Monday, March 29, 2010


The pros want to kill an opponent on the tennis court, but what about dressing to kill?

The women on the pro tour are playing to kill. Pride and big money are on the line. But some of them are also dressing to kill. Or are they? Dressed to kill means to get noticed, to make yourself look really good by wearing your best clothes. Not so Caroline Wozniacki and some others I’ll go on to mention.

Female athletes haven’t always been sex symbols, models or even remotely attractive. That was before the Open Era. Perhaps it was the beautiful Anna Kournikova [above, right] who changed the direction of tennis beauty and fashion, although Gabriella Sabatini [left] and others went before her. Kournikova certainly helped to change the image of the Russian women, who were largely stout (yeah, go ahead and groan) and just plain plain. In fact, they kind of looked like baked potatoes. Right guys? Now we’ve got all those lithe blonde beauties—Elena Dementieva, Maria Kirilenko, Nicole Vaidisova, and the quintessential fashion plate, Maria Sharapova. [right]

You would think that what the women wear would be the least of their concerns. It’s gone so far that high-profile clothes designers are dressing lovely young women making millions of dollars (or less). Why not? It stands to reason that when you do your job before thousands of spectators in the stands, and with literally millions of people watching you on television the world over, well, you might want to look your best. In other words, with racket in hand, dress to kill (not threaten to kill, as in Serena Williams’ outburst at last year’s US Open, when she brandished her racket at a lineswoman. An unforgettable–and unforgivable?--moment, for sure.)
Some of the women on the tour would look good in a bathrobe. Or even in an apron. Take a bow, Ana Ivanovic [left]. In fact, these days she’s doing better with modeling than with tennis. If her plummet down the rankings continues She’s down to #58 (as of March 22) from #1 two years ago, when she won the French Open. She may yet get the hook and bow out of the top 75. Many others may need some fashion help. But no one needs to have her looks and beauty actually diminished by what their endorsement company and clothes designer advise them to wear.

For a big name, high profile designer, Stella McCartney is doing just that. She is designing some of the least attractive tennis dresses for one of the most attractive players on the women’s tour. Caught in a fashion flytrap, Caroline Wozniacki is her victim. So what gives, Ms. Wozniacki? And Adidas, too. How could you, and why would you, let McCartney design such yucky clothes for this adorable Dane with the long blonde mane? [below and at right]

Kim Clijisters
And, Ms.Wozniacki, why would you agree to wear them? It hit me at the US Open. In the final against Kim Clijisters [above] (not a fashion plate, but certainly acceptable, even attractive, in bright, sporty tennis wear), Wozniacki wore some pukey clay/tan/green ruffled, flouncy thing that couldn’t have been less becoming. I think the color is known as celery, or celadon, a green/tan shade often selected when husbands and wives have to agree on a color for the living room or the den. So here is this knockout teenager (age 19) from Denmark, all decked out in something that looked like it came from a thrift shop. A regular schmata! That muddy color totally washes out Wozniacki’s tanned honey-color skin and her golden hair. She looked like she should be home doing the laundry instead of playing tennis. Yes, I’m being brutal, but someone’s got to knock some sense into her.

And what about Adidas? Why would such a big name in tennis sportswear team up with McArtney-- only to have her put their players in unflattering clothes? Now, I’m not a brand shopper, but I do buy one item by brand. Ironically, I buy only Adidas tennis shoes. Why? They have lightweight styles with mesh uppers, easy to tie laces, and decent support. And they look okay. I usually buy shoes online. I tell you the truth: I look only for Adidas, no matter what the retail site-- Tennis Wearhouse, Tennis Express, the Adidas website, or in a pro shop. Without the guilt of disloyalty, I happen to be considering the new Prince Light speed, as well as the Adidas. I need to make a decision soon, since it’s now warm enough to play outside and my shoes are shot. The Prince shoes arrived yesterday, before I finished writing this.

Do clothes make a champion? Wozniacki, now ranked #2, believes the answer is yes. In an Adidas press release, she explained:

“I started wearing Adidas by Stella McCartney at the US Open last year and I reached my first career Grand Slam final. After that I completed the year strong and finished 2009 as the No. 4 ranked player in the world. So to say that I'm happy with the new line would be an understatement. I really do feel that looking your best on the court and feeling good about yourself is an important factor in how you play. I have had great results wearing Stella’s Adidas tennis line and I plan to continue to be even more successful in 2010. Wait until you see what I'm wearing in Australia, it will be the best yet and I'm so excited."

