Maria Sharapova holds court
Playing professional tennis can be lonely. No teamwork.
Just ask Maria Sharapova, who admits to having very few -- well, no -- friends on tour.
''It's difficult,'' says the gorgeous ace. "One second you're at dinner with them, then you're playing them. Tennis is very competitive. If you lose, you're out -- you don't have a second chance. It's just business.''
The court superstar knows about that -- business. A shoulder injury has knocked her out of playing at the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park this week, but hasn't kept her from working. Er, endorsing.
Last year, Forbes ranked the Russia native as the highest-paid female athlete in the world, raking in $26 million-plus in ad deals alone.
On Wednesday, Sharapova will show off her new casual lifestyle line, Cole Haan Sporting, at the CH store at the Village of Merrick Park. The label is owned by Nike, which Sharapova also backs.
It's a good chance for bleacher creatures to check out a different side of the athlete.
''Any time I can give my time, I'm happy to do it,'' she says from Los Angeles, where she owns a home. "The Maria they see on court is very aggressive and in these situations I'm much friendlier.''
Still, fans get nervous in her presence.
''They get very excited and don't know where anything is,'' she says, laughing. "They lose their pens, their cameras.''
Sharapova may be sidelined by her shoulder, but it hasn't gotten the best of her.
''I'm getting over the hump on not having the [same] strength,
'' she says. "I hope to be playing again soon.''
Yoga, Pilates and jogging help Sharapova stay in fighting shape. Forget treadmills.
''I hate the atmosphere of a gym with everyone sweating -- it's like robot world,'' says Sharapova, who prefers running on The Strand in Manhattan Beach. "I like to enjoy the scenery, instead of staring at one thing. It takes your mind off what you're doing.''
Another place the tennista finds solace is Bradenton, where she has another home.
''The average age there is 80,'' she says. "No offense; I love it. It's an oasis because there's not much to do. After I'm traveling around the world it's good to come back to such a peaceful place.''
When the three-time Grand Slam champ wants some action, she putters over to Miami Beach, to ''sit at outdoor cafes watching random people'' or hunt for vintage duds.
''I love shopping,'' she admits."I look at the workmanship to see how stuff is made. I'm like that person you see at the news stands who goes through all the magazines.''
Hmm, who'd have thunk it?
Another surprising fact: Sharapova isn't inspired by any of the greats like Billy Jean King, Chris Evert or even fellow countrywoman Martina Navratilova.
''Everyone has their weaknesses,'' she says."You could have great mental strength or a great backhand, but no one has the complete package. Including myself.''
-- MADELEINE MARR