Friday 9 December 2016

Knickers and grunts: anyone for tennis porn?

Despite equal pay for women players at Wimbledon, a sexy image is what sells, writes Donal Lynch

Published 26/06/2011 | 05:00

She shows her behind, winks at the camera and at the moment of truth lets out a long squeal of feminine exertion. We're talking, of course about any number of female players at Wimbledon, which began last week amid the usual blizzard of knicker pictures and discussions about grunting.

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In the last decade the sport has become incrementally more pornographic -- noted feminist Venus Williams actually wore nude hot pants under her barely-there skirt earlier this year -- and in the meantime the women have managed to convince the All England Club to give them equal prize money to the men. Even tennis toffs could not ignore the marketing appeal of a hot piece of ass.

Williams was watched last week by her old foe Lindsay Davenport, now a commentator on American TV. Nicknamed "dump truck" in her playing days, Davenport was wildly successful at winning tennis matches but a marketing man's nightmare. She wore simple, milk-maidish outfits and hit the ball in total silence, almost as if she wasn't having an orgasm with each strike. She was No 1 in the world for years but made only a fraction of the money of leggy contemporaries like Anna Kournikova. Were she to start her career today she would be allowed to play but hardly encouraged. The sunglasses-wearing grifters who scout junior tennis players for sports marketing agencies like IMG and Octagon would not be pushing scholarships and endorsement contracts on her.

Their preferred quarry has long been leggy, tanned stunners like Maria Sharapova or Ana Ivanovic -- women who continue to rake in millions for their agents even when they can't put a serve in the court. As former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich said a couple of years ago: "The women are there to look good . . . that's a big part of it."

If the women tennis players have hauled themselves toward equal prize money by their bra straps we can hardly blame them. Women's golf, soccer and yes, even beach volleyball, have learned that their athletes' sexuality is worth megabucks.

In his time as Ladies Professional Golf Association commissioner Ty Votaw said that "appearance is one of the five points of celebrity we focussed on and told our players to be mindful of".

Tennis took this and ran with it: rules of modesty in the women's game seem to have been thrown out years ago, quaint principles sacrificed on the altar of TV ratings. Chris Evert would've probably slapped anyone who asked her to pose nude in a lads' mag; now players apparently consider it an honour.

All of this is considered harmless in its way. They want to do it, we want to buy it and little girls already think they have to look like Jordan/Cheryl Cole so what's an Anna Kournikova in the mix too? But perhaps the creepiest part of women's tennis is that those who are charged with predicting who the successful players will be have to find them young. And since profitability is as much about attractiveness as athleticism, an unspoken but universally acknowledged part of the scout's job is to identify the children who will grow up to be gorgeous ballstrikers, model athletes and athlete-models. At the world-famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, the star pupil at the moment is a young Russian Maria Shiskina. She would probably beat any Irish male player not named Conor Niland.

Her groundstrokes land at impossibly acute angles and she spends hours each week turning herself into a human backboard. But it's her winsome looks as much as her skills that have the marketing men putting their chips on her. She's already being tipped to win Wimbledon around 2020. For her sake let's just hope that by that stage the sport hasn't dispensed with rackets and clothes entirely.

It would be a shame to have wasted all those hours drilling volleys.

Sport, Page 14

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