Does everyone hate Maria?

This article was spawned off of the comments that Alla Kudryavtseva made in her post-Maria-match interview - Kudryavtseva stated a few times that she wasn’t a fan of Sharapova’s outfit (was anyone? really???) and wanted to beat her in part because of that outfit. Now the interpretation of those comments begins:

What Kudryavtseva probably meant, of course, is that she doesn’t like Sharapova — or at least Sharapova Inc. The Tiffany’s earrings, the talking point dresses, the endorsements, the money, the attention … Sharapova’s commercial success would make it tough for her to be one of the girls even if she wanted to be, but she shows no sign that she does. It’s not too surprising that Sharapova’s level of comfort around fellow players isn’t great, given some unfriendly experiences at Bollettieri’s and the silent resentment that greets any attractive young player on tour who receives a lot of hype.

“I don’t know her well,” said Kudryavtseva. “I’m quite sure no one on the tour knows her well, because she’s not a very talkative girl and not very outgoing. We were in the same team for Fed Cup and I was there for the finals [last year] … she was pretty nice when she was on the team.”

She gave a sly grin. “After that she started saying hello.”

This saying hello business is clearly a big deal in the locker room, with Anna Kournikova (the original unloved Russian) and the Williams sisters all infamous for a tendency not to greet players. Ahead of the French Open, Alize Cornet listed Anna Chakvetadze as her least liked player — Chakvetadze’s failure to say hello factoring heavily in the explanation.

Of course, Kudryavtseva’s little twist of the knife wouldn’t be anything more than an offbeat aside to the day’s happenings if it wasn’t that swipes have been taken at Sharapova in the past by fellow Russians Anastasia Myskina, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova. Even Nikolay Davydenko once called her a “passport Russian” (the same Davydenko who now lives in Austria, incidentally.)

So why does everyone hate Maria?

Even among tennis fans as a whole, it’s been clear for some time that Sharapova is not a beloved champion. There’s a lot of interest in her, but not a lot of affection. She was booed off the court by the finicky French fans after losing to Dinara Safina at the French Open. It inspired an interesting discussion in the IHT’s pre-Wimbledon forum, and the range of possibilities given was wide — her entourage, her grunting, her uninspiring game, her toughness on court, her looks.

The thing is, what’s she to do? Sharapova isn’t by nature warm or sweet, nor is she pleasantly dumb, either of which would make her less threatening. She’s sharp and assertive, presenting a steely edge to the world (though perhaps a softer quality to those close to her).

Maybe it’s just a case of being philosophical and following Machiavelli’s dictum: It’s better to be feared than loved, if you can’t be both.

Trouble is, it doesn’t quite work that way in tennis. Not liking someone is always a source of motivation. MSNBC



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