Thursday, June 2, 2011

Roland Garros Day 12: The Beautiful One

Curtain Call

Player: Maria Sharapova
Age: 24
Nation: Russia
Current Ranking: 8
Today's Result: lost to Na Li (6th seed, China) in straight sets

Photo via Celebrities Fans

She's only 24. It feels like she's been around for ages. I guess when you win your first Slam at 17, it skews perception.

When it comes to supermodel-athletes, Maria Sharapova is in a class all by herself. As I've written before, I take great issue with the meat-market publicity scheme so prevalent in women's tennis. That said, I've always felt that there was a bit more to Sharapova than the finely-crafted public image.

She first came to my attention, and that of most fans, at Wimbledon 2003 when she made a run to the fourth round in her first main draw appearance. Her nationality and stunning beauty drew obvious comparisons to Anna Kournikova. Kournikova, of course, while quite famous and extremely wealthy from her looks, had never won a singles title at the WTA level. Something about Sharapova, even at 16, told me she'd be different. There was a look in her eyes, perfectly exhibited in the photo above, that said she wasn't there just to be pretty. She wanted to win. When she won the title the following year, against Serena Williams no less, the victory was comprehensive.

It's difficult to root for someone upon whom the gods have already bestowed so much but I have grown to respect Sharapova a great deal. While comments about "retail therapy" from someone with her bank balance are a bit crass, I admire her ability to laugh at herself - an endearing quality no matter one's station in life. She pokes fun at her own image in advertisements. When Djokovic was making everyone in the men's locker room cringe with his on-court impressions, who embraced and celebrated her own parody? Sharapova. Yes, she is a beautiful woman with obscene wealth. But on balance she's a class act, too.

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