Why champs really have to be vamps

So teenage tennis stars look like teeange film stars. What's wrong with that?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
LAST week, when the Lolita of women's tennis, Anna Kournikova, beat the world number one, Martina Hingis, her performance on court, was, as usual, the last thing on the minds of the male journalists.

Instead, they questioned the soon-to-be 17-year-old on her blonde, pigtail- swinging sexual allure, no doubt trying to determine whether she is aware of her effect on their groins. Never one to miss a beat (and perfectly aware of her effect on men) she replied "Why should I have to look ugly just because I am an athlete?"

Good point Anna. But what she glaringly failed to take into account is that she is, frankly, gorgeous, and couldn't look bad if she tried.

The soon-to-be 18-year-old Martina Hingis, on the other hand, like many muscle-bound broad-shouldered players, can look a bit ropey mid-grunt. As husky voiced Kournikova flirted her way through her press conference, Hingis must have been secretly pleased that her own glamour rating was about to go through the roof. This is thanks to American GQ, which features Hingis on its June cover, looking like a cute soap opera starlet. "The Champ is a Vamp", trumpets the headline

These two teenagers are currently the stars of the women's tennis circuit, successors to Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova, the butch doyennes of the late Eighties and early Nineties game who, no matter how hard they tried with their pink frosted lipstick and designer dresses, still ended up looking like men in drag. No-one seemed to care though, it was the tennis that counted, right? Maybe, but things are changing in the world of women's tennis.

As prize money continues its ever upward spiral - up almost 50 per cent since 1990 - it is teenage girls such as Hingis, Kournikova and the Amazonian Williams sisters who are raising the game by with their looks and choice of clothes, rather than their personalities. When the match is over, it seems, glamour is the order of the day.

It has been a long time coming. Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles attempted the glamour route but ended up looking a bit silly: Capriati burnt out early after being caught smoking a joint, among other misdemeanours. Seles gave it a shot - appearing in Hello! was perhaps her lowest moment - and is now concentrating on her tennis again.

Today's teenage tennis prodigies have clever managers who are keeping a very close eye on their charges' development and, moreover, are selecting special image enhancing projects for their young stars. The Williams sisters would never do Hello! - they do American Vogue instead. Kournikova is seen at all the right events: she was nicknamed a Spice Girl-alike by the tabloids, and hey presto turns up looking better than Posh, Sporty, Baby et al at the premiere of Spiceworld: The Movie.

Now it's Hingis's turn - hence the GQ cover story. Someone decided she had to be perceived as a woman, not a "girl-next-door"type as she has been described.

And it's not just the managers pushing the glamour angle. The Lawn Tennis Association put Kournikova on Wimbledon's centre court last summer to garner attention despite her low ranking (she is currently 47). TV viewing figures for the women's tournament at Wimbledon went up 20 per cent and the tabloids (let's not forget them) went crazy snapping frilly knickers and bums. All good fun? Some don't think so.

"Why the hell don't they just get on with playing tennis. I'm fed up with this exploitation of teenagers," was one feminist's response to the Hingis-goes-glamorous story. But the truth is that the teenagers in question are not being exploited unknowingly. Hingis talks about men, and growing up in the limelight as well as tennis in the GQ interview, and is clearly in her element as she poses for the camera showing her cleavage, thumb hooked in waistband, laughing hands-on-hip in a tiny dress.

Imagine it: you are nearly 18 (nearly an "official" woman) you earned $3,400,196 last year, (before sponsorship deals with Tacchini, Opel and Yonex), you are the best woman tennis player in the world, but most of all you have given up your teenage years to get there. Why not get dressed up, dye your hair, play with make-up and wear pretty dresses? It's what almost every other teenage girl does. Hingis is just doing it so half the western world can catch a glimpse of her looking gorgeous while she is still the world number one. That's one thing Kournikova can't touch just yet.