Maria and the Supermodels
Posted 2/16/2006 @ 4:40 PM
One angry comment poster the other day said he wished I would stop wasting my time (not to mention his) by writing about Kim Clijsters and figure skating when there were so many great stories out there, like Maria Sharapova’s debut this week as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model (pics here
Now there’s an issue second only to world peace!
Actually, it turns out that Jon Levey, my buddy and fellow senior editor here at TENNIS went to the “official” SI Swimsuit issue party the other night, which happened at Crobar, one of Manhattan’s numerous too-hip-for-words venues and model, model wannabe, and model and model wannabe stalker’s hangout (ever notice how you can never
find that vial of Ricin when think you might want use it?)
Anyway, Jon’s a mellow, funny guy blessed with deadpan humor. He’s good-looking (he’s got this metrosexual kind of thing working, although I don’t think he shaves his chest and I don’t aim to find out), and a very strong tennis player to boot. In other words, he was perfectly positioned as the fox in the henhouse but for one inconvenient fact: he just got married a few weeks ago, and he had an 8 P.M. dinner date with his wife, Allison.
Of course, details like that wouldn't matter to some, but Jon’s not a cad and it's a good thing he doesn't aspire to the role. For when I asked how the party was, he got this strange, faraway look in his eyes and his voice filled with awe: “Those swimsuit models. . .It was unbelievable. Let me tell you. . .It’s like they’re not even the same species
as you and me!”
Jon, it turns out, went to Crobar with his good buddy—and Sharapova’s agent—Max Eisenbud. I like Max, but then I’ve always liked agents, going all the way back to my good pal Chuck Bennett. In fact, certain of my friends and colleagues routinely accused me of having a blind spot when it came to agents, and many of them—John Feinstein pops to mind—took every opportunity to rail against them.
I don’t know, it seems to me that an agent’s job – by definition – is to maximize a player’s income opportunities. That some of them get stuck being baby sitters or puppeteers is more of a comment on the degree to which so many tennis parents ignore their own job description, in which the first item is protecting your child from people – including agents and your worst selves – who would profit from her.
Anyway, Max and Jon apparently sat there, side-by-side, on the desirable side of the velvet rope, having a conversation that I gather went something like this:
Max: Wow, dude. Did you see her?
Jon: Yeah. Holy. . .look how short that skirt is!
Max: Man, I think that girl is looking at me.
Jon: What’s that girl doing with that guy?
Max: Think that Australian girl is really blonde?
Jon: I think that model is looking at me. . .
Max: How old do you think she is?
Jon: Hey,how's that Speedminton game selling?
Max: Wow. Check out those legs.
Jon: I think I recognize her from this ad. . .
Max: Look, that French guy with the scarf around his neck is hitting on the Brazilian chick.
Jon: She's not that hot. You want another drink?
It wasn’t utter, total, nuclear, bi-partite humiliation, though. It turns out that Maria recognized Jon right off the bat and came over and asked if he was still writing for Tennis
. They had a pleasant chat, and he learned that Yuri, The Man of Many Languages (who can forget that famous cry of “Vamos” issued at the Australian Open?) was off skiing in Austria, and Mrs. Sharapova was back in Los Angeles, uninterested in accompanying her daughter to Dubai. Maria was spending the night of the Crobar party in a New York hotel and leaving first thing in the morning for Dubai.
I wonder what the real deal is with Maria’s mom, Yelena. It isn’t just that she's not around a lot, it like she avoids Yuri like the plague. Not that the idea doesn't have merit, but doesn’t anyone else find it weird that you never
see them together?
I asked Jon about this. He’s done a lot of work with Maria and her former coach Robert Lansdorp, and he could recall only one occasion when Yuri and Yelena were demonstrably in the same county (heaven forbid they ever show up in the same Players’ Box at a tournament). And on that occasion, Jon recalls that they didn’t exchange two words. Yelena just sat high in the bleachers beside some tennis court where a photo shoot involving Maria was in progress, while Yuri did his usual on-court meddling.
It's funny, a lot of tennis parents who were basically estranged from each other at least put on more of a front - for the sake of their kid(s) if nothing else. Really, to never be seen in the same box at one of Maria's many highlight moments?
It makes me feel sympathy for Maria. How could it not? Look at role of the basic tennis mom. She's a ubiquitious, reliable presence and source of emotional support, whether or not she's involved in the coaching (think Oracene Williams, Esther Seles, Melanie Molitor, Denise Capriati - the list is as endless as it is distinguished).
Girls typically want to please daddy above all other things, but it's usually mommy who provides the uncritical, non-judgmental support. So what does Maria get stuck with at so many critical moments in her career? Jet-setting ski bum and “Vamos!” shouter Yuri. No wonder you can see steel in this girl, and marvel at her frequent stand-offishness.
Jon says Maria was the hit of the party. The other swimsuit models all approached her for autographs. “You can’t blame them,” Jon said. “Maria has actually done something - besides getting picked out of a portfolio just because the person doing the choosing happens to like her looks a little more than she does the next girl's."
Maria towered over all the other models (not to mention Jon and Max). Jon swears that in heels, she’s got to stand 6-3, 6-4. We’re talking NBA point-guard here, maybe even small forward. The only sign of her tender age is that signature, girlishly shrill laugh that seems so out of character in a young lady as cool and self-possessed as Sharapova.
Jon did get a picture of Maria and another swimsuit model with his cell phone, but before you can say “Claudia Schiffer” it was time for him to go meet Allison for dinner.
He did persuade Maria to autograph a swimsuit issue of SI, with a special message for Allison. My guess is that the message said, "Jon didn't talk to anyone at the party but me and Max. He's a good boy, that Jon.. ."
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