Maria Sharapova went to Russia to angle for
a chance to play in the Olympics. What she got was a
different understanding of the term "cold war."
The world's fourth best player tagged along for her
team's Fed Cup victory over Italy. Citing a shoulder
injury, she dressed for the team as a "practice
partner." Let's just say she generated a bit more
attention than your average hitting partner.
"To be honest, I don't know why she came. What's the
point of coming here all the way from America if you
can't play? She said she wanted to help our
preparation and be our practice partner but, to me, if
you can't play how then can you practice? It just
doesn't make sense." That was Svetlana Kuznetsova,
talking to the Russian media, and looking at the glass
half-empty. Had she even asked herself, "Hey, who's
going to pick up all these balls?"
Anna Chakvetadze was also not a huge fan of
Sharapova's last-minute trip. "If you haven't played
Fed Cup all year, it wouldn't be fair just to show up
for the final," she said in a press conference. "It's
not fair to all the other girls who committed
themselves to the team's cause."
Meow. I guess no one took Sharapova up on that
standing offer to practice.
A lot of the Russian girls bristle when the name of
their countrywoman comes up, especially around Fed Cup
time. Fellow Russian, and former hot-stuff Grand Slam
winner Anastasia Myskina vowed not to play on the same
team with Sharapova in 2004 because of the conduct of
her father. You know, the guy who practically fell out
of the stands at the 2006 U.S. Open trying to signal
to Sharapova to eat a banana. Yeah, he's a little
Maybe there's a bit of envy over Sharapova's universal
popularity. There's also the idea of Sharapova making
off with one of the country's Olympic slots, having
never played for Russia.
Sharapova's status as a member of the team is a bit
suspicious, and tenuous. In order to get a spot with
her country's Olympic team, she must participate in
Fed Cup. Each time a tie has been played, Sharapova
has claimed various injuries. This is the only time
she's actually made the trip with the team, obviously
hoping to gain favor with the International Tennis
Federation's powers-that-be. It'll probably work, but
it really shouldn't. Sharapova has never before been
motivated to play for her country in Fed Cup, and
she's been a top-level player since she won Wimbledon
The fact she's been skittish on playing Fed Cup, for
her country, and excited about playing the Olympics,
for her country, seems to say one thing. It's not love
of country that's motivating Sharapova. It's the idea
of getting a gold medal, and what that gold medal is
really worth -- about a thousand times worth its
weight in endorsement money.
Think about it. You'll never see the Russian Fed Cup
team on any Wheaties boxes.