No, that’s not Andrew Feldman you see, but don’t you dig the dude? I like the wallpaper myself. (Photo by Ulrich Kruener via flickr.)
Today I got the chance to chat with Andrew Feldman, the USTA’s National Volunteer Development Manager and a presenter at Adult Ed’s series on this coming Tuesday night at Union Hall in Brooklyn. Feldman, a self-proclaimed “non-expert” on tennis fashion, will be speaking on the “Evolution of Tennis Costumes: From Bill Tilden to Serena Williams”. Adult Ed, which bills its event as “a monthly lecture series devoted to making useless knowledge somewhat less useless,” is a perfect fit for Feldman’s presentation: “I’m a lifelong tennis player and lifelong sarcastic observer of life.” Sounds like the perfect doubles combo! -NM
TSF: First off Andrew, tell us what you do.
Andrew Feldman: I’m the National Volunteer Development Manager for the USTA. I’ve been here for seven years. Not a lot of people realize this, but the USTA is a non-profit organization, so I help work with our volunteers throughout the country. We do a ton of stuff throughout the country at the grassroots level and I help organize events and provide resources for our volunteers.
TSF: Awesome, sounds like a cool job. So let’s get right to your talk on this coming Tuesday at Union Hall. What’s up with using the word ‘costumes’ in the title over ‘attire’ or ‘outfits’? Was that intentional?
AF: I guess I’m not completely sure why I used ‘costumes’, but I do think there’s an element of showmanship of what the players wear on the court. Partially, that has to do with the sponsors, but when you look at players like Venus and Serena Williams, they want to show off on court, especially Venus with [Eleven]. This isn’t necessarily new, though. We saw this 20 years ago with Andre Agassi and his crazy get-ups and refusing to play Wimbledon because it was a white-attire only event.
TSF: Tell us about your tennis background.
AF: I grew up playing tennis; my whole family plays tennis. I grew up in the sort of Long Island/North Shore tennis world. We had matching outfits and polo shirts and tennis instructors … that’s how I got interested. This idea just kind of popped up recently. I think it’s amusing to see what the players come up with, especially at the Slams, and so why not talk about it, too?
The theme of [Tuesday] evening is “Success Stories”. I’m going to show examples of what I think are successful fashions and a few – in my humbled opinion – that are not.
TSF: It seems like tennis today has a bit of a double standard: the women are criticized for their off court involvement with fashion and modeling while it seems to be encouraged of the men, Roger Federer and all. What do you think about that?
AF: I think there’s somewhat of a double standard. Tennis has crossed over into the celebrity and entertainment business. Coming to an event like the U.S. Open, you’re not just going to a tennis tournament, it’s a celebrity entertainment event. The whole fashion thing is a part of that. I don’t think it distracts the players really. It’s their livelihood, so they make it work on and off the court.
Read on to find out who Andrew thinks are tennis’s best and worst dressed players and his opinion on the worst tennis fashion disaster.
TSF: Name your best dressed woman on tour right now? Man?
AF: I actually think the last couple of times she’s played, Maria Sharapova has looked really good. Her look can be so stylish and classy, not overdone or distracting form her game — just real, high fashion. I like the look that Rafael Nadal has going right now. The plaid shorts and bright shirts; I wonder if he’s doing it to distract his opponents a little.
TSF: Speaking of distracting opponents, did you watch the Australian Open matches when Venus had brown spandex on underneath her dresses? It looked like she was naked!
AF: [Laughter.] That actually sounds like more something her sister would do, but I think Venus is entitled to have a little fun. I don’t think there was any harm in it.
TSF: What’s the worst tennis fashion disaster on the court ever?
AF: I think I’ll have to go with when Dominik Hrbaty wore a shirt with holes in the back of it. Lleyton Hewitt has this quote where he basically said he couldn’t lose to a guy dressed like that. On the women’s side, probably Venus and her beads when they flew off. That was a hazard!
Hole-y Hrbaty! Andrew can’t find reason to praise (or find reverence in) Dominik Hrbaty’s fashion faux-pas. (Photo by SI.)
TSF: A hazard indeed. Speaking of hazards, what do you think of the fashion choices of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, America’s current Fed Cup starlet?
AF: I love watching to see what she’ll wear! It’s always a doozy. She had that Greek goddess look going for awhile, I loved that.
TSF: Do you think that anyone will ever go as far as Lady Gaga and make it all about the fashion on court?
AF: Probably not. But now that I’ve said that, the next up-and-comer will probably do just that. [Laughs.]
TSF: On a more serious note, do you think that the branding of tennis players and crew members has a negative effect on the sport? Does it commercialize it too much?
AF: My cynical answer is that engaging sponsors today is an important part of the game. I don’t think we can necessarily avoid the commercialization of the game.
The USTA considered attaching a brand to the National Tennis Center. Instead of naming it for a corporate sponsor, we wanted to name it for the most important woman in the history of the game, Billie Jean King. There are some trademarks that we make, and then in other ways we’ll say, ‘Yeah, this is where we want to stay true to what’s important.’
For good or bad, the sponsors are always going to pick the really attractive players. That’s who they want to highlight and feature. Frankly, that’s who is going to be used for the advertising to broaden the tennis appeal. I don’t think that’s a great thing. I’m not endorsing that. Without passing the buck, it’s out of the hand of tennis. But I think all the women are going to play their game, they’re going to try as hard as they can. And the men, too. It just makes the game that much more interesting.
If you’re in the New York area, come check out Andrew’s presentation at Adult Ed on Tuesday night at Union Hall in Park Slope (Brooklyn) at 8 PM. $5 admission.