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Maria Sharapova is sweet on SW19

Business will take back seat as Maria aims for taste of glory

By Paul Newman

Maria Sharapova hopes that retirement is still a long way off but when she does finally put her rackets away, she knows what will occupy most of her time.

The 2004 Wimbledon champion, who faces Britain's Jo Konta on Centre Court here today, expects that Sugarpova, the confectionery business she set up four years ago, "will be my main job" when she swaps tennis dresses for business suits.

The 28-year-old Russian has been the highest-earning sportswoman in the world for 10 years now - the latest Forbes list of the world's top earners estimated her annual income at $24.4m (about £15.5m) - and has a number of deals outside tennis, but has decided that she wants to focus her future business activity on Sugarpova.

Like a number of other leading women players, Sharapova has also dipped into the fashion industry, but she no longer helps design clothes for Cole Haan, although she still has a deal with Nike. In 2011 she extended her sponsorship agreement with the company by eight years for a reported $70m (£44.5m).

The World No 4 still has endorsement deals with a number of high-profile companies - Nike, Head, Evian, Tag-Heuer, Samsung, Porsche, Avon and Supergoop - but Sugarpova is the business on which she expends most of her creative business energy. It is very much her own project.

She spent an initial $500,000 (about £318,000) of her own money setting up Sugarpova - the name was suggested by Jeff Rubin, a business insider - and the company has been a huge success.

To date, the business has sold more than five million bags of sweets in 30 countries. Japan, the United States, South Korea, France, Canada and Russia are the most successful markets. It is hoped that a pop-up shop in Wimbledon will help to boost sales in Britain.

Between tennis tournaments, the business takes up a lot of Sharapova's time.

"I usually like to be the creative initiator in the brand," she said.

"I think of concepts and I bring them to the team and let them execute it - whether it's a pop-up shop, whether it's about a new candy we're developing or a new graphic.

"So things like that I'm always brain-storming and that's always in the works.

"As far as the days I'm able to give to my sponsors, I don't do much for Sugarpova in terms of photo-shoots and things. My sponsors definitely take more time for that. But in terms of the business side, that's Sugarpova's time."

How much time does she spend on business during tournaments?

"Not much," she said. "My whole team at Sugarpova are very good and usually don't send me emails. They do the work for those two weeks and then after the tournament I get loaded up with work. That's usually the time I have off, so during the Grand Slams I usually keep it very quiet.

"But I'm always thinking of concepts and ideas. I do work on that and I write a lot in my notebook, but I'm not going back and forth with my current business."

While Sharapova hopes that her business will eventually branch into fashion, she does not envisage being able to spend much more time on Sugarpova for a good while yet.

"I feel like it's a long way away," she said when asked if she had thought about retirement. When she does eventually quit, what does she think will be the deciding factor?

"I'm not sure. I don't know. Maybe I'll find out. But I don't think it will be because I don't want to play any more. I hope not."

For the moment, Sharapova's focus is her 13th consecutive Wimbledon. While she is always regarded as a major contender here, her recent record has not been particularly impressive. Since 2006 she has gone beyond the fourth round only once, when she lost to Petra Kvitova in the 2011 final.

In recent years Sharapova has enjoyed more success at the French Open, having won the title there in 2012 and last year and finished runner-up in 2013. However, she lost to Lucie Safarova in the fourth round this year after suffering with a cough and cold.

Sharapova had hoped to play a warm-up tournament on grass before Wimbledon but instead returned to California to have tests because she had been so concerned about her health.

"It took a little while for me to really refresh and recover and give myself a chance to feel good again," she said. "I needed to do a few things back in California for my health. I came here as soon as I got the green light. It's been a really good 10 days.

"It was great to be able to be on the court and not have to cough or blow my nose."

Belfast Telegraph


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