tinseltown tizz over maria sharapova sign

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    Tinseltown tizz over Maria sign
    By Barry Flatman
    November 15, 2004

    THE United States can be an incongruous nation, and none of its cities more so than Los Angeles.

    Drawcard ... Sharapova's image has attracted interest to the unfashionable LA tournament.

    On the one hand, it is the birthplace of Playboy magazine and the lap-dance club; on the other hand, it is mortified by an advertising campaign that features a match-clad Maria Sharapova simply sitting on a tennis court.

    As Sharapova sank to her knees at winning the Wimbledon title four months ago, she provided the perfect solution for the people who market women's tennis. She is attractive and talented.

    However, unlike another fair-haired Russian who maximised her attributes, she can also win titles.

    Which tournament director wouldn't use her image to promote an event? Those attempting to increase interest in this week's season finale WTA Tour Championships were no different.

    Crowds at this event featuring the top eight ranked female players are usually dismal, and something needed to be done to avert swathes of empty seats at the Staples Centre, home of basketball's LA Lakers. And as for political correctness, the nearby Convention Centre will soon stage the United States annual trade fair for adult entertainment.

    Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington and Steven Spielberg regularly turn up to the Staples Centre to support Kobe Bryant and Co, but tennis has never generated the same interest. Previously at this tournament it has been difficult to spot a full row at the 19,000-seat arena, let alone a celebrity.

    Yet the response to the marketing campaign has almost been one of horror. TJ Simers, a notoriously conservative sports columnist on the Los Angeles Times, was so appalled by the Sharapova photograph reproduced on billboards, he wrote: "Take a look at this picture of Maria Sharapova. What do you think? Could you say it out loud?"

    Even world No.1 Lindsay Davenport, a resident of the oceanside community of Laguna Beach, said: "I wouldn't do it, and I wouldn't let my daughter, either."

    The connotations were clear even before Serena Williams spoke out. "It's a wonderful picture," Williams said.

    "But it's unfortunate that if you're a female actress or singer, it's the sexiest ones that sell more tickets. I hate it, but sex sells."

    Larry Scott, the WTA Tour's chief executive, countered: "I don't think those advertisements are racy or inappropriate. I also find it a little ironic that in LA, the home of the entertainment industry, somebody finds it out of line. Maria's win at Wimbledon was a shot in the arm for women's tennis and generated real excitement. This criticism is a bit prudish, really."

    John Lloyd, former British No.1 and a long-term LA resident, agreed. "Anybody who finds the picture offensive must have a strange mind," he said.

    "She's just a pretty girl sitting in her tennis gear. It's not as if there is a lot of flesh on show. The fuss is utterly ludicrous."

    Sharapova herself did not seem too concerned by the debate.

    The Sunday Times of London



    Women's tennis needs a little spice in my opinion

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