The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trophy girl launches million-dollar career
- With looks matching talent, Sharapova is the marketer’s dream come true

London, July 4: Steel czar Lakshmi Mittal’s investment in Kylie Minogue, who sang at his daughter’s wedding in France last month, appears justified.

The five-foot tall Australia-born singer has “the best legs in the world”, according to an opinion poll conducted by razor firm Gillette.

Kylie is followed by Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Ellison (the British actor-singer), Nicole Kidman, Anna Kournikova, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham.

But the woman who would probably pip Kylie to this honour if a new poll was conducted today is Maria Sharapova, the 6-ft tall 17-year-old Russian who has become the darling of the western world following her triumph over Serena Williams at Wimbledon yesterday.

Best legs:(From top) Kylie Minogue, Cameron Diaz, Anna Kournikova, Naomi Campbell

The Siberian has the looks and talent necessary to make her the world’s most bankable star, capable of earning tens of millions of pounds in sponsorship deals. After tolerating the sturdy Williams sisters for years, picture editors, who believe readers prefer blondes, are sighing with relief.

According to one paper, The Mail on Sunday, Sharapova stands to make £30 million from her success.

Nigel Currie, co-chairman of the European Sponsorship Association, told the paper: “Sharapova has massive commercial potential. She has the looks, age, personality, talent and that same essential ‘wow’ factor that (David) Beckham brings to men’s sport. But I think Sharapova can go much bigger than him.”

Steve Martin, sports marketing expert for M&C Saatchi, the celebrity management and advertising agency, told the Sunday Mirror: “It is not at all unrealistic to expect this girl to earn £100 million plus. She could become a global icon. Everyone will want to know what she likes and how she lives. She could become one of the few sports people to transcend their sport — David Beckham is the most famous example of that.”

Among men, Beckham has the best legs, the Gillette survey found, but after Euro 2004 the England football captain’s star has waned.

Sharapova’s is a classic rags-to-riches story of the kind more associated with some Asian millionaires in Britain. Just before she was born, her parents moved away from Gomel in Belarus to escape the radiation caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In Siberia, her father worked in the oilfields.

She began playing tennis at the age of four with a sawn-off racquet, hitting balls against the side of her house. At six, she was spotted by Martina Navratilova, who is still playing at Wimbledon.

Determined her talent should be given the chance to flourish, Sharapova’s father, Yuri, took her to the United States when she was aged just seven. Although he spoke no English and had only a few hundred dollars, he managed to get her a place at the prestigious Nick Bollettieri academy where the tennis star was nurtured.

Throughout the tournament, Sharapova has attracted plenty of attention from tabloid newspapers whose photographers had focussed their lenses on her long blonde hair, even longer legs — described as never-ending — and other parts of her anatomy.

Tennis experts believe she has the strength of character not to be swept away by early success. These are, however, early days.

Asked the inevitable question yesterday — did she have a boyfriend' — she said: “I do not talk about my personal life and I am not going to say if I have a boyfriend or if I don’t have a boyfriend.”

Apart from thanking her parents, she disclosed that “there is also one person I would like to thank, but I’m not going to give you the name of that person for inspiring me to win this tournament, thank you!”

She has already collected prize money of £560,500 on becoming the Wimbledon ladies’ champion but this will be petty change compared with the deals in the pipeline.

Sharapova’s comment on becoming Wimbledon champion was: “I have already told a few people, ‘If I change then hit me over the head!’.”

Seeing the rate at which she’s turning heads, there may not be any left to do that if her head one day turns.

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