x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Artificial sweetener from Maria Sharapova

Sharapova's flirtation with name change is a travesty to all pun-makers, says Will Batchelor.

Russia’s Maria Sharapova considered changing her surname to ‘Sugarpova’ for the US Open to promote her range of sweets.
Russia’s Maria Sharapova considered changing her surname to ‘Sugarpova’ for the US Open to promote her range of sweets.

Like all right-thinking sports fans, I breathed a sigh of relief this week when tennis ace Maria Sharapova decided against changing her surname to "Sugarpova" for the US Open.

The world No 3, who since has withdrawn from the tournament with an injury, flirted publicly with the idea in order to promote her range of sweets, but decided against it for reasons of practicality.

Unlike most, however, I was not disgusted by the vulgar commercialism of the project. My heart hardened to such pain long ago.

Once you have witnessed Andy Murray celebrate winning his first major - last year's US Open by frantically searching for his flashy sponsor's watch before lifting the trophy, a mere name-changing gimmick barely registers on the moral-outrage meter.

As for despoiling the nobility of the ancient game by players using the court to hawk their wares, even the saintly Roger Federer is guilty of such a crime. He has for a long time been part tennis genius, part cardigan salesman.

Nor was I hugely moved by those who argue that one's name is somehow sacred ground, and should not be tinkered with for reasons of commerce.

In most cultures, a woman will change her surname upon marriage. No matter how loving the union, this can be a commercial venture in itself.

For details, see "Brand Beckham".

Besides, names are far more fluid these days. Sport's golden couple Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy had been courting for a matter of weeks before proudly inviting the world to share in their joint name of "Wozzilroy".

As for the argument that a successful sportswoman should not be promoting unhealthy food, I have always found that absurd.

If young people are so in awe of Miss Sharapova that they instantly copy her dietary behaviour, then presumably they will also copy the rest of her activities. You know, the rather more high-profile part of her day when she charges around a tennis court in blazing heat for several hours? Surely that balances it out.

No, what really upset me about Project Sugarpova was simply this: it was an awful pun. Seriously, it stank.

Sharapova to Sugarpova? What, because it has two syllables and starts with a "sh"? No. Even the most overworked tabloid sub-editor would reject that one.

Having studied the WTA rankings, it seems clear that only a handful of players are eligible to promote confectionery via some kind of reasonable name-change gimmick.

These are: Angelique Sherbet (nee Kerber), Jelly-na Jankovic, Elina Sweetolina (nee Svitolina) and, of course, Alize Cornet of France, who does not even need to change her name to advertise ice cream.

Alas, the premium names of female tennis appear to have no potential for the confectionery market, although "Soreena Williams" could go down brilliantly in territories where the fruity malt bread is popular. Which basically means Scotland.

Interestingly, the men's game is far riper for legitimate food-based name-changing - with the top players alone offering a reasonably balanced meal of (Tomas) Burger and (Juan Martin Del) Potato, with a side order of (Rafael) Noodles, followed by (Novak) Chocky-Bics, a (David) Ferrero-Rocher chocolate and, to freshen the breath afterwards, a (Andy) Murray Mint. And if you get hungry afterwards, just chew on some (Jo-Wilifried) Biltong.

Sorry about that, I'll get my coat. Well, I say coat ... it's actually a rather natty Federer cardigan.