Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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In Fashion…Courtwalk to catwalk

More often than not, playing fields transform from courtwalks to catwalks. The game itself can be packed with fashion, clothes and accessories. Take volleyball or basketball that women play, and watch the dresses they sport. I still remember a basketball match on the beaches of Cannes in the south of France, where the women players, dressed in the fanciest of lingerie, chased and punched the ball. If this was not distraction enough, some threw away their tops to clicking cameras and popping eyes.

Maria Sharapova
But it is tennis that has become synonymous with style. Russian player, Maria Sharapova, also known for her fabulous figure, fine face and daring dresses, enlivened the ongoing (January 2007) Australian Open in Melbourne with her sexy body-hugging outfit.

In her lemon-chiffon dress, it hemline climbing dangerously high when she took those overhead shots, Maria cut a breathtaking picture. Worn in tandem with a clingy white top, which highlighted her perfect tan, the Russian beauty was a study in contrast on Melbourne’s dark green rubberised centre court.

The 19-year-old tennis star – who in 2006 earned an estimated million in endorsements – is keenly eyed not only for her volleys, although she is number two, but also for her sultry sensuousness. In the 2006 Open, she often distracted and diverted attention from the game with her powder blue baby doll nightie look.

Another tennis diva high on the fashion ramp is Serena Williams, known for taking on-court trends to places others fear to tread. At the 2002 US Open, she sported a now infamous black lycra cat suit, while at the Australian Open in 2005, she unveiled a lime-green and white costume that included knee-high space boots with a detachable leg section that could be removed before play commenced.

"I've always been a makeup junkie," admits Serena, who remembers playing with her mother’s make-up and high heels at the age of six. In fact, Serena’s role model is her mother. “She never wore too much makeup; always just enough to look natural and lovely," she recalls. So, Serena, who admits her favourite features are her eyes and lips, has looked to both cosmetics and fashion to showcase her girly side. Her vanity-case philosophy is pretty straight: “Makeup should be used to enhance the beauty you already have, not to cover it up.” Her clothes do not, either. They are at their skimpiest, displaying skin and tan on the lawn.

Tennis, which was born during the Victorian era, fell in love with fashion much later in 1884 and 1885, when Maud Watson won the first two women’s singles at Wimbledon. She ran about the court in an ankle-length white dress, driving and darting with great finesse. A trifle shocking for those times.

But Maud was a baby, compared to Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen, who pumped glamour into the game in the 1920s. I read that she would repair her makeup between sets. Often, she wore the creations of the French couturier, Jean Patou. They were made in delicately-pleated silk - clingy and filmy - more like those of a ballerina than an athlete.

However, it took the likes of gorgeous Gussy Moran to scandalise the world of tennis. In 1949, she wore lace-trimmed panties that peeped out of her very short skirt. The London Daily Express front-paged her five times in a single week, and soon people were no longer interested in where the ball flew. Rather, their eyes wandered down and under every time her skirt moved.

Women on the court continue to remain sensationally sexy. Gabriele Sabatini, the dark haired wonder from South America, took style to the skies. So, did Anna Kournikova, whose fabled fashion sense added bounce to the ball.

In India, our own Sania Mirza is attractive, but cannot be as bold to sport provocative wear. Being a Muslim (and Indian), she has already ruffled the feathers of the clergy, which objected to her midriff baring attire. Of late, Sania does not even get into a skirt, preferring to don shorts.

Yet, Sania – like the rest of her tennis ilk -- continues to shape fashion with their racquets.

(Webposted January 23 2007)