Maria-mania set to hit Auckland ahead of ASB Classic
Tennis fans in Auckland will have the chance to get up close to Maria Sharapova before and during her time at the ASB Classic.
The Russian star will be the biggest name to play in the Auckland WTA tennis tournament and her presence in the country won't just be followed by those passionate about tennis.
On Thursday, December 30, it's hoped Sharapova and other players from the Classic will take part in a speed serve event and autograph session at the Viaduct in Auckland in the afternoon.
This is likely to be the only activity Sharapova will undertake outside the tennis stadium. But she will be doing autograph sessions during the tournament as well as meeting sponsors.
The finishing touches are being put together for the details of Sharapova's time in New Zealand, with tournament director Richard Palmer saying the world No18 and her representatives have been happy to help out with promotional activities.
"We started off with nothing and we've been able to stretch it out to a couple of sessions with sponsors and an autograph session or two, so that's pretty good," Palmer told Sunday News.
"It depends on how she's going in the tournament and how she's feeling but we could approach her to do other things, although she's not obliged to."
Palmer, who was also tournament director in 2001 when Anna Kournikova came to the Classic, says the build up to January dwarfs what happened nine years ago.
"It's bigger than Kournikova, there's no doubt about that," he said.
"There have been some weird people coming out of the woodwork with reasons they should meet her.
"People have been ringing me with things they think they should be able to do with her. There have been some weird and wonderful ones."
Part of the security team at the tournament will be solely focused on Sharapova and will be with her throughout her time in New Zealand.
"That's something we've done before with players and it depends on how comfortable they feel as to whether the security backs off a bit," Palmer said. "They'll be discreet, if necessary, or up front.
"She might decide after a day or two she doesn't need security with her for some things.
"Obviously, we're not going to be taking any risks because of her profile and given some of the weird phone calls and emails I've had from people who think that they should meet her, we have to be very careful with this sort of thing."
Tickets for the tournament are selling fast but are still available.