With her first round loss to Maria Kirilenko at the Australian Open, Maria Sharapova’s comeback is still slowly getting back on track in 2010. Though in her press conference Sharapova confidently said “I’ll be back on a second Saturday. You’ll see.”, her “second career” is not just about hitting tennis balls.
With her reported new deal with Nike worth $70 million dollars over eight years, Sharapova is still the highest paid female athlete. With her new fashion line, Sharapova emerges as a “brand” that will remain in the sports apparel and maybe even the fashion world long after she retires from the game.
The issue remains whether Sharapova, who is playing this week in Memphis, can sustain her tennis career long enough to challenge the records set by Justine Henin and Serena Williams. Or will the demands of being a brand prove too distracting for Sharapova?
Another top player attempting to turn herself into a brand is Ana Ivanovic. Despite her French Open title and brief stint at No. 1, Ivanovic’s recent on-court struggles, including pulling out of this week’s event in Dubai, raises questions on how long she will remain in the game. Despite this, adidas recently signed the Serb to a lifetime deal that will extend beyond her playing career and, hopefully, extend her “Club Ana” brand as well.
Most of the top players have clothing deals and other endorsements. Venus and Serena Williams even design their own clothing lines and have other ventures, including being minority owners of the Miami Dolphins. But Sharapova and Ivanovic are at a point in their careers where they are becoming more known for their endorsements than their tennis. Does their tennis suffer because of the time commitments they must make to sustain their brands? Maybe. Just today Sharapova said she could not commit to Fed Cup because of her schedule, according to Matt Cronin. Read into that what you will.
Both Ivanovic and Sharapova are still in their early twenties, so their chances at Grand Slam success is still high. But if Ivanovic doesn’t win another Slam, it won’t be as damaging to her status as it would Sharapova, who despite winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, would still be looked upon as an underachiever considering she is the better player.
I don’t see Ivanovic, despite being a darling of Sports Illustrated, becoming a huge brand unless she turns her game around and wins more titles. Sharapova’s brand is assured so long as she can return to her winning form and get more press about her play than what she is wearing. Remember, in fashion, your dress shouldn’t take the spotlight away from you.