Roger Federer has raised the fashion stakes for men’s tennis. His swish cardigan is probably the only garment that could ever adequately express his on-court elegance. But Roger’s flamboyance isn’t an isolated thrust, tennis has a long history of style and flair. Gentry takes a look back at some of the lawn icons who have ruffled our fashion feathers.
Tennis is an individual sport and this may go someway to explaining the need of the players to reach out for means of self-expression. According to superbrat Johnny Mac, tennis is the sport that piles the most psychological pressure on a single participant, a game of inches in which whole careers can hang on keeping cool. It is not a surprise then that some players find a means to release some of the tension. Some, not many, have a sense of humour. Tennis clown Henri Leconte is an infamous prankster and Novak Djokovich reached notoriety in the locker room for his brilliant impersonations. However, it is rare that the jokers reach the very top of the game. The grinder that was Jimmy Conners became a crowd pleaser as a means of working the crowd against his opponent. Others, such as vodka-brusier Marat Safin, simply smash things up and go into a kind of on-court primal scream session. The creative types, however, and usually those whose game sparkles with invention, often show a little of themselves through their apparel. Wimbledon is a good proving ground for the tennis-stylist as there is the overriding restriction that their outfits should be white and, in some sense, tasteful.
Roger has done wonders, not only with his cardigan but his white blazer and the immaculate cream trousers he sometimes warms up in. He was clearly trying to push the white blazer as an equivalent of the green jacket of the US Open. Tennis trousers are a lost gem of the sport. Images of Fred Perry trotting across the bumpy old courts in the ankle length slacks are endearing still. A little impractical today maybe, for anyone other than the world’s best as most of the also-rans on the circuit are too athletic and mobile to be contained by such a refined style.
Most, of course, opt for the standard (boring) sponsor friendly sportswear. Indeed, of the current crop of men, it is only the eminent Fed-Express who makes the effort. However, in the past, there are quite a few style icons who should be honoured. Look no further than bearded robot Bjorn Borg. Admittedly, Borg was caught helplessly within the manicured style tallons of the 70s, more a product of his elaborate times than an all out pioneer. But the man wore his era well. The tight shorts, the headband, the hair, the v-neck collared shirts – Borg was as in control of his look as he was his notoriously rigorous game. It is no surprise that a man with such a sense of timing and style should go on to launch his own underwear range.
Not to be outdone, machoman and wildboy Ille ‘Nasty’ Nastase brought some Carpathian decadence to the all England club. His brooding good looks were framed by his wild hair and beard. His basketball-style socks and black / white combo turned him into a moody chairascuro flash.
It doesn’t take much to excite sports fans and early in Andre Agassi’s career, he became a firebrand for wearing MULTICOLOURED (!) clothes. Thus, there was much anticipation over his early Wimbledon outfits in that they displayed an absence of colour. For Agassi, it was about what he wasn’t showing. Occupying in the corrupted fileserver of my mind the same space as Bruce Willis, Agassi was always dressed for battle and his immaculate garb would always end up as sweat-stained and battered as John McClane’s iconic vest. Agassi brought a little Vegas trash to the court – his Bon Jovi hair, his gas-station stubble and his all round 80s sense of vice was a fashion statement in itself.
The women have it good at present. Russian grunter Maria Sharapova has been wearing an unusually formal piece this year. Branded as a tuxedo of sorts, Sharapova’s grueling style is well countered by her delicate attire (and smashed to smithereens by her renowned coital grunts). This attempt to bring non-tennis wear to the game is admirable. She is only a few sets away from a ballroom gown and gloves.
Not be outdone, Serena Williams (well known for her fashion forays) warmed up in what can only be described as a Mac. Obviously expecting rain, this entirely impractical piece of clothing moves tennis one step closer to wrestling. I would now like to see Amelie Mauresmo wear a cape and Lucha Libre mask.
Of course, there are some women stars of the past who made great strides, style wise. Just think back to the brooding groupie style of Gabriella Sabatini. Overtly, Anna Kournikova sexed-up Wimbledon higher than it was prepared to go. Setting the courts ablaze decades earlier, however, Chris Evert brought men to their knees in awe and women to their knees in defeat. Her win / loss record is the greatest in the history of women’s tennis and her fresh-out-of-college looks brought her greater fame yet. She famously dated Burt Reynolds, no better qualification could be gained from the 1970s style-school than that. There’s no doubt that, beyond displaying individual style, in the easily impressed world of sports fandom, if a little extravagance can endear a player to the gallery, it is a distinct advantage.
Ultimately, tennis is a sport of flair and invention, of individuality and self-expression – the very qualities required of any respectable, successful fashionista.
Sometimes, of course, less is more:
If you can think of any other stylish tennis stars, let us know!
Mr. Paolo Cabrelli