Glamorous tennis star Maria Sharapova arrived in Auckland this morning for the ASB Classic - minus her fiance, New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic.
The world's highest-paid female athlete, who Forbes magazine estimated earned US$22 million ($29.2 million) in endorsements last year, flew into Auckland on Flight NZ5 from Los Angeles, entering arrivals about 8.40am.
The sight of one of the world's most recognised sport stars pushing her luggage surprised some passengers at the airport today.
"Is that Maria Sharapova?" one Japanese tourist asked incredulously of her partner as they sat at a fast food outlet in the international arrivals hall.
Sharapova leads a field of 15 players arriving today.
They include fellow Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova, twice a grandslam winner, and former world No 1 Dinara Safina.
But all eyes will be on Sharapova, who is famous for her on-court squeals and grunts. Some ear-splitting efforts have been measured at a record 104 decibels - louder than a small aircraft. She is also known for her on-court attire as well as gracing the covers of fashion magazines.
A spokesman for the classic said Vujacic - who asked the former Wimbledon winner to marry him in October - is not on the tournament list of people accompanying Sharapova. Instead, hitting partner Michael Joyce, a trainer and another coach are expected to accompany the three-time grand slam winner.
Last season was stop-start for Sharapova, who was returning from a lingering shoulder injury but had niggles with a foot and right elbow. She was bundled out of the Australian Open in the first round but improved to end the year ranked 18.
The Russian-born 23-year-old started playing tennis at 4 and moved to the US at 9 to advance her career.
She rocketed into the public eye when she won Wimbledon aged just 17.
Tournament organisers say Sharapova, who has also won the 2006 US Open and the 2008 Australian Open, is expected to attend a public meet-and- greet at Auckland's Viaduct Harbour on Thursday between 5pm and 6pm.
A speed serve event and other entertainment are planned and fans will also meet Sharapova and defending champion Yanina Wickmayer.
This year's field will be the first to play on the $26 million redeveloped Stanley St courts.
2011 ASB CLASSIC
* Qualifying: Saturday, January 1 and Sunday, January 2.
* Main Draw: Monday, January 3 to Saturday, January 8.
2011 HEINEKEN OPEN
* Qualifying: Saturday, January 8 and Sunday, January 9.
* Main Draw: Monday, January 10 to Saturday, January 15.
- With NZPA