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FAN meets her tennis idol for an interview.



Tennis beyond the grit, into the glamour

By Fran Katigbak
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:31:00 01/19/2009

Filed Under: Tennis, Sport

TENNIS wouldn?t be a glamorous sport if it didn?t have its own Hollywood-esque idiosyncrasies.

Not only have rivalries provided some of the most nail-biting on-court match-ups, such as the four-way jostle for the top rank among Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

There are also divas, bad boys, hook-ups and breakups, fashion and style faux pas to satiate tennis fans with news?and gossip.

With the season?s first grand slam, the Australian Open, which started Monday, we asked Georgina Chang, ESPN-Star Sports presenter and host, to dish out on the world of glamour tennis: who was caught canoodling at the Wimby stands; the tennis legend who agreed to an impromptu interview; the three-time grand slam winner whose angelic demeanor becomes cold and unfriendly when the cameras stop rolling, and more.

What do viewers miss seeing on TV that you?re privy to?

Off-cam, Federer is very pleasant. He will talk about anything and make humorous comments. He?s very personable.

Nadal is polite. Hampered by his lack of English proficiency, he?s quite shy and often looks to his manager for translations. Nadal is more serious when the camera rolls.

Sharapova is cold and unfriendly. Once she just stood and glared at me as we waited for the cameraman to frame the shot. All I had said to her was ?Hi, Maria!? But she was suddenly all smiles and girly when the camera rolled.

Ana Ivanovic is simply lovely. She?s always breathless, smiling and talks a mile a minute. I just want to be her BFF!

At Wimbledon two years ago, I remember seeing Venus Williams canoodling in a quiet corner with her boyfriend Hank. They hadn?t gone public yet, but they would be standing close together talking.

What is the atmosphere like in the Australian Open compared to the three other slams?

The second grand slam in Paris seems to shift a gear up. Nobody has much time to fraternize.

At Wimbledon, there is much at stake, yet the culture of gentility shrouds the fierce competition and intense pressure.

By the time we get to the US Open, people seem to have become blunt, curt and in-your-face...It?s the last slam to achieve impossible dreams.

If you like to chill out and have beer in the garden with lots of friends and crazy fans, the Australian Open is good fun. It is the most welcoming and embracing of all the grand slams. When you come through the gates, you feel like you?ve arrived at a mass BBQ party, but on a bigger and better scale.

There?s also the endless entertainment, courtesy of fans who come in the colors of their national flag. Australia is home to thousands of immigrants, and you can see them proudly displaying their heritage...These aren?t your run-of-the-mill fans. They are hardcore, willing to shout out their patriotism all over Melbourne Park and beyond.

You?re a huge fan of Federer. Has any other player left a big impression on you?

Rod Laver is my biggest legend to date. Despite his huge aura of importance, he was happy to sit down [for an interview] at impromptu notice. He had a soft spot for Nadal?s left-hand advantage for obvious reasons (Laver is left-handed). He was very obliging and offered extremely insightful advice.

Which hook-ups and breakups have been buzz-worthy?

Many guys are still amazed at how Radek Stepanek got engaged to Martina Hingis and later, Nicole Vaidisova.

There are few Asian athletes on the ATP and WTA circuit. What?s your general impression of them?

They are a really nice bunch, and fun to interview. The Asian culture is quite polite and demure, unlike the ?Westerners? who are more direct and straightforward.

Players like Andy Murray and Djokovic play extremely well but don?t necessarily find favor with spectators. What are they actually like among their peers, entourage, with the media?

Humility is not an adjective Novak is associated with. He is extroverted, loves the attention, and sometimes even seems to thrive in negative publicity. I can?t wait to see how he?ll work his ?public relations? with the vocal Aussie fans this time.

Andy Murray doesn?t try to sugar up the media or the fans. However, last year he told me his PR company had encouraged him to do more ?fun? interviews to improve his image.

Give examples of the most peculiar behavior you?ve seen from tennis pros off-court.

Llyeton Hewitt refuses to be interviewed by ESPN and most other American media. This was after that fracas with James Blake at the US Open where Americans accused him of being racist.

Andy Roddick refuses to be interviewed by any media other than ESPN and other American media.

Ivanovic likes to have the same breakfast from the same shop before all her matches.

What?s the worst you?ve seen of players who act like royalty?

Maria Sharapova?she is arrogant, unfriendly...I know plenty of her male fans are hissing at this, but her likability rating on the tour among players, officials and now the media is very low. She?s probably got a nice side, but doesn?t feel it?s necessary to be decent to people in general.

Who, on the other hand, are the most down-to-earth?

Most of them are terrific, very friendly. Ivanovic is the friendliest and most smiley. Federer is...professional, patient and gives sincere and personal answers.

The Croatians and Serbians (Ivan Ljubicic, Mario Ancic and Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic) give profound and meaningful answers. Sometimes I need time to gather myself together afterward.
Marat Safin is full of dry humor and exudes such sexiness that I get all giggly around him.

How has tennis fashion evolved in recent years?

It has become a lot more of a marketing element for sports brands.

For example, Nike and Reebok designed outfits for the players they endorse; the products are not available commercially, which was never done before. Sharapova?s ?Swan Lake? outfit and Federer?s classy retro cardigan at Wimbledon were made specifically for them.

In part it?s the star treatment players get for endorsing these sports companies, and it?s certainly a way to get players and their brands stand out.

It?s taken on such significance for these brands that I?ve heard the outfits for this year?s Wimbledon have already been designed.

What are the hottest trends seen on the pros lately? Which styles (or players) just made you go, ?What were they thinking??

Compared to the ?90s, players are now donning outfits in very bright and strong colors. I know that Elena Dementieva?s outfit this year will be a bright vermilion shade, Hewitt will be wearing a loud green, Jelena Jankovic will be in yellow and grey, while Serena Williams will don a lime-green kit.

There were a few outfits worn by Serena that became popular talking points?a biker-theme outfit, a catsuit, a white trenchcoat that did not put her in the best of light.

Sharapova once wore a tuxedo-inspired attire that made her look out of place on the courts of Wimbledon.

Slovakian Dominic Hrbaty once wore a top that had holes under the armpits.

Which tennis outfits are the most memorable in the last few seasons?

Federer?s classy cardigan stands out. So far he?s not been seen in anything dreadful yet.

Nadal?s hemline is shorter these days, and looks dandy in his shorter shorts, which are nicely tight and show off his perky butt to great advantage.

Ivanovic and Jankovic?s consistently feminine apparel have been outstanding, too.

Who are just as fashionable off-court?

Venus Williams has her own tennis and casual clothing line called ?Eleven.? The clothes are trendy and priced very reasonably. It?s cool of her to design a line of clothes for the masses.

Catch Georgina Chang on Star Sports? coverage of the Australian Open, Jan. 19-Feb. 1. Visit www.espnstar.com for her exclusive player interviews as well as match highlights and reviews.

E-mail the author at fkatigbak@inquirer.com.ph.

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