Maria Sharapova signed "Sugarpova" on the television camera after her victory over Ekaterina Makarova in the Australian Open quarter-finals yesterday, gaining a bit of extra free publicity for her range of wine gums, or "gummies" as they call them in the United States.
The second-seeded Russian unleashed Sugarpova on the Australian market just a few days before the tournament began and it is truly her baby, as she has invested $500,000 in it so far. With the Sharapova name, brand and looks to feed off, Sugarpova is already doing well, despite a high price of $5.99 per packet.
Yet when the 25-year-old steps on to the court here tomorrow, the only business in her mind will be seeing off Li Na to clinch a place in another grand slam final.
Loading article content
Victory would send Sharapova into her fourth final in the last seven grand slams, an amazing record when you remember that in 2008 she had shoulder surgery that threatened her career and kept her off tour for the best part of nine months.
It took her almost a year and a half to be truly competitive in grand slams again but, since the 2011 French Open when she reached the semi-finals, she has only twice failed to make the last four.
In the 2011 semi-final at Roland Garros, Sharapova lost to Li, who went on to become the first Chinese player to win a singles grand slam by beating Francesca Schiavone of Italy in the final.
Sharapova demolished Makarova 6-2, 6-2 yesterday while Li had a tougher time before disposing of the No.3 seed, Agnieszka Radwanska, 7-5, 6-3.
Sharapova leads their head-to-head record 8-4 and has won their last three meetings but, regardless of her achievement of an Australian Open record by conceding a mere nine games on her way to the last four, she is wary of the threat posed by the consistent, hard-hitting Li, who is into her third semi-final here in four years.
"I've beaten her the last few times but they've always been really good matches, really tough matches," Sharapova said. "I certainly expect [the same] the next one. She's had a great start to the year and is playing really well. She was the most-improved player towards the end of last year as well, so it will hopefully be a high- quality semi."
Sharapova and Li share the same agent in Max Eisenbud and the Russian is coached by Thomas Hogstedt, who used to coach Li. Eisenbud will sit in Sharapova's box for the match while Li's Chinese agent supports his client.
There is no obvious animosity between the women but Sharapova did not enjoy it being pointed out that, according to Forbes magazine, Li is now the second-highest-paid female athlete in the world. "Since when do we pay attention to Forbes?" she asked. For the record, Sharapova is the highest paid female athlete in the world. Their semi-final could be a lot of fun.