With this kind of superstition, just think how far she could go if she actually stepped onto the court wearing something truly pretty and flattering!
Let’s hear it from McCartney, who commented, “It’s very rare for a fashion designer to dress one of the top 10 players in the world. I couldn't be more thrilled and happy to be given that opportunity. Let’s hope this will enhance her performance!”
Well, gee, Stella, you’re not a tennis coach! You’re supposed to enhance her looks. As I said, Kournikova and Ivanovic would likely look good in almost anything; even that apron. As would Maria Kirilenko, Dominika Cibulkova, and Wozniacki, too. Anything but a celadon tennis dress. Well, you will decide for yourself, naturally. Taste in women and clothes is a personal matter.
Not much to say about hair. Most of the women wear it long and pull it back into a pony tail or braid during play, a la Ana Chakvetadze. No way could I have all that hair hanging down my back. Talk about hot and uncomfortable! They do let their hair down when they forsake the court for the red carpet or parties. Even Svetlana Kuznetsova is going more for glamour and has given up the short do.  Back in the early 20th century, as you know,modesty prevailed. It wouldbe worse than ridiculous to suggest that players once again cover theirbodies in long skirts and blouses. Who could play tennis in such a getup?

But now we’ve reached an immodest state of undress. Let’s see,  there was Ashley Harkleroad posing nude in Playboy and the skin tightcat suit that Serena Williams slinked around in at the 2007 US Open? You can’t accuse her of being demure, and she would likely resent he label. Although the cat suit has been put back on the cat, Serena, somewhat top heavy, still lets it all hang out on court. As well as on the cover of ESPN Magazine. She looked pretty good, but she wasn’t the only one. Let’s see, besides Ashley and Serena there were Kournikova and Dementieva (on a horse, no less!) Venus Williams[right, in yellow] also caught the bug as evidenced by her flesh color tennis pants, which made her look like she was nude underneath her dress. Talk about déclassé!

The men’s tour, too has been infected by immodesty. Even Fernando Verdasco [right] hung his clothes over the net and jumped over it into the nudity act in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 2008; and there was Tommy Robredo before him. (You won’t find such photos here.Try Google.)But there are likely as many modesty fans as tennis fans who would say that any old dress (or Speedo?)—even something by Stella McCArtney? -- would be better than none at all. Is this the crux of the resurgent interest in women’s tennis? I thought it was “big babe” tennis, as Mary Carillo describes it--powerful tennis by women who are 6’ tall and over, which is a lot of them these days.

So, now, let’s go down the line for another fashion unforced error. I don’t know about the rest of you ladies, but I wouldn’t be caught dead going out with my bra straps showing, in any kind of top or dress, tennis or otherwise. Calling them spaghetti straps is for those who like pasta, and doesn’t have anything to do with good taste. There are too many offenders to name.
Why do the women do this? I can understand wanting comfort; there are dress designs that have bras built in. If these lack support, restrict movement, or are uncomfortable, there are clothes that are styled to cover bra straps. But dammit, don’t make straps part of the dress design! If you are going to allow them to show, at least wear a bra that’s the same color as the dress or top. Black bra straps and an orange dress don’t make a fashion statement. They make a Halloween costume. Pink straps and a green dress make an Easter basket. Any visible straps make a player look déclassé. Spaghetti strap sports bras? Not good fashion. It still looks like your underwear is showing. There are other more attractive alternatives. Okay, call me a snob. But remember, millions of people are looking at you and not just at the way you play tennis.
I’m not the only one in a snit about it.

At the Australian Open referees doubled as fashion police to stamp out skimpy outfits after Alize Cornet [right] caused a stir with a see-through top at the 2009 Hopman Cup. Officials threatened fines of up to $2000 for any player caught flouting its strict dress code. The18-year-old wore a short skirt and a revealing, see-through top during a doubles match at the tournament in Perth. Australian Open referee Wayne McKewen said player's outfits would be scrutinized in Melbourne. "They should be dressed in what we say is tennis attire," he said.

