OK, I'll ask the question straight up: Is anyone else getting a little tired of Maria Sharapova at these Olympic Games? Ordinarily as cool as a Hitchcock blonde (at least when she's not uttering that war cry with which she punctuates every shot, much to the annoyance of pretty much everyone), she's been visibly and volcanically emotional this past week at the tennis event at Wimbledon.
Here's Sharapova, who's seeded No. 3 at these Games, and who has reached the final against Serena Williams, seemingly falling over (with all the grace of a crooked stack of library books) as she hits a winner, crying out (or was that part of a "shrunt," the cross between a shriek and a grunt) and clenching her fist so tightly that it seems painful. She looks heavenward. It's 15-all in the second game of the match. Oh my.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, you say. Yet Sharapova has very little to feel desperate about. Sure, she's never tasted Olympic success, and winning a gold medal here could very well make 2012 her career year. (She completed her career Grand Slam just two months ago at the French Open on a surface that once made her feel, in her own words, like "a cow on ice.")
But Sharapova already may be the most popular female athlete on the planet (at least if you count by Facebook "likes"), she's considered a brand and she's made untold riches -- all at the age of 24, although if you haven't been paying attention, you might think she's 30-something. So the only real explanation for Sharapova's exuberant embrace of the Olympic effort is the one she so eagerly renders -- the patriotism that she's been hawking with as much gusto as she brings to pitching Samsung products or handbags by Cole Haan (a Nike subsidiary).
That's a little odd, because unlike many immigrants who had to find their fame and fortune (or, for that matter, a decent, safe way of life) in the United States, Sharapova's patriotism is as thoroughly "red" as the Nike dress she's wearing at Wimbledon. She can't stop babbling about how much it means to be able to represent Russia (she was the team's flag bearer), the country she left at age 6 (under the wing of her ambitious tennis dad, Yuri) in order to capitalize on the opportunities presented in the U.S.
Sharapova's attitude and many of her comments are downright baffling. Once, she all but gloated about how eager she was to stomp the U.S. in a Fed Cup match -- although she rarely bothers to represent Russia in Fed Cup and reportedly doesn't get along with her teammates when she does. She says next to nothing about the good fortune that has befallen her since she arrived in the U.S. Given that her home is Bradenton, Fla., and she seems to spend a lot of time on the West Coast, I assume she just parachutes into Russia once in a blue moon.
Can it be that hard for Sharapova to appreciate and perhaps even articulate how lucky she was to leave oppressive, economically stagnant Russia and wind up in a place where so many people helped her along her career path? Is this obsession with her homeland just some bizarre extension of the Daddy love she has always felt for Yuri? If you didn't know better, you'd think her coaches were Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov, not Robert Lansdorp and Nick Bollettieri.
The funny thing is that when I criticize Sharapova for being ungracious, or even ungrateful, I'm accused of being some sort of jingoistic zealot (full disclosure, I was an immigrant -- just like Sharapova). If that's so offensive, why isn't Sharapova's Russian patriotism equally scorned?
I don't have a problem with people who are unpatriotic. I do have a problem with people who think patriotism is OK for some, but not for others (in other words, "Americans"). Maybe Sharapova really is the Russian patriot she aspires to be, but to me she seems more like just another clueless celebrity who can't make two and two add up to four.