Maria Sharapova at the launch of her brand, Sugarpova, in Melbourne on January 11, 2013. (Getty Images)
New York, Aug. 20: Ask not what’s in a name. Ask what’s in a surname and Maria Sharapova will tell you, ‘Well, it could be sweeter, for one.’
So she intends to change it — to Sugarpova, after her line of candies. But only for the two-week duration of the US Open starting August 26.
Already the richest female athlete in the world, Sharapova’s move is being described as the most audacious of her career — not her tennis career, of course.
The 26-year-old Russian, a former world No. 1, has asked about a “quickie” name-change through the Supreme Court of Florida, where she has a base, and would revert to Sharapova after the tournament.
Even the striking emblem of Sugarpova candy, a pair of red lips, could feature somewhere on her attire during the final Grand Slam of the year.
It is an extraordinary ruse by Sharapova and IMG, her management company, and there are no legal barriers to stop her. Sources close to the star say that she is willing to see whether the change can be made in time.
Sugarpova, the company, is owned by the athlete, who founded it with an estimated $500,000 of her own money. The sweets come in 15 varieties that have labels like “flirty”, “sassy” and “smitten”. It has been called “the Spice Girls of the candy world” and it is estimated that 1.8 million bags of the confection, which cost $5 a packet, were sold worldwide last year, with special emphasis on Russia, the US and Europe.
Should she be able to go through the necessary paperwork, she may still need the permission of the Grand Slam committee. If it agrees, she could be introduced, addressed and have scores called out in favour of Miss Sugarpova for as long as the No. 3 seed remains in the event.
That could well depend on someone called Serena Williams who’s won 16 Grand Slam titles to Sharapova’s four but still doesn’t make as much money off court as the tall and blonde Russian beauty.
Sharapova, who won her breakthrough Grand Slam at Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004, has for the ninth year in succession been named as the world’s highest-paid female athlete. On top of her $6 million in earnings, her first victory at the French Open last year brought bonuses in her endorsement deals that topped out at $23 million.
That put her almost $8 million ahead of the world No. 1 Serena.
There is a celebration tonight on Fifth Avenue, New York, of the first anniversary of the Sugarpova brand. She will unveil an accessory collection. There was no comment from IMG, but it is likely that an announcement confirming Sharapova’s move could be made at the event.
Sharapova’s candy collection is her first independent venture. “Everyone loves a treat and everyone loves candy. When I was young and I would finish a practice, what would I ask for? I would ask for little lollipops,” she had said once.
But the real impetus probably came from somewhere else. A chronic shoulder injury that acted up in 2007, needing surgery the following year, forced Sharapova to confront the reality that her tennis career would one day be over.
Around the time, she had also read about the financial difficulties some professional athletes had found themselves in.
She called Max Eisenbud, who has managed her career since she signed with IMG at the age of 11, and asked him to contact all her sponsors. These contracts limited each company’s access to her to 10-12 days a year.
“I don’t care what’s in the contracts,” she told him. “Tell them I’ll do whatever they want.”
This time with the name change, however, she’s not thinking of her sponsors’ products but of her own. And she’s ready to do whatever it takes. Even change her name.
Despite that if the scoreline at the US Open reads 6-2, 6-3 in favour of Ms Williams, so be it. If the matches don’t go Ms Sugarpova’s way, the money will. A loud grunt to that.
Written with The Times, London, and New York Times reports