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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Advertisers line up for piece of Sharapova
By Caroline Cheese

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova might have lined up her first post-Wimbledon sponsorship deal just moments after clinching the title.

Desperate to speak to her mother in Florida, Sharapova grabbed her father's mobile phone and tried to call her, as the Duke of Kent waited patiently to come onto Centre Court and present her with the trophy.

Several advertising executives would have been rubbing their hands in glee.

Sharapova's life will never be the same again.

Already, marketing experts are predicting that the 17-year-old could become one of the richest sports stars on the planet, rivalling even Tiger Woods and David Beckham.

Woods, let us remember, earned 44m in the last year while the highest earning female athletes, all five of them tennis players, did not even make the top 50 in Forbes magazine's most recent sports rich list.

"You could make her 100m in the next 10 years," reckons PR guru Max Clifford.

"There are big potential sponsors attracted to tennis who are not attracted to football and other sports, because it is glamorous and exclusive.

1 Serena Williams 5.5m
2 Venus Williams 4.9m
3 Justine Henin-H 4.4m
4 Kim Clijsters 3.8m
5 Anna Kournikova 3.3m
Earnings for 12 months from June 2003.
Source: The Forbes Celebrity 100
"She could be the biggest earning woman sports star of all time. The other Russian girl, Anna Kournikova, did very well, but never won major titles."

That "other Russian girl" is estimated to have earned 3.3m in the 12 months to June 2004, a year in which she did not play a single tournament.

No wonder, then, that the marketing men are getting so excited about a 17-year-old who has already won Wimbledon along with three other tournaments.

Not only that, she brings with her the heart-warming 'rags to riches' tale of a seven-year-old from Siberia whose father used the family fortune of 380 to take his daughter to the famed Bollettieri Academy in Florida.

"She speaks English and her story is the kind everybody loves," said Clifford.

"She has natural beauty, so perfumes, clothing, health clubs and sports equipment are all obvious sponsorship options.

"Right now everybody wants her signature."

While Kournikova appeared to be increasingly distracted by the money-making opportunities her tennis talent afforded her, Sharapova has only one thing on her mind and that is to win more and more titles.

"To tell you the truth, I know that things will start coming up, many more people will want to start getting involved," she said.

"But I just want to keep my head cool and I want to leave the people that take care of this to them because I'm not into it really, that business. I just go out and I just play tennis.

"I've never played tennis for the money, because as long as I enjoy it and I can achieve anything, then the money will come.

"Life will change, but I'm going to be the same person. If a few kids want my autograph, then I'm fine. And if a few people want my picture, then I'm fine with that.

"They'll get their picture and they'll leave."

Signed to IMG Sports agency at age 13
Signed to IMG Models in 2003, joining supermodels Gisele Bundchen, Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum
Nike clothing contract worth estimated 545,000 a year
Prince racquet contract worth estimated 450,000 a year
Also endorses NEC Computers and Speedminton (a combination of tennis, badminton and racquetball)
Easier said than done.

Boris Becker, who was also a 17-year-old when he won Wimbledon, warned that even if she does not change, the people around her will.

"Maria would have had breakfast on the morning of the final and gone through her normal routines," Becker told The Times newspaper.

"By 3.30 that afternoon she will have looked into the eyes of people and seen them staring back at her in a very different way."

It remains to be seen how Sharapova will cope with the attention.

Kournikova's fall from grace to a semi-retired title-less player most famous for dating a pop star should act as a warning.

But the most striking aspect of Sharapova's Wimbledon triumph was her ruthless will to win - and that alone will serve her well.

"I've just always been a competitor. I've always wanted to compete and I've always wanted to win," she said.

"I'm just a very tough person when I go on the court, and I really don't want to lose. I just love to win and I want to fight."

Wimbledon women's final highlights

Interview: Maria Sharapova

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