
The prospects of a rematch at Flushing Meadows are slim.
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