The Tennis Space: People of Influence:
Number nine: Maria Sharapova.
Sphere of influence: Women’s tennis, fashion, lifestyle, chat-shows.
As Sharapova said this week on the Chelsea Lately talk show, she can sometimes be a bitch, and isn’t always the friendliest person to be around in the locker-room: “I’m not exactly giving the other girls fives in the showers. It’s not my thing. I get out of the locker-room as fast as I can. It’s not my hang-out.” Sharapova’s hang-out is at the top of the list of the highest-earning female athletes; the Siberian’s celebrity is such that she stayed there even when she was out with a shoulder problem.
Sharapova’s sponsors are just in interested in her social media numbers – she has more than 6.5 million fans on Facebook – as they are in her singles ranking (she is number two at the moment, and would have been at the top of the tree if she had won the Australian Open). Sharapova’s engagement to the basketball player Sasha Vujacic doesn’t seem to have harmed her commercial appeal. She is just as comfortable at a post-Oscars tennis party or television studio as she is in a tennis stadium; even with Victoria Azarenka as number one, and with the Williams sisters still on the scene, nothing sells like Maria.
What next: Trying to win her first slam for more than four years (her last was the 2008 Australian Open), and continuing to build Maria Inc. When she makes deals now, she wants some equity.