Sharapova emerges as teenage business tycoon

HERMOSA BEACH (California): Maria Sharapova loves to shop, gossip with girlfriends, write and pore over photos in glossy fashion magazines. But that's where similarities with other 17-year-olds end. 

She emerged this year as one of the world's best tennis players, winning Wimbledon and carefully cultivating a lucrative endorsement portfolio whose worth puts a typical teenager's allowance to shame. 

“One day I can be with my friend talking about the girliest, weird things, and the next day I'm in a meeting talking about a deal or sponsorship or doing a photo shoot that are run by all adults that want my opinion,'' she told The Associated Press recently. 

“I make the transition quite well. I always thought I'm more mature than other kids my age, but that's because of the sport I play and the business I'm in. If you're not mature, I don't know how you can accomplish what you do.'' 

What Sharapova did this year was, in her words, “extraordinary.'' She rose to a career-high fourth in the year-end WTA rankings after starting at No. 32. She finished with a 55-15 match record, earned more than US$2.5 million (euro1.87 million) in prize money and won five titles, including Wimbledon and the WTA Championships over Serena Williams. 

Those results raised Sharapova's appeal to sponsors and fashion magazines, putting her among select female players who, like Williams, are in demand on and off the court. 

Sharapova's Wimbledon victory triggered more than 300 requests for photo shoots. 

“I've said 'No' more since July 3 than I've ever said in my life,'' her agent, Max Eisenbud, said. “Knowing that we're only going to do a few deals gave us the luxury to really be selective. She has total control of her career on everything.'' 

Sharapova's business is handled by about 20 people from her management company, IMG. They are stationed in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Europe to sift through offers. Time demands are a key consideration. 

“If some stupid company offers you millions of dollars, but wants you to work 30 days a year, that's nonsense,'' she said. 

But don't expect Sharapova, who has lived in Florida since coming from Russia with her father when she was 9, to mimic Williams' many pursuits. 

“I don't feel I can achieve two things at once,'' she said. “I have so many worries on the court and things I need to be working on and I need rest.''  

Sharapova, an only child, is extremely close to her parents. Even though she turns 18 in April, she's in no hurry to move out and be on her own. 

“I love my parents,'' she said. “I trust them so much that I don't feel I need to get rid of them.'' – AP  

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