Mendoza: Missing Maria

Al Mendoza

WHO can make a tennis grunt better than Maria Sharapova? Original.

They tried to muffle her. In vain.

Sharapova was the perfect tennis package: Long legs, beautiful body, the sweetest face in the game.

A commodity that doesn’t need merchandizing.

She was not a flash in the pan when she won 2004 Wimbledon, defeating Serena Williams.

She was 17 then, yes, but she’d continue to be Serena’s “kryptonite”—in the words of the New York Times’ Christopher Clary.

After Wimbledon, she won four more Grand Slams.

When she retired last week, her bank account was so huge she could buy Dubai’s seven-star hotel, stash away Rodeo Drive’s stocks and still remain as rich as Ramon S. Ang.

Forbes Magazine listed her as the world’s highest paid female athlete for 11 consecutive years, amassing $30 million in 2015 alone through her winnings, endorsements with Nike, Porsche and Evian, not to mention modest profits from her candy company, “Sugarpova.”

She was six years old when she left Russia in 1994 for the United States to enroll at the IMG Academy in Florida upon the recommendation of Martina Navratilova, a tennis great herself, after Martina had spotted Maria in a Moscow tennis clinic.

The kid was with her father, Yuri, who only had $900 in his pocket.

Her mother, Yelena, did not make the trip due to visa problems.

So meteoric was Sharapova’s rise that, at barely 19 years old, she was in boardrooms signing multi-million dollar endorsements.

In retirement, Maria said she wanted to have children, study architecture, and design tennis and sports facilities.

Her boyfriend of two years, Alexander Gilkes, is a British businessman who founded an online auction site.

She is only 32, but in deciding to retire, Sharapova also cited her chronic pain in her right shoulder and forearm, even as she remains hounded by that substance (meldonium) abuse slip in 2016 that put her to a 15-month ban from the Tour.

“I’m not quitting. I’m retiring,” she said.

Not even a comeback?

“No,” she said. “I promise everyone.”

I will miss Maria, my dearest birth mate, April 19.

(Ramon Uy and Marvin Velayo will host Kitahanon Adamson members to a “Get Together” on March 7, 5 p.m., at May’s Organic Garden in Brgy. Pahanocoy, Bacolod City.)