Additionally, one of game's great players, Margaret Court, a three-time Wimbledon champion and winner of 62 Grand Slam events, condemned Cornet’s attire, saying it pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable. "Women don't need to expose themselves so much," she said. "You're good at something, you do it well, you can look so nice without needing to reveal everything.”If they think everybody's looking at their body and they've got see-through and no bra (outfits), it would have to affect your game."
And let’s not even talk about the men! Changed my mind. Let’s do say a couple of things about the men. What can I say? They look a lot like slobs. Slovenly ruffians. The days of whites and short hair are long gone, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Looking back at John McEnroe and Arthur Ashe [left] in tight white short shorts never got me going, and tennis clothes aren’t supposed to do that anyway. Remember Andre Agassi’s [above,right] costume dramas? All black clothes with earrings, and long and stringy wind-tousled hair (He confesses in his book, Open, that he wore a hair piece. Who knew?) Admittedly, I’m generally not a fan of his current shaved-head look, or of his personality. But, please, Agassi, let your hair grow (if it’s still there). Bring back the hair piece! And James Blake, [below, left] bring back the dreadlocks, too. My final words on men’s hair: Gael Monfils! [above, right]

With the exception of Roger Federer and a few others, the men look  slovenly, not divine. Long baggy shorts like basketball players; a day or two of stubble, like baseball players, and big baggy shirts like Who? Tennis players! They sometimes use these to wipe sweat off their brow. Yes, you, Andy Roddick. Golly, Andy, [right] you have all those ball kids scrambling around, just thrilled to be on court to hand you a towel on your command. Does that mess up your concentration or momentum? And though it’s been said that you have lost weight and become more “fit,” (a euphemism for weight) looks to me like you are still eating too much spaghetti or downing a few too many beers. How do I know this? It’s evident every time you lift your shirt to wipe the sweat off your face. Speaking of shirts… If they fit properly, players probably wouldn’t be tugging at the shoulder seams as they get ready to serve. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but this a mannerism Roddick has inherited from Pete Sampras.

And what about that young stud, Fernando Verdasco? [above,left, in red] Now this is a real tragedy. Take one very good looking young man, lengthen his hair and make it shaggy, steal his razor and what have you got? An ordinary looking tennis slob. That doesn’t mean I prefer Novak Djokovic, who looks like he styles his hair with a lawn mower.[above, left, with Federer] Nadal’s biceps disappeared when he traded in his sleeveless shirts and knickers for the cleaner--cut look of Nike. At Indian Wells he sported diamond plaid shorts, no less. [below, left] Plaid? Just perfect for the links at St. Andrews in Scotland, where the British open will be played this year.

I may be imagining it, but I have observed that with his new clothes he doesn’t adjust his underwear as often. (That is what he’s doing, isn’t it?) I have also observed that the quality of his game has dropped a fraction, too, and this was before he sustained his injuries last year. He’s still got the inches wide headband, however, which makes him look like tennis’ Spanish version of Tonto--not a flattering look. At least one sports writer agrees with me. In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post during the Australian Open, Paula Duffy wrote:

“…. Have you seen the handsome Spaniard's latest tennis togs from Nike? Orange striped shirt with a white banded collar on top of cream shorts with a window-pane design and tangerine accented shoes. Anyone think it's a good look for him? I don't and I doubt that his female audience is pleased.

“Where's the heat? Where's the in-your-face animal appeal? Nike has neutered this guy who plays tennis in a way that makes these outfits incongruous. He snarls, sweats profusely, gets dirty and exudes the sex appeal of a character in a Harlequin Romance novel. Give him back the clothes that carry it all off.”
Neutered? I love the metaphor, Paula. Amen. But really, why should Nadal care about what he wears? That’s Nike’s concern. Other than the endorsement money, the only thing that Nadal is likely to care about is whether he can play his best tennis in whatever he’s wearing. And that just may be in his former capris (or pedal pushers, or even clam diggers, which is what we also used to call them when we were kids.)

On the other hand, Roger Federer [above,left, and with wife, Mirka] clearly strives for debonair. At Indian Wells he wore a coral and dark gray ensemble. Looks nice. I noticed that his hair seemed a bit shorter at the Hit for Haiti charity exhibition. Looks nice, too.

I’m old enough to remember when tennis was a sport that was classy and genteel. Can’t you tell?

No comments: