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NEW YORK — Tennis star Maria Sharapova is ready to take on the digital sphere with the relaunch of her Web site,, today.

Already a fixture in the social media and fashion worlds, Maria Sharapova boasts 3.9 million Facebook fans (more than fellow tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki combined) and ongoing partnerships with Cole Haan, Nike and Tag Heuer.

This story first appeared in the March 10, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

She regularly updates her Web site, which on average receives about 185,000 visits a month and often peaks at more than 380,000. Monthly page impressions can reach up to 1.8 million.

“I started seeing this incredible trend moving towards the Internet. From a social networking to a business management standpoint, everything is done online,” Sharapova told WWD. “I wanted to create a site that was very accessible to my fans and very easy to navigate. Now, when users go on my homepage, whatever they want to see is right there in front of them. You don’t have to search high and low.”

For example, if there is an image of Sharapova wearing one of the dresses or shoes she’s designed for Nike or Cole Haan, users can click on the photo and immediately be directed to a point of purchase. “It’s quite direct, and that’s the main thing I wanted it to be. It’s user-friendly. We didn’t want too many complicated areas of the site,” she said.

The site, a portal for all things Maria Sharapova on and off the court, initially launched in 2008 as a place for fans to interact with one another during matches and keep up with the tennis player. Now, users can chat live with one another through a new instant messaging function, replacing the forum-type format previously in place. The athlete — who said she’s perpetually jotting things down in her notebook because she tries to write as much as possible — will continue to pen her blog, Doodles. There’s also a photo and video section where followers are able to view pictures and footage of Sharapova, as well as post and tag their own.

“We wanted it to be very strong and powerful, and from a design perspective because I obviously love color very much, we tried to interpret that with the use of very colorful photos,” she said of her role in the site’s redesign with digital interactive agency Lightmaker. And keeping in line with the above message, the main image that welcomes visitors on the homepage is a photo taken from a Nike shoot last year.

Sharapova joined with Nike over a decade ago, and since then has had a significant role in designing the collections she’s worn for the company. She’s also appeared in numerous print, television and digital ads.

“She’s a transcendent women’s athlete who connects with fans all over the globe and she’s had success at the highest level with her major wins. She’s young and has a young and loyal fan base,” said Nike’s United States media director Derek Kent. “From a social media perspective, she talks their language and her fans live and breathe online. She has a great connection with them through that medium.”

The game aside, Kent maintains that Sharapova’s sense of style and point of view on the way her apparel is created are reflected in the tennis dresses she designs and wears on the court.

“Whenever she wears something new and different at a major [match], it attracts the attention of her fans, and her following is interested in everything she does. Her Web site and Facebook are great mediums to communicate all elements of her professional life, from the designs she’s wearing on court to other training activities and what she does day to day. People are interested in her and learning more about her and she gives those details to her fans online,” Kent said.

To that effect, Sharapova’s Facebook fan base has been growing at a rate of 200,000 a month — in June 2010, she had two million. And although her official page is approaching four million (72 percent of whom are between the ages of 13 and 24), she insists that it’s very personal to her. She updates the page herself and said she seeks to maintain a balance between sharing professional and personal information — she never wants to appear “self-promotional.” Sharapova also sees the social medium as a teaser to her Web site, which means that following a shoot, she’ll post a photo to her Facebook page with a caption that leads fans to her official site.

The tennis player likes the instantaneous feedback she gets from her fans — even the negative. And while she acknowledges that not everyone will like the product she produces, hearing other opinions regarding comfort, style, detailing or quality is invaluable to Sharapova. Fans are also encouraged to comment on articles on her official site.

“I think it drives interest because there are so many people doing collaborations with different brands, and from the fans’ point of view, they really get to see that I’m very supportive and behind what I do,” she said, citing this as the reason she’s been so successful in keeping long-term partnerships. “One of things I make a strong statement about is my involvement with my partners. In terms of time and my involvement, I always have an opinion about an event or a product that we’re making. It’s never just putting your name on something; it has to be true to who you are.”

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