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Career girl: Maria Sharapova's sweet plan for success

By Gary Morley and Chris Murphy, CNN
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Thu May 24, 2012
Maria Sharapova has come a long way since turning professional on her 14th birthday in April 2001, having played the game since she was four years old. Maria Sharapova has come a long way since turning professional on her 14th birthday in April 2001, having played the game since she was four years old.
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The Sharapova story
Sharapova style
Paris pain
At home in Rome
Early years
Wimbledon breakthrough
Flushed with success
A major hat-trick
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Sharapova plans to branch out with another business venture this year
  • Russian is working on a new line of confectionery to be called "Sugarpova"
  • On the court, the 25-year-old is determined to win the French Open
  • She can complete a career grand slam on clay at Roland Garros

(CNN) -- The taste of success is sweet for Maria Sharapova -- in more ways than one.

The Russian tennis star is focused on completing a coveted career grand slam of titles at the French Open starting next week, but she already has plans for her next off-court project.

The 25-year-old is the world's highest-paid female athlete due to her top-end endorsement deals, according to Forbes magazine, and she has another lucrative sideline in the works.

Having already designed clothes for Nike and luxury label Cole Haan among her projects, Sharapova is planning to release a line of confectionery called "Sugarpova."

"I'm doing everything. The branding and all the shapes of the candy and the gummy-bears," she told CNN's Open Court. "And it is going to launch before the U.S. Open (in September), fingers crossed, so that is my next project."

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Sharapova is big business, and she takes it seriously.

"It's such a different type of work to being a tennis player, working with consumers and understanding what people buy, trend reports, what's in and what's out, whether it's something that is going to last for years," she said.

"I look at it as something that is fun for me, that is creative for me, the thought process of seeing something that is on paper or just an idea. You're traveling and you see somebody wear a cross-body bag and you're like, 'Wow I love the handle on that,' and something clicks and you put it on paper and a year later you see it in the stores for people to buy.

"I am just fascinated by that, I think it is an amazing process and I've been so fortunate to work with so many great people that teach me so much about different things. I am not a designer, I never went to school for it, but I love being creative and I love learning and understanding what works and what doesn't work."

That attention to detail has also helped put Sharapova in a position to join an exclusive club of nine tennis players who have won all four grand slam titles, known as a "career slam," having resurrected her fortunes in recent years after a serious shoulder injury.

Despite having once described herself as "a cow on ice" on clay, Sharapova has improved her game on the surface to the point where the world No. 2 is now a top contender to win the French Open and add to her Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Australian Open crowns.

Last year she reached the semifinals at Roland Garros for the second time, and she already has two tournament wins on red dirt under her belt this season after retaining the Italian Open title last weekend.

"The French Open is always a big goal of mine because I have always said it is going to be the most challenging grand slam for me to win," she said.

Maria Sharapova strikes the perfect pose as she puts away a forehand during this year's Australian Open. Maria Sharapova strikes the perfect pose as she puts away a forehand during this year's Australian Open.
The epitome of style
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Sharapova\'s winning design Sharapova's winning design
World No. 4 Maria Sharapova has long been known for her on-court shrieks and the Russian has recently attracted criticism as a result. The three-time grand slam champion claimed she will continue to make the noises until they are outlawed. World No. 4 Maria Sharapova has long been known for her on-court shrieks and the Russian has recently attracted criticism as a result. The three-time grand slam champion claimed she will continue to make the noises until they are outlawed.
Sharapova's shriek
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The noisiest players in tennis The noisiest players in tennis
Fernando Verdasco kisses the blue clay in Madrid after beating world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in a huge upset. "I never was in control of the match, I didn't know how to win a point," said Nadal, who is the modern era's "King of Clay." <br/><br/> Fernando Verdasco kisses the blue clay in Madrid after beating world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in a huge upset. "I never was in control of the match, I didn't know how to win a point," said Nadal, who is the modern era's "King of Clay."

Kiss of death
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Madrid\'s clay controversy: Why so blue? Madrid's clay controversy: Why so blue?

