Next stop on the media blitz: the studio of Regis and Kelly on the Upper West Side. When Sharapova, ringed by an evergrowing posse, arrived backstage, she was greeted by Nancy Jennings, a booker and wardrobe consultant from IMG's modeling division. Sharapova switched out of her pink jacket and into a Donna Karan sundress. "Love it!" enthused Jennings. "Absolutely love it!"
The Regis green room was a symphony of ring tones. Eisenbud was working his phone: managing the fusillade of interview requests, arranging Sharapova's flight home to Florida and conferring with his colleagues at IMG headquarters, who were busy trying to land global endorsement deals for her—striking while the Iron Maiden was hot, so to speak. The WTA operatives were busy strategizing about ways Sharapova could benefit the tour. The New Haven promoter was frothing over another opportunity for Sharapova to mention Pilot Pen on the air.
The subject of this chatter had little interest in all the ambient commerce, all the competing agendas. Nor was she impressed when the actor Jeff Bridges, another Regis guest, walked by. On the other hand, she shrieked with delight when an animal trainer brought in a monkey clad in a diaper. "Have you ever seen anything so cute?" she asked, stroking the monkey's back. It was one of the few times all day she would act her age. When the lights went on, Sharapova killed again, teasing Regis Philbin ("I hear you always lose, so I'm giving you my racket to bring you luck!") and, despite towering over Kelly Ripa by a good foot, chatting easily with her. "You should get your own show!" Ripa gushed during the commercial break.
After another quick change, this time into Nike tennis whites, Sharapova boarded the SUV bound for New Haven. On the 90-minute drive she betrayed an uncanny ability to speak on her cellphone while listening to No Doubt and Coldplay on her pink iPod. She took a congratulatory call from Tracy Austin, who won two Grand Slam tournaments as a teenager and was mentored by Sharapova's coach, Robert Lansdorp. She smiled as the New Haven promoter promised her free dining and daily gifts of jewelry and leather goods during the event.
Sharapova's handlers, who run screaming from comparisons between their client and the hapless Kournikova, go to great lengths to portray her as a "Renaissance woman," a phrase Sharapova often uses to describe herself. It's generally been a sound strategy, impressing upon fans and potential sponsors that her interests transcend hitting a fuzzy chartreuse ball. But occasionally it backfires. Sharapova's IMG bio states that she enjoys Russian literature. Any works in particular? she was asked in the SUV. "Pippi Longstocking," she responded.
By the time she arrived at City Hall in New Haven, an assortment of sponsors and local politicians had assembled to greet her, all wearing T-shirts and pins saying MARIA MANIA, which had been hastily printed after the Wimbledon final. On an improvised tennis court on a neighboring street she rallied with deejays and newscasters and schoolkids, smiling gamely and ignoring a leering creep who remarked, "Shame you're only 17"
Perhaps there's something distasteful about this packaging and commodifying of a 17-year-old, about adults two and three times Sharapova's age wearing her likeness on T-shirts, but it's the realpolitik of tennis. There's a reason that Sharapova stands to make $10 million in endorsements this year while Anastasia Myskina—also Russian, also a recent Grand Slam champion, but nowhere near as marketable—would go unrecognized walking down the main drag of your town. Not for nothing was Sharapova the most popular Yahoo! search term after J-Lo and Britney Spears last week. "It's simple," she puts it smartly. "If you don't like the attention, don't win."
But even she has her breaking point. She committed to appear on Cold Pizza, Fox and Friends, The Early Show and Total Request Live on July 7, but after that she was incommunicado for more than a week, save for faxing a press release announcing that she was withdrawing from a California tournament in favor of "rest and recovery."
After discharging her duties in New Haven, as she prepared to head back to New York, Sharapova announced that she would be napping in the backseat of the SUV. She turned off her cellphone and her iPod and closed her eyes. The star-making machine, though, was still humming.