Wimbledon 97: Sex the obsession of SW19

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The Independent Online
As Wimbledon got off to a wet and gloomy start, the British press has turned even more to its favourite subject - sex.

Some excerpts from local coverage of the tournament included: a photograph of the 17-year-old blonde Olga Barabanschikova - tugging up her shirt and rolling back her elastic waistband to show off a diamond-studded navel; the Russian- born 16-year-old Anna Kournikova, her lanky, supermodel looks spread across all the papers, with headlines equating her to "Lolita"; tennis's top woman - the 16-year-old Martina Hingis - photographed in her opening match lunging for a loose ball in a short, clingy tennis dress.

Such is the current obsession that BBC television crews have been told to keep their cameras trained above the waistline and avoid glimpses of underwear.

The London Evening Standard - pointing out the change - notes "underwear of the women players has been an inescapably prominent feature of Wimbledon ever since `Gorgeous' Gussie Moran added lace to hers in 1949."

Post-game interviews have offered up questions about 19-year-old Iva Majoli's live-in boyfriend and the relationship between teenager Kournikova and the 27-year-old Detroit Red Wings player, Sergei Federov.

All of this, and 22-year-old Mary Pierce - long considered one of the most glamorous women in the game - has yet to take the court.

Neither has the 17-year-old American Venus Williams, whose beaded braids made headlines when she played in a Wimbledon warm-up tournament recently. Williams will reportedly wear purple and green (Wimbledon's colours) beads here.

Much of the attention focuses on the new generation of young women players. Kournikova appears to be the local darling, with male and female reporters writing much the same story.

Raised in Moscow and transplanted at 11 to Florida to learn the game at Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy, she is being compared to Chris Evert and a Barbie doll. Headlines urge her to join the Spice Girls, the all- girl pop group.

"Spice Girl Anna's A Knockout" cooed The Sun yesterday.

"She has a ponytail and a perma-tan," opined the more up-market Times. "Her microskirts resemble crisply ironed tea towels and her microphone manner is impeccable. Anna Kournikova would be the perfect Spice Girl but ... she is too young."

She can play tennis, too, although much of the early coverage has failed to mention it.

"The irony is that no one was interested in the quality of Kournikova's performance, how she projected her personality was all that mattered," The Times wrote.

Stephen Wade reports for

Associated Press