TSF was interviewed for an informative article in The Sacramento Bee about the current state of tennis fashion.
Tennis fashion, everyone?
Style points fiercely contested by U.S. Open competitors
September 7, 2007
By Jennifer Garza
At this year’s U.S. Open, fashion has taken center court.
Defending champ Maria Sharapova became the first tennis player to hold a news conference to announce what she would wear during her matches. She lost to teenager Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. But that beaded apple red dress she wore for evening play?
It’s a hit.
“Whatever Maria is wearing sells well and this is no exception,” said Dave Limke, product manager for Midwest Sports in Cincinnati, a Nike distributor that sells a version of Sharapova’s dress online for $125 and has already sold out of some sizes. “She makes it look good.”
These days, players aren’t only concerned with how they play, but how they look when they play. At this year’s Open in New York, Roger Federer, considered by many the best player ever, is hitting groundstrokes and baffling opponents while wearing black “tuxedo” shorts. Rafael Nadal, No. 2 in the world, may be out of the tournament, but his fashion influence plays on — several men sported sleeveless shirts. (But not Nadal’s signature pirate shorts.)
The Williams sisters — well-known for their sense of style — made their own fashion statements. On the eve of the Open, Venus Williams announced the launch of her clothing line, EleVen, and she has been wearing clothes from her collection during her matches. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Serena, touts her new line, Aneres, in a commercial for Hewlett-Packard.
With few emerging American tennis superstars and the sport facing more competition for the public’s attention, officials are pleased their sport is getting noticed — even if it’s for how the players look.
“If Maria unveiling her new dress brings coverage to the sport, then we’re happy,” said Sarah Cummins, senior director of merchandising for the United States Tennis Association.
She said that while some purists may not like the focus on fashion, most fans understand it’s become part of the game.
“I think five years ago, some may have complained, but now I think people generally agree that it’s good for the sport,” said Cummins. “And I hear people all the time talking about who’s wearing what.”
The two-week tournament ends this weekend, with the women’s championship match Saturday and the men’s Sunday. Sharapova, Serena Williams and Nadal have been eliminated, but they racked up style points with viewers.
“I think the fans like it — I think they expect it from certain players — as long as it’s not too distracting,” said Erwin Ong of Tennis Served Fresh, a tennis and fashion blog.
Ong and other bloggers have had a field day making fun of American Bethanie Mattek, who wore a metallic gold dress and matching headband in her opening match — “she looked like Wonder Woman out there,” said Ong. She followed that with a leopard print ensemble and matching visor at her doubles match Tuesday.
Federer, who has become so well-known for his sense of style that he was on the cover of Men’s Vogue earlier this year, is also generating a lot of talk, according to Cummins.
Local fans have been paying attention. Deric Wanland, 13, plays tennis nearly every day at Rio Del Oro Racquet Club in Sacramento but has also found time to watch the tournament.
“At first, I didn’t like Federer’s outfit because I didn’t know how he would stay cool wearing all black — especially in the humidity,” said Wanland. “But obviously it doesn’t bother him.”
Many aren’t quite sure what to think of his black shorts with the tuxedo stripe down the side, along with his black socks and shoes. “I don’t think it’s that outrageous, but some people do,” said Cummins. Those who like the outfit, however, will not be able to buy it.
“It was made specifically for him,” said Jacie Prieto, media relations manager for Nike, which has deals with many of the top players.
In the old days, players were given bags of apparel. Nowadays, players get involved in every aspect of their attire, said Cummins. She said last year Sharapova became the first player to have a day and evening outfit. This year, several players followed suit.
The athletes work closely with designers in creating their outfits, Nike officials say.
“Sharapova was looking to make a statement,” said Prieto.
Sharapova’s evening dress was beaded with Swarovski crystals against a backdrop of the New York skyline. Prieto adds that the tennis star was concerned with more than how she looked. “She wanted something that was comfortable and cool.”
Not all players looked at ease with what they were wearing. In her first match, a frustrated Serena Williams tore the bow off her Nike dress which appeared to be getting in her way. Still, her brown dress with a pink strip across the top is selling well at $105.
“We wish Serena and Maria would have stayed in the tournament longer,” said Limke of Midwest Sports. He said the players will likely not wear those dresses again and will have new ones made for the next major.
Limke said company officials were particularly surprised by Sharapova’s early exit.
“As soon as they lose, sales drop.”