Madison Ave Maria

Well that was quite a 48 hours.

That is in reference to Maria Sharapova and her very well publicized and now very brief visit to New York that saw her make headlines around the world not once, but twice, for very different news. But after the media whirlwind dies down, we’re still not sure what is next for the former US Open champion who finds herself watching this year’s event from the sidelines.

Sharapova first made news when it was announced in, of all places, the venerated Times UK, that she was planning to upgrade her last name to “Sugarpova” in an attempt to further promote her successful candy line. When her agent later shot down the story, despite emphasizing that the Russian superstar seriously thought about going through with the name change, the reaction was mixed. Journalists chided Sharapova for her obvious publicity stunt while those who actually work in publicity lauded it as a brilliant move to coincide with the launch of the Sugarpova accessories line in New York this week.

But that was just the first bombshell. Sharapova then promptly withdrew not even 24 hours before the draw ceremony from the US Open citing bursitis in her shoulder. On her Facebook page, Sharapova revealed that she had been dealing with shoulder pain since Wimbledon and, despite every effort, it simply wasn’t enough to get better in time for next week. The prognosis is not a good one either as Sharapova may miss the upcoming Asian swing. And with bursitis often being an ongoing condition that can defy treatment, there’s no guarantee Sharapova will make a full recovery.

While all this was going on, there was the subplot of Sharapova’s coaching situation. Her recent appointment of eight time Grand Slam winner Jimmy Connors left many scratching their heads as to how, at least in his playing days, hot tempered Connors would mesh with the cool and sophisticated Sharapova. It didn’t, to be blunt, as after Sharapova lost an opening round match in Cincinnati, Connors found himself dismissed. An exit that Connors hinted at before it was made official with his now famous “vodka on the rocks” tweet on his personal Twitter account.

That left the door open for none other that Yuri Sharapov, Sharapova’s father and one-time coach who looked prepared to guide his daughter before she pulled the plug on New York. Who will be Sharapova’s coach now is anybody’s guess, but it is certainly an intriguing enough cliffhanger in what is now becoming something of a mini soap opera.

Over the last decade, the US Open, among all the four tournaments that make up the Grand Slam, seems to celebrate marketing just as much as it does tennis. For some, that is the perfect combination. For others, it is an unholy alliance. Sharapova, who continues to be the highest paid female athlete on the planet according to Forbes magazine after taking in nearly four times more money in endorsements than she did in prize money in 2012, has often been the go to star for coverage, especially among American television networks during the two week event. Now that she’s gone, it’s not only TV who will miss her but advertisers who bought time during the two weeks in hopes of drafting on Sharapova’s mass appeal.

There are those who feel Sharapova, with all her numerous endorsement deals and business obligations, is only using tennis as a platform to further her future ambitions. And after the whole “Sugarpova” stunt, they may have a point. But Sharapova continues to stress she relishes the competition on court and the opportunity to win more Grand Slam titles. But with her new health concern, that goal is starting to look a little less sure. Many like to view Sharapova, at age 26, as still being a young player. But her over decade of competing has put a lot of wear and tear on her body. Is she really ready to perhaps take another long break, as she did in 2008, to get back to 100% shape. Or is the possibility of life after tennis starting to become a distinct possibility?

There are some who will continue to listen to Schubert’s popular hymn on auto-repeat during Sharapova’s absence at the US Open. Some others will probably be glad to have a break after feeling overloaded from Sharapova news. What news Sharapova makes next is anybody’s guess. But after a few days of unexpected plot twists from someone who prides herself on keeping a veneer of ice cool perfection about her, Sharapova’s next move, both on court and off, could be her most surprising yet.


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