Sex appeal solves a problem like Maria
Tennis pin-up Sharapova received a two-year drug ban, but in the money stakes it's still her advantage
How do you solve a problem like Maria? That was the question that the tennis world asked itself all last week after its golden girl - Maria Sharapova - was handed a two-year ban for testing positive for Meldonium at the Australian Open this year. It was billed as a huge blow, both for Sharapova personally, and for tennis. The Russian superstar is 29 now, inching into the twilight of her career, and she doesn't have two years to spare if she wants to win another big title.
The women's tour is so top heavy that you might reasonably characterise it as 'Serena and the seven dwarves'; Serena's sister, Venus, and Sharapova are the only other active players who have certifiable Hall of Fame careers. And perhaps, it was surmised, the whole thing is a little unfair and ripe for appeal; Meldonium is performance-enhancing and Sharapova did seem to keep her use of it a secret from almost everyone. But the drug was only officially banned from January 1 of this year and the player, who had been taking it without penalty for almost a decade, only tested positive a few weeks later. It seemed churlish, in that context, to put her in the same category as bug-eyed sprinters and cyclists.
Lost somewhere in all the brouhaha was one surprising fact that might have prompted you to dry your eyes for her: the ruling will hardly make a dint in Sharapova's earnings, which long ago untethered themselves from her on-court activities. Even with the ban, most of her sponsors, including her racket manufacturer Head, Evian, Porsche and several others, have stood by her. Nike, which looked like it was backing away, is back on her side again. On her enforced break, Sharapova has been promoting her line of sweets - Sugarpova - and hanging out with Chelsea Handler. It hasn't exactly been sackcloth and ashes, you could say. In fact if the Court of Arbitration for Sport dispensed with the legalese and gave its judgement in plain spoken truth, it might have said: "We hereby free you from the increasingly tiresome activity of sweating on a tennis court and give you free reign to enjoy life as a spokesmodel, chat-show guest and full-time leggy blonde."