20 August, 2013

5 Minutes With Maria

Rather unexpectedly yesterday, I found out that I'd have five minutes to talk with Maria Sharapova on behalf of Tennis Panorama.  I have to say if I was planning to have five minutes with Maria, I wouldn't have necessarily have selected a chic Fifth Avenue boutique as a venue.  Nor would I have invited in about 30 cameras, ten other reporters (and/or bloggers), various handlers, a couple hundred adoring fans or the WTA superstar's ATP pro boyfriend, who loomed about thirty feet away, largely unnoticed.  Still, no complaints here.

While it's been a tumultuous summer filled with injuries, coaching intrigue and uncharacteristic losses on court for Sharapova, we found her to be quite calm in the center of the media frenzy that frankly, she must be used to by now as arguably the most famous female athlete in the world.   The four-time major champion was amiable and not at all intimidating despite looking runway ready and matching my 6'3" height in her heels.  Maria was in New York, obviously for the US Open which commences on Monday, but also to launch Sugarpova's second set, an accessory collection, in association with Henri Bendel New York.  So, how did we spend our time together?  Maria and I discussed working with brands (ed. note: my own day job), building Sugarpova, connecting with her fans and of course, her tennis summer leading up to the US Open. I'm done rambling, here's my interview with Maria Sharapova.

Q:  You've worked with a lot of great brands over the course of your career.  How have you picked the brands you've worked with?

A: It's really about finding the values that are important to you, who you want to associate yourself with.  It's also about the time commitment that you're able to give in a partnership in a relationship.  When we launched the collection of Sugarpova, the candies itself, last year at Henri Bendel, it seemed like a very organic flow to accessories because that's what they're known for and have done for so many years.  It's just a partnership that felt really real and honest.  In terms of hair accessories, it's something that I use when I'm on the court, so it worked really well together.

Q: What has it been like going from working with brands to being the brand yourself?  Because I hear you're very involved with Sugarpova.

A: Well that is one of the reasons I wanted to start this because I really wanted to create something that was my own where I made those final decisions in the end, because I've worked with many big brands and I was a very small part of that; which gave me so much experience which I really thought I could use in this kind of venture.

Q: Tell me a little bit more about your collection from Henri Bendel

A: Well, the accessories I personally designed.  Henri Bendel is known for their accessories, that's what they're best at.  And they've done it for so many years and I wanted this to be young and fun and with the energy of the candies as well. It just seemed like a really natural progression.

Q: Let's talk about what a brand gets working with Maria Sharapova.  A lot of times a brand will bring a star in, they'll pose for some pictures, do some appearances and that's the end of it.  Tell me how you get involved with the process with the brand.

A: I enjoy being in the process from the very get go, from the beginning.  From creating the actual product, to drawing it, to bringing in ideas, to the way things are placed.  I personally worked on the logo for over a year.   it took two years to just create the candy and the packaging and the advertisements.  The packaging was extremely important to me and all the different images.  You see each one has a different kind of meaning and color and design and that doesn't come overnight.  it takes a lot of time to create.  So the same thing with the accessories, after we did the candies, there was a lot of demand.  Everyone really responded well to the logo and we just thought it would be really fun to do it with accessories.

Q: Everyone I've seen you play in the last year or so, you've done Sugarpova launches.  How was it making for that in the midst of your day job; the tennis?

A: I feel like it's been really fun.  It's just an evening and a couple of hours of my time.  We've expanded to so many markets and different countries that I never thought in a year...I mean this is just our one year anniversary, I never thought that we'd be in as many countries as we are in.  And I feel like it's also a bit of an interaction with my fans.  Because when they see you play on stadium court, when they see you at a photo shoot, or see you in a picture, they don't have that chemistry between one another.  I don't know, I feel like I've really gotten to spend a bit more time with people that are my biggest fans.

Q: You've been coming to New York for a long time.  You've had some extraordinary success here.  Tell me what's your favorite thing about coming back to New York City?

A: I love the electricity, I love the energy.  I love going on that center court and just feeling like this is what I've worked towards.  I feel like I wanna compete.  it's so different to all the other grand slams in terms of energy and the excitement around the players and you feel that when you're out there and it just makes it extra special.

Q: Last question Maria, you've had a bit of an unconventional run up to the US Open this year.  Tell me how you feel with all the changes, not having gotten a lot of matches.  How do you feel going into this tournament in 2013?

A: Well, despite everything, this is one of the biggest grand slams for us.  It's the last grand slam of the year and. You know, I had a great start to my year.  The first six months were great despite the last couple of losses.  You know, I'm extremely happy to be here and still be No. 3 in the world, going into this tournament as one of the favorites.  Yeah, I really hope that I'll be able to play great tennis.  I've been practicing and working hard for it.

For more of my tennis ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @vblacklabel


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