They’re serious athletes with major intentions, focus unwavering as they toil towards the highest-stakes victories. They’re dedicated, ambitious, history-making and inspirational. And yet many of the top players are something else too: they’re hot.
Alongside tournament titles and career-best rankings, today’s tennis stars are collecting modelling assignments, lucrative endorsements and the adulation of fans who don’t mind admitting that it’s not just backhands and forehands that have caught their attention.
It’s the fun side of professional tennis that sparks endless debate about who, in fact, is the hottest professional player of all. The many contenders make it a tough choice at Australian Open 2013. There are furrowed brows but also the odd giggle and occasional good-natured intervention as, objectivity admittedly abandoned, a short list of sorts is assembled.
If mainstream media focus is the measure, the contenders are obvious. Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic can seemingly spend as much time in glossy magazines as they do on the sports pages. The divas of the women’s game are stars of the brightest variety, attracting promotional deals, scores of fans and often the company of other non-tennis superstars. The most glamorous women at any glamorous event, there are few players who’ve stepped into the spotlight with such style.
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are similarly credentialed in the hot department. Both multi-Grand Slam champions with sturdy stints at world No.1 and a string of impressive records, their overall X Factor encompasses many qualities of the non-playing kind. For the naturally charming Djokovic, it’s the effortless entertainment, quick wit and a soft side to the warrior spirit that saw him outclass Rafael Nadal in the longest Australian Open final ever.
Federer is simply well put together, the Swiss star rarely raising a sweat on court and always resplendent in his monogrammed attire and bespoke accessories. Few players could pull off the white shoes, fluro-shoelaces and mid-calf black socks quite like Rog’ but if you’re looking for a non-aesthetic measure, consider that alongside his tennis immortality he’s also raised millions for charity, with a particular focus on educational facilities in Africa.
Is it any surprise that stylists and designers are naturally drawn to such alluring champions? Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour is a long-time acquaintance of Federer and has also been spotted in the company of Djokovic, Sharapova and other players. Caroline Wozniacki is dressed by Stella McCartney on the court and other high-profile designers off it. Fans and other players will try to replicate their look, but it’s rarely achieved with the same aplomb.
Star power is something that can build over time and Tommy Haas has had more than most, the German claiming his first career titles in 1997 and rising to world No.2 before losing years to injury. Like a fine wine long forgotten, Haas was dusted off and served with the finest accompaniments in 2012, the German defeating Federer to win Halle and return to the game’s upper echelons. Good looks and strength of character too? You don’t get much hotter than that.
Indifference, even of the haughty variety, can also be a part of the appeal. Julia Goerges will fix you with an icy stare if you try the “gorgeous” pun on her surname. Fitting and tempting as that description might be, the German whose been compared to movie star Katie Holmes wants to be known for her tennis.
On the other hand you have players wearing their appeal almost literally on their sleeve. Janko Tipsarevic’s left arm is embellished with a Dostojevski quote that reads “Beauty will save the world”. Never mind the fact that wife Biljana has banned the Serb from more body art. Combining a certain intellectualism with an I-could-save-the-world steeliness, Tisparevic already has a large proportion of the fan base covered.
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as newcomer in the hot player stakes, especially when it’s combined with character too. Nominees at Australian Open 2013 event include the effervescent and undeniably beautiful Mandy Minella as well as rising American star Sloane Stephens. With a smile brighter than her future, the long-time admirer and friend of Serena comes with a mischievous side: her family owns a funeral parlour and Sloane has been known to confine her friends alongside the non-living clientele.
Jerzy Janowicz is also rising to new heights, not only as a player but also as one of the court’s more interesting characters. A year ago he couldn’t afford the airfare to Australia for qualifying; this year the 203cm Pole was the 24th seed, some YouTube hit tantrums and come-from-behind five set victories highlighting his spirit. But he’s done it the hard way, so let’s tick off “rugged” in the hot checklist.
Viewing time is something we would have enjoyed more of from Grigor Dmitrov, a first round loser at this event. Described by many as the second version of Federer, the 21-year-old Bulgarian is graceful, engaging and rumoured to be dating Sharapova. Neither has confirmed it, but the rumours alone instantly raise the figurative temperature around him.
A little bit of “if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it” bravado doesn’t hurt either. Daniela Hantuchova and Maria Kirilenko are among those who have featured in Sports Illustrated’s famous swim suit calendar. Feliciano Lopez, photographed without a shirt almost as often as he is with a racquet, once accepted a role as himself in a Spanish soap opera. Fernando Verdasco posed nude for Spain’s Cosmopolitan magazine and the fact that stripping off also benefited charity only adding to his fans’ appreciation.
So many players, so many hot qualities. How could we ever choose the hottest of all? Debate still raging, the fact is we can’t. Over to you, the fans, who can identify a hot player as fast as Maria, Serena, or Ana can spark a new style trend and as convincingly as Djokovic, Federer and company add their X Factor to any occasion.