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Power girls add sex appeal to tennis

An emerging line of attractive young female players have transformed the Australian Open into a Glam Slam.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2006 13:22 IST

An emerging generation of attractive young female players have transformed this year's Australian Open into a Glam Slam, affirming that the game is in good hands and still has pulling power.

A host of glamorous players have made a splash at the season-opening Grand Slam, providing the tournament with marketable new faces.

And the new wave of young prospects can play, in contrast to previous pin-ups such as Anna Kournikova, who earned millions from product endorsements but failed to win a single WTA singles title throughout her whole career.

Russian 18-year-old Maria Kirilenko struck a chord with fans and the media, attracting an admiring audience of thousands to the normally sparsely-attended outer courts.

This was partly due to her playing in a frilly dress designed by Stella McCartney, who has seen a niche in the market and grabbed it.

But she also pushed top seed Lindsay Davenport to three sets when she played on centre court to affirm her status as one of the tennis world's hottest rising talents.

Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, midriff bared, kickstarted a career revival at the tender age of 22 in Melbourne by ousting defending champion Serena Williams.

Czech Iveta Benesova also opted for a midriff revealing outfit but also impressed when she dumped fifth seed Mary Pierce from the tournament.

Her compatriot Nicole Vaidisova, just 16, was equally at home attending a sponsor's fashion shoot or taking on third seed Amelie Mauresmo in the fourth round.

Ana Ivanovic has been tipped as the next big thing and the 18-year-old attracted a loyal cheer squad in Melbourne that was not there just because she can play tennis.

"These girls play tennis first and foremost, the fact that many of them are very glamourous is a major bonus for any promoter," Tennis Australia spokesman John Lindsay told AFP, citing Hantuchova as the new pioneer for players with both catwalk looks and on-court ability.

The rise of the graceful young starlets lightened the burden on Russian fourth seed Maria Sharapova's increasingly-muscular shoulders as the resident glamourpuss of the women's tour.

Indeed, Channel Seven, which broadcasts the event in Australia, promoted Sunday nights clash between Sharapova and Hantuchova with the tagline "We've got glamour, we've got power".

The station's managing director Ian Johnson was jubilant at the ratings bonanza provided by the young up-and-comers, which proves the adage that sex sells.

"The Australian Open is not just a terrific sporting tournament, it's also become an increasingly social event and I'm sure a lot of our viewers enjoy the glamour of the event," Johnson told the Herald Sun newspaper.

Tournament top seed Davenport, 29, said the new names were not just pretty faces but providing unprededented depth to the women's tour.

"It's not frightening," she said. "I look at it as a challenge to play a lot of the young girls that are coming up and the really good ones.

"I think I've played most all of them by now and I don't care what age they are or how long they've been playing, it's all about the tennis and what kind of game that that girl can bring on that day."

World number six Justine Henin-Hardenne said the abundance of talent in the women's ranks these days meant top players could no longer expect to coast through the early rounds of a Grand Slam.

"Women's tennis is changing, it's different now," Henin-Hardenne said.

"You could say that in the first week of the tournament it was easy for the top seeds, but now you have to be very focused and 100 per cent -- all these players want to beat us."

First Published: Jan 23, 2006 13:22 IST