It’s hard to deny that sex appeal is an inherent draw in women’s tennis.
While boring, drab, perfectionists (think Justine Henin) have done their best to ensure that all eyes on court remained on balls in play, having a beautiful, talented tennis player dressed in a short skirt is still a marketing man’s (and most other men as well) ultimate dream.
The problem these days is finding the right mix.
Twenty years ago, women tennis players had it all. Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, right until Martina Hingis - easy on the eye, deadly on the court.
Today, the women’s tour suffers from an either/or complex. Either good looking, or a champion. Either sexy, or consistent. Rarely, if ever, both.
The East Europeans ooze grace and beauty on court, but are forever the bridesmaids at Grand Slams, falling unfailingly when it matters (Dinara Safina) and only occasionally winning a final (Ana Ivanovic).
Venus Williams is as much unlike your average beauty, as she is unlike your average tennis player. Which is what made her French maid costume at Roland Garros recently so uncomfortable for many.
Let’s say if you have to trot out the ‘beauty lies in eye of the beholder’ cliché, then she falls into the talent category.
While Serena Williams’ Amazonian appeal will no doubt find takers on some courts, Maria Sharapova remains the closest we have to the perfect mix of beauty and talent.
However, after Anna Kournikova, nobody epitomizes the modern gulf between sex appeal and fulfilling playing potential on the world tennis stage more than Sania Mirza.
Four years ago, covering my first Dubai Tennis Open, I took a wrong turn at the entrance and ended up in the players’ tunnel leading to centrecourt.
As I turned back, Sania Mirza turned the corner. There she was right in front of me.
Re-read the first para.
Sania has it in spades, buckets and oodles. I found it hard to breathe as she walked past.
I finally found my seat to watch Sania play Hingis in a match that could easily be the poster advertisement for women’s tennis. And not just for the beauty on court.
The stadium was packed despite it being a first-round match. All Sania’s matches are generally first round ones and generally packed, thanks to the Indian diaspora.
It was the power of Sania versus the touch of Hingis. After exhausting her blistering forehand, Sania bowed to the relentless movement and placing of Hingis.
Once again, Sania looked hot, but failed to win.
Ever since, Ms Mirza, right up to the point where she became Mrs Shoaib Malik, has always taken to the court promising to deliver more than just sex appeal and a bazooka forehand. Everytime, she has flattered to deceive.
She lost in the second round of the ongoing US Open… again.
Serena Williams is injured.
Which means for the business end of the tournament at Flushing Meadows this year, on the sex appeal charts, it’s Venus (ahem!), those demure East Europeans and the sexy mom-next-door in Clijsters.
There is also Caroline Wozniacki and Samantha Stosur. But, they are certainly no Sania Mirza.