"Whether it was when I called myself that cow on ice or whatever it was, but if I go there and play well and physically, I feel healthy and I feel great. There is no reason I can't win it.

"I've been in a couple of semifinals, I believe, last year as well. So, it's really about (whether) I put myself in that position and win it. I believe in that definitely."

Sharapova has suffered just one defeat on clay all season -- to Serena Williams in the final of the Madrid Open -- and is coming into form at the right time.

But despite her fluency on court in the past few weeks she revealed just how taxing the transition from hard courts to the much slower clay surface is every year.

"The first few days on clay are brutal, especially with the practices; you're just getting your footwork down and the movement," she said.

"It's so frustrating. I never crack rackets but those first few days I crack rackets all the time. I'm like 'Get me extra rackets!'

"Over the years I think the key for me is being physically stronger, where I have been able to play a match whether it's three sets or two tough sets and recover for the next day.

"In Europe one of the challenges you have is in one week you could be playing five, six matches a week then you have the next tournament coming up then a week off, then you have a grand slam.

"The physical aspect of all that and mentally understanding that your body has to be ready for all those matches in a short period of time on clay has always been tough for me.

"I have always recovered so much better and I move a lot better on it, so yeah it's nicer, less rackets cracked!"

The women often suffer from comparisons to the men, with the exploits of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer cementing this as a golden age of competition in the male arena.

World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has come a long way since first picking up a tennis racket in her native Belarus. World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has come a long way since first picking up a tennis racket in her native Belarus.
Humble beginnings
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The tennis journey of Victoria Azarenka The tennis journey of Victoria Azarenka
Venus Williams has remained in the public eye despite her health problems, appearing at Vanity Fair's Oscars party in West Hollywood in February.
Venus Williams has remained in the public eye despite her health problems, appearing at Vanity Fair's Oscars party in West Hollywood in February.
A bright future?
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Venus Williams\' career Venus Williams' career
Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and Novak Djokovic of Serbia will be hoping to defend their Wimbledon titles in July -- earning a 4.5% increase in prize money if they do. Singles champions will now receive £1.15 millon ($1.85 million). <br/><br/> Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and Novak Djokovic of Serbia will be hoping to defend their Wimbledon titles in July -- earning a 4.5% increase in prize money if they do. Singles champions will now receive £1.15 millon ($1.85 million).

Wimbledon champions - £1.15 million
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Wimbledon stars\' pay increase Wimbledon stars' pay increase

But Sharapova insists the women's game is on an upward curve, with players like Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova and Serena Williams battling it out for major honors, and a new generation of talented youngsters snapping at their heels.

"The level of the game from the first round that you play at a women's event is so much higher than you would see five, 10 years ago," she explained.

"I kind of felt that I'd come to a tournament, take the first few matches and see it as a warmup, in a way. Everyone in the press was saying why is it always 6-1 6-0 6-2? But now you don't see that very often.

"You could be facing someone in the first round that is maybe not as consistent but they are experienced, they have beaten top players before and it's difficult.

"I think that is why you see so much more attendances from the beginning of the week higher than you saw years ago."

Despite perching on the shoulder of history, Sharapova insists such landmarks do not dominate her every thought, though a newfound dedication to her profession was brought into sharp focus due to a serious injury.

"I've played tennis since I was four years old and when you're in a match situation -- you could be losing or you're winning -- there are so many emotions that go into that," she said.

"Even when I was away from the game for nine months with shoulder surgery and trying to get back, I never, never ever felt that.

"There were so many things I did off the court, just great experiences, wonderful people, I got to work on amazing projects but nothing gave me that feeling of being in those positions where I had to pull out of a match when I was losing.

"(When I) had to close it out when I didn't expect myself to win, it was such an adrenaline rush that you don't get in many things in life.

"Whether it's playing some small tournament in a small city in front of 2,000 people or whether it's the finals of Wimbledon where you have an amazing crowd and all that history behind it, it is really at the end of the day trying to make yourself better."

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