Busted at the last Australian Open, Maria Sharapova should be out of the circuit for a while, and will surely be missed in women’s tennis. However, the competition is ready to replace the Russian, in every field in which she excelled.
To compete with Serena Williams : Angelique Kerber
On the sporting aspect, Sharapova was until now one of Serena Williams, the untouchable world number 1’s more serious contenders. Looking at personal records (of players remaining active on the circuit), the Russian comes third behind the American and…her sister Venus, with 35 titles won on the circuit since her professional debuts in 2001, of which 5 Grand Slam tournaments. But Venus, whose last final in a major tournament goes back to 2009 (defeated by Serena at Wimbledon), doesn’t represent the future and her results have been declining over the years. To truly find Serena some sort of competition in Sharapova’s absence, the actual world number 2 Angelique Kerber to be better equipped. The German had dominated the American in Melbourne for the first big meeting of the season and could strengthen her psychological advantage in Roland-Garros, in a tournament in which she has never shone so far (best performance : quarter-finalist in 2012). At the moment, Kerber appears to be her glorious fellow countrywoman Steffi Graf’s best ally if the latter still wants to be the unique holder of her record of 22 Grand Slam tournaments won.
For her business acumen : Caroline Wozniacki
Maria Sharapova is firstly a great talent racquet in hand, but also a huge business acumen. If many of her main sponsors seem to be letting her down, they could quickly turn to other « bankable » champions. The one who seems to be in the best position to retrieve the contracts and the money which goes with them is Caroline Wozniacki. Just like Sharapova, the Dane seems to be as gifted in tennis (ex-world number 1) as in business, capitalizing on a rather similar physique : long blond hair, a slim figure, and an impeccable smile, without forgetting she was recently shot by Sports Illustrated on a beach in a sexy photoshoot. A personal moment of glory for this rising star, already ranked by Forbes as the third richest sportswomen, with almost 15 million dollars in annual benefits, behind Sharapova and Serena Williams. An exclusively tennis-themed podium in which the order could soon change if the Dane multiplies her business activities to become the face of huge companies. She’s currently the face of Godiva chocolates, Lavazza coffee, Rolex, Sony Ericsson, Adidas, Babolat…A non-exhaustive list.
For the glamour : Ana Ivanovic
The Tsarina wasn’t given this nickname for nothing : Maria Sharapova has all the attributes of a queen perfectly mastering her communication, giving her fans selfies and elaborated photos here and there…Her film-star physique and her model size are hard to replace but in a different style, Ana Ivanovic is known for capitalizing, for a few years now, on her glamorous public image. Maybe not so much as a « femme fatale » but certainly more spontaneous, the Serb is a legitimate flag-bearer for today’s women’s tennis : professional, serious but available when it comes to smiling for the photographers outside the courts and wearing her sponsor’s latest equipment during the matches. And to magnify her glamorous lifestyle, there is a media-covered relationship, in her case with the world champion german football player, Bastian Schweinsteiger.
For the media attention : Eugénie Bouchard
The goal here is to find a young woman whose daily routine will be observed and commentated. If Maria Sharapova has always been central for the media, she’s never quite equalled the attention brought on her fellow countrywoman Anna Kournikova, a tennis megastar with yet an almost empty trophy room. On that aspect, the Canadian Eugénie Bouchard seems to have the corresponding profile : Undoubtedly talented racquet in hand, she seems to have trouble winning titles (only one title won on the WTA circuit, in Nuremberg, in 2014). Despite being ranked pretty far from the very best, she still has a lot of fans and media attention. Her physique is an asset, her strong personality as well, a combination which enables her to gather 1,3 million Facebook fans and almost half a million Twitter followers. Best tennis-performance/popularity ratio.
For her heart-breaker side : Ajla Tomljanovic
For long, the tennis gossip column was filled with stories around Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov’s relationship. A love story which officially ended last summer, without really being replaced. But for romance aficionados, their is a burgeoning love story that is beginning to draw a bit of attention : between tennis’ bad boy Nick Kyrgios and his fellow countrywoman Ajla Tomljanovic. The 22 year-old naturalized Croatian, still far from the top seeds, was seen kissing the terror of the ATP circuit during the Australian Open. Since then, the supposed couple has made itself very discreet but the case in now on the top of the paparazzi's’ list.
To be Russian tennis’ flag-bearer : Daria Kasatkina
Russian tennis hasn’t really shown a good form recently. With its leader Maria Sharapova put aside, things can only get worse. The time is long past when you could see a myriad of Slavs occupying the best world rankings. These days, other than Sharapova, the best-ranked Russian is Svetlana Kuznetsova, who, at 30, is getting closer to retirement…For the future, we’ll have to look out for the very young Daria Kasatkina’s performances. At 18, she has already been called up in the BNP Paribas Fed Cup team and reached the third rounds of the US Open 2015, and this year’s Australian Open, for her first two experiences in Grand Slam tournaments. A few prestigious wins against Flipkens, Cibulkova, Schmiedlova and mostly Venus Williams have enabled her to feature among the Top 50, while waiting for more.
By Régis Delanoë