Tennis: Wimbledon '94 / A daft dress sense designed to be predominantly stuffy

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The Independent Online
IT was predominantly startling to find a Brit seeded No 1 at Wimbledon yesterday, but this pinch-me-I-must- be-dreaming feeling did not last long. Mandy Wainwright was knocked out of the girls' singles in straight sets against an opponent good enough to put your shirt on - just so long, of course, as the shirt is predominantly white.

Wimbledon's reputation for being predominantly stuffy went up several notches on Court 17, when Wainwright's 14-year old- Hungarian conqueror, Reka Vidats, had barely set foot on court before finding herself being frog-marched back to the changing-room. Two steps behind her was the stern-faced umpire, Jane Clark, looking for all the world like a headmistress who has just nobbled someone from class 4B for smoking behind the bike sheds.

The problem arose when Vidats peeled off her tracksuit top to reveal - horror of horrors - a rather appealing pastel blue pattern down one quarter of her shirt. Clark immediately invoked Wimbledon's 'predominantly white' ruling, and Vidats was forced to change into one of the shirts Wimbledon keeps in a cupboard for precisely this situation. Club colours around collar and sleeves - otherwise white.

Why umpires cannot check these things beforehand (like football referees inspecting studs before the teams go out) is not readily apparent but what made this episode so bizarre is that right next door on Court 16, an Irish girl was wearing the identical pattern in pastel green. What's more, it is a shirt marketed by the French company Ellesse as part of their 'Wimbledon range'.

Vidats, however, then played the pants (predominantly white ones, of course) off Wainwright, even though it was something of a surprise to see Clark allow her to play with bright yellow strings on her racket. Wainwright's tennis, on the other hand, was perfectly acceptable to Clark, in that it was predominantly colourless.

One spectator recalled a similar hiatus at a tournament in Lee-on-Solent some years ago, when a female competitor fell foul of officialdom by wearing a top without a collar. Her reaction to the umpire's objection was to remove it, revealing a predominantly white bra, and predominantly not much else. She was (to general crowd disappointment) allowed to put it back on.

Whether yesterday's affair affected Wainwright is hard to say, but her lack of rhythm was put down to lack of match practice.

She has apparently been doing what most 18-year-old schoolgirls do - studying for her A levels - which is predominantly sensible in the cloistered, closeted world of professional tennis. When Monica Seles first competed in the French Open in Paris, she thought Notre Dame was the local football team.

There is enough concern about the dangers of teeny burn- out (both physical and mental) that the Womens' Tennis Council may soon be re-named the Womens' Tennis Counsel. It currently has a team of medical and psychological advisers looking into the women's game, and will shortly be releasing its findings. The choice appears to lie between providing more leisure equipment for the ladies, such as dolls houses and skipping ropes, or increasing the age of entry into the senior events from 14 to 16.

Jennifer Capriati actually played her first tournament when she was still 13, a special dispensation that had its origins in cash. She was apparently worth dollars 5m before hitting a ball, and much good did it do her.

Out on Court 12 yesterday, in another girls' match, Anna Kurnikova, of Russia, is just 13, but has already been on the books of Mark McCormack's IMG organisation for several years. Her opponent was Esme De Villiers, of South Africa, who is known as Nannie, and probably felt like one.

Kurnikova is about six stone wet through, is not much higher than the net, and totes a racket that looks at least five sizes too big. Hers was the second match of six on court, presumably on the basis that if the order of play committee put her on too late, her mother would stride on to court and whip her off home for tea.

She plays divinely, albeit with a grunt even louder than Seles's, and spectators on the court next door did not know whether to alert the vice-squad or a midwife. As for De Villiers, she might have lost, but anyone could see that she was an experienced old hand at the age of 18.

The crowd held its breath while she removed her tracksuit top, but Nannie was taking no chances. She was virgin white from top to toe, including the visor - although the umpire gazed quizzically at the blue ribbon around her pony tail, and mentally marked her down as a potential rebel.

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