Maria seeks different type of sweet success

For Sharapova read Sugarpova as the player attempts to rule the gummy world ahead of the Australian Open
  • @PaulN54

Players celebrate Grand Slam victories in different ways. Some choose to go on an all-night bender, while others prefer to spend a quiet evening sharing their triumph with loved ones, or even take a short holiday. Maria Sharapova likes to do business.

The morning after her historic victory at last summer's French Open – a win that gave her a full collection of Grand Slam trophies – Sharapova was on board a budget flight to Spain, where she spent two days putting the final touches to the latest and most ambitious of her projects outside tennis. The Russian was preparing for the American launch of Sugarpova, her own confectionery business, and among her tasks on the trip to a sweets factory in Murcia was the serious issue of final taste tests.

"It was pretty surreal because the next day [after the French Open] I took the flight from Paris to Alicante," Sharapova said. "We were just going to spend a couple of days there because I had to see the product and confirm a few things before the August launch coming up.

"I was sitting there in the middle of nowhere and I was thinking, 'How surreal is this? Someone else would probably be in St Barts right now or St Tropez, living it up, and here I am.' But I absolutely loved it, and I felt so proud that I was able to [win the French Open] and the next day go and work on something that was definitely so unique to what I do."

No player in the history of the women's game has combined success on the court with business off it as effectively as Sharapova, who proved last year that, despite all her other interests, she has never lost her focus on her tennis.

Having had shoulder surgery in 2008, the 25-year-old Russian worked tirelessly to make her comeback and was rewarded with her first Grand Slam title for more than four years when she won the French Open last summer. Her goal now is to reclaim the world No 1 ranking, which she would achieve by winning the Australian Open, which begins here tomorrow.

Sharapova has been the world's highest-earning sportswoman for several years now, her annual income estimated by Forbes magazine at nearly $28 million (over £17m). Even those figures could be dwarfed if her latest venture takes off. She has spent $500,000 (about £310,000) of her own money setting up Sugarpova – the name was suggested by Jeff Rubin, a business insider who has been advising her – and could more than double her money in the first year.

The global launch of the brand was held here last week beside the banks of the River Yarra. Ever the professional, Sharapova posed for photographers in her David Koma dress and Jimmy Choo shoes with all the assurance of a catwalk queen and took centre stage with the same confidence she shows on court.

The sweets will go on sale this year in Australia, Japan, Russia, India, China, Canada and Britain, where Sharapova will be heading a launch just before Wimbledon. Within three months of the premium-brand "gummies" going on the market in the United States – they cost up to $5.99 (£3.70) a bag – more than 250,000 had been sold.

"We don't really have a big budget at all for marketing and advertisement, so it's pretty incredible that the awareness it has so far is where it is," Sharapova said. Max Eisenbud, the player's agent, has a simple explanation for the booming sales: "Maria's star power".

Depending on Sugarpova's success, the brand could eventually be used for other projects.

"First and foremost, we're still getting our feet on the ground in terms of the candy, but eventually I would definitely see it in fashion, in cosmetics, in different passions of mine," Sharapova said.

"I think this is a business that will go beyond my tennis career. I've never really been the type of person that likes to sit still for a very long time. When I'm done on the court, I'm brainstorming about different things.

"It gives me a really nice balance in life. I feel like it's helped me so much in my [tennis] career."

While Sharapova has always taken business seriously – she has a major input into her fashion interests and feels she has learned much from promoting other companies' products – Sugarpova is different in that it is very much her own project.

"You're the one making those final decisions and it's a little bit more nerve-racking because there are so many things on the line," she said. "But over the last couple of years that I've been working on it I've been thinking it's my lucky charm, because it all came together for me last year, winning Roland Garros and launching the candy together.

"All the work I've put in, it's been nice to have my mind on other things, with this business."

Big deals

Nike Sharapova has her own collection of tennis gear under an agreement which gives her a percentage of sales. In 2011 she extended her sponsorship deal with the company by eight years for a reported $70m.

Cole Haan Sharapova has her own collection with the American clothes, shoe, handbag and accessory designer.

Sugarpova Sharapova has set up the sweet business as her own project

Endorsements Nike, Head, Evian, Tag-Heuer and Samsung.