“Ballbabes at the Net”

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Props to the NYT for publishing this article by Kathleen McElroy:

The United States Tennis Association and Ralph Lauren are defining the difference between boys and girls. Duh.

Boys, or ballboys in this case, conceal kneecaps and shoulder blades with a baggy-sleeved top and N.B.A-long shorts. They fade into the background, as loose-fitting as the leading men but with no big guns (i.e. biceps and triceps) blazing. After all, they are boys.

Girls, or ballgirls in this case, have nothing to hide, with a skin-tight sleeveless top and a short-short miniskirt. If an Eastern European Amazon can compete in it, why not a 5-2 athlete from Woodside, Queens?

“We want the ballgirl!”a guy cries out during the Hewitt-Gasquet match last night, referring to a ballgirl/ballbabe with blonde hair, loop earrings and an ability to bring out the best of her ensemble. Whenever she runs on the court to retrieve a ball, the men ogle so much and applaud so loudly that the TV commentators can’t help, well, commenting. When she is rotated off Ashe, the post-midnight crowd boos her replacement. Thanks for a job well done, hon. Can I put a dollar up your tennis skirt?

But why be surprised by the blatant sexuality? When the broadcast shifted from USA Network to CNBC, the ironic”I Feel Pretty”Sharapova ads were replaced with one for a female escort service, one that boasts to”celebrate women.”

This is also the same tournament that refused to let female sportswriters : no matter that they represented The Washington Post, The New York Times, et al : in the men’s locker room after Agassi’s loss to take in the scene. While the men were allowed in, the women were told by a security guard, later chastised,”Don’t you know there are naked men in there?”These same women, who have covered the N.B.A., the N.F.L,. etc., are not exactly shrinking violets. And apparently one male sportswriter was not allowed to interview Justine Henin-Hardenne because women were in the women’s locker room. Really?

One teenaged ballgirl told me earlier in the day that the outfit was fine, but admitted to getting a top a size bigger (way up to a”small”) so it wouldn’t be so tight. One spectator, Sharon McGuire of New Jersey, said she had seen too much of one ballgirl on one court. How old? Twenty or 25, her friend said. McGuire was thinking teens. It’s the difference between jailbait and Kournikova.

I saw the shirts in the Ralph Lauren shop under Armstrong, and the overwhelmingly polyester tops don’t seem as seductive nicely folded. Of course, this store also has mannequins that mimic the perky physique of the heroine of”Airplane!”(look up the quote : this is a family blog).

I tried to reach Ralph Lauren’s PR people yesterday : no one in the shop would comment : but in fairness I called after 5 p.m. on a holiday. I’m sure they can explain the merits of the uniform, which I think was introduced last year.

I’m sure they are legitimate reasons for putting ballgirls in revealing outfits that celebrate the tall, thin and buttless, who still feel the need to tuck and stretch at the microskirts in between points. I have seen at least one heavyset girl in the outset, meaning the U.S.T.A. is not discriminating in its hiring. But why are pleated skirts, like practical pockets, so last century? Sharapova’s evening dress or Serena purple-and-orange bias cut belong on”Project Runway,”not the Tuesday morning ladies’ double league. Agassi might have evolved to substance, but nowadays in fashion : and sadly tennis : image is still everything. The oversized polo-playing man on the oversized horse, not the merits of a backhand volley well struck, seem to count for more.

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