US Open fans can try to return Maria Sharapova serve via virtual reality

How hard is it to return a 100 mph serve?

Fans attending the US Open, which begins in two weeks, will get a chance to do exactly that -- off the racket of Maria Sharapova.

As part of a fan experience station on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, American Express commissioned the services of its newest spokesperson, who spent nine hours in a virtual reality studio in California to pull off the promotion.

"I think our sport has grown so much because we as players have been able to get closer to the fans, especially through social media," Sharapova told ESPN.com. "This takes it to another level."

Deb Curtis, vice president of global sponsorships and experiential marketing at American Express, said You vs. Sharapova is the first virtual reality experience to feature live action (the fan swinging a racket) combined with a computer-generated image of an athlete.

"In the past, virtual reality has been more of a passive experience, with people usually just watching," Curtis said. "This allows the fan to step into a whole new world."

The virtual reality experience is free for anyone with a ticket to the US Open throughout the two-week tournament.

The deal is the first in the financial category for Sharapova, who has been the highest-earning woman athlete for over a decade. Between endorsements and prize money, she will make more than $25 million this year. Her endorsements include Nike, Head, Porsche, Tag Heuer, Evian and Avon.

She owns an equity stake in sunscreen brand Supergoop and owns 100 percent of candy company Sugarpova, which, after three years of existence, is sold in 30 countries. In 2014, stores sold more than 5 million bags of her candy.

"Not only is she a great player, but she's a great person, a card member, a businesswoman and a philanthropist," Curtis said.

American Express usually signs small deals with tennis players for the US Open, but Sharapova's is a multiyear deal.

Sharapova, who is ranked second in the world, said she didn't play many video games as a child, except for a couple games of Mario Kart here and there.

"I was just blown away by all the technology in the room when we were filming this," she said. "There were a lot of things I've never seen before."