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By Shane Green | The Age | January 14, 2013

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt Golding

MARIA Sharapova is hitting the sweet spot. The Williams sisters are seeing  the ball well, while Novak Djokovic has had his first win. It’s been Lleyton  Hewitt and ”C’mon!” And all this before a single ball has been hit in anger at  the 2013 Australian Open.

In the days leading up to the tournament, Melbourne has been buzzing with  off-court appearances by the biggest names in the game in pursuit of the  lucrative dollars that come with their endorsements. Each day brings a new  event, and a new product to sell.

In Sharapova’s case, it was the Australian launch of her own brand of candy,  Sugarpova. Venus and Serena Williams were playing table tennis at The Olsen, the  South Yarra hotel where they stay.

Djokovic’s first ”win” came when he hit a tennis ball faster than an Audi  R8 LMS GT3 race car. Hewitt was spruiking his ”C’Mon” range of apparel.

These may all seem sideshows to the main event. The tennis is the thing,  right?

Well, wrong, actually. In many cases, the world’s leading tennis players earn  more off the court than on.

In September, Forbes magazine published a list of the highest-paid  tennis players, looking at their on and off-court earnings. Out of the top 10,  eight were making more money off the court – 75 per cent of earnings came from  endorsements and appearance money.

As Forbes noted, it is the global nature of a sport that is played  all year combined with cashed-up fans that makes sponsorship so attractive.

But there is also the undisputed X-factor common to many of the great  players, those graceful and sometimes glamorous exponents of the game.

The undisputed champion is Roger Federer who, according to the list, made  $US9.3 million ($A8.8 million) on court, and a staggering $US45 million off  court in the year to last July.

Federer’s roster of sponsors includes Nike, Rolex and Gillette. He’s the  complete package, a sponsor’s dream. One of the world’s most consistent players,  he combines performance with a natural off-court charm.

Of the women, Maria Sharapova is the highest paid, according to Forbes, winning $US5.1 million on the court, but earning $US27.1  million off it. Forbes reported that her eight-year, $US70 million deal  with Nike was the most lucrative in women’s sport.

Like Federer, the 25-year-old Sharapova offers on court skill and off-court  appeal, with an abundance of X-factor.

Her  line of candy, Sugarpova, takes her in a new business direction.  Launched at Crown last week, the gummy candy was created by the player, who  ”wanted to start something on my own; something that could bring the fun and  passion of gummy candies to life and can be my own little project from start to  finish”.

As Sharapova’s manager since she was 12, Max Eisenbud has been central to her  off-court success. (Sharapova told  The New York Times last year he was  ”half manager, half family”.) He also manages Li Na, who comes in on the Forbes list at second to Sharapova, earning $1.4 million on court, and  $17 million  off the court.

Mr Eisenbud, who works for the giant International Management Group, said  he’d been lucky to have a ”pretty special relationship” with Sharapova. ”And  then, on top of that, I get lucky again in 2009, and sign Li Na,” he said.  ”I’ve been on a pretty good ride. I’ve been lucky.”

Which doesn’t give credit to the hard behind-the-scenes work of a man rated  as one of the most influential people in world tennis.

”Getting the deal’s the easy part,” he said. ”But keeping the sponsors  happy and getting everybody on the same page of working each brand,  I’m working  months and months in advance. To do the Sugarpova launch, I was working on that  for four or five months.

”Now I’m already working on what’s happening at the US Open and Wimbledon’s  already been put to bed. So, it’s just a lot, a lot of work. And I’m lucky, both  my clients are very active and participate in everything we’re doing. So, you  know, they have opinions.”

While he has two outstanding clients, he has observed that the world of  endorsements is becoming harder for athletes, now celebrities and actors have  entered a field they once shunned.

”Now you have all these very famous actors and actresses, and you’ve got the  Kardashians – who don’t do anything but are celebrities – in the mix now. So,  it’s a more competitive pool of people that are trying to get these types of  deals.”

With only hours before the first ball of the first round, the off-court  activity showed no sign of abating.

Late on Sunday, Caroline Wozniacki (seventh in the top-10 earners) was  helping launch the adidas by Stella McCartney range on a court made of mirrors.  Across town, Sharapova and Li Na were on the red carpet for Crown’s IMG players’  party.

Note: This media article originally appeared on January 14, 2013 in The Age. Click on the link to view article :

Tennis sidelined as stars sport nice little earners