Fishnets and frills: Tennis attire has been causing outrage for years

Feb 05, 2019
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Serena Williams turned heads for her attire at this year's Australian Open, but not before Gertrude 'Gussie' Moran did in 1949 at Wimbledon. Source: Getty Images

We recently enjoyed the 107th edition of the Australian Tennis Open, having watched it every year since televising matches began. It’s incredibly annoying when you either hear or see reports about ‘Grand Slams’. There are no Grand Slams; there is only one Grand Slam, which is made up of four ‘slams’ in one year.

The four slams are the Australian Open held in the height of the Australian summer, January; the French Open in May or June; Wimbledon in June or July; and the US Open in August or September. To win all four gives the player Grand Slam boasting rights, to say nothing of a hefty input to the bank account and livestock in the case of Roger Federer!

The game has evolved throughout its long history; from clothing, rule changes, prize money, heat policies, the retractable roof; and the introduction of electronic line calls and instant replay. In March 2006, at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami, the nickname for this new technology, Hawk-Eye, was used officially for the first time at a tennis tour event. It is now part of the rulebook and the vernacular.

Moving from technology to clothing, most people were ‘a bit gobsmacked’ to see tennis legend Serena Williams step on to Rod Laver Arena wearing a fluoro green short jumpsuit with fishnet tights this year, but back in 1949, Gertrude (known as ‘Gorgeous Gussie’) Moran both rocked and shocked the tennis world with the first-ever designer tennis gear. As her outfit colours conflicted with the all-white policy of the Wimbledon Club, she asked host, Ted Tinling, to design her something appropriate.

That outfit became legendary, attracting global attention due to her lace-covered undies that showed during more active shots. The event scandalised Wimbledon officials, prompting a parliamentary debate. Moran was accused of bringing ‘vulgarity and sin into tennis’ by the committee of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Tinling, who had acted as official Wimbledon host for 23 years, was shunned for more than 30 years following the incident, only being invited back in 1982. (We ’50s girls had a drawer full of Gussies, ooh!)

In other moves, Australian officials historically battled to find a balance when running an outdoor tournament in the middle of summer while maintaining the welfare of players. Temperatures were considered ‘inhumane’ — on one occasion in 1992, American big hitter, Jim Courier, ran out of the stadium and plunged into the Yarra River to cool off.

The extreme heat policy came under fire during the 2014 Australian Open after ballboys, attendants in the stands, and players were suffering various heat-related illnesses due to four consecutive days with highs between 41.5C and 43.9C (106.7F and 111F). However, organisers claimed the humidity remained low enough on all but one day for the extreme heat policy not to be enforced. Ball kids gained Legionnaire sun hats with the flap to cover the neck, and long sleeves to avert sunburn. Rest times were increased for heat stress. The roof was closed. We went from ‘wet bulb temperature’, to who knows what.

In the latest move, tournament officials have turned to a new model — a five-to-one ‘heat stress’ scale — to monitor conditions for players and spectators. It takes into account four factors (air temperature, radiant heat, humidity and wind speed) and generates a reading in real-time. A score of ‘1’ is regarded as temperate playing conditions, whereas when the scale reaches ‘4’ players will have access to an extended break. Play will be suspended when the scale reaches the ‘5’.

With all this care and consideration, not to mention the new millennium occupational health and safety ramping up big time, why is there no action on female players stuffing tennis balls up their knickers? This is actually quite disgusting and downright unhealthy for both the player and the poor kid who has to capture the ball. Ew!

What about players throwing sweat and snot-laden towels to the ball kids? Male tennis players are still bunching up handfuls of sweat-sodden material on top of their shoulders; grabbing their crotches and dragging at wedgies. C’mon people! These days even making a sandwich requires gloves. What on earth is going on here?

I’m not suggesting gloves. However, I’m suggesting creativity, more understanding of the game and its demands, better design (particularly for womenswear — why aren’t there pockets?) and a more biodynamic outfit to suit the times and the climate where the slams are played. This particular area is languishing and needs input. Let’s give the designers a big serve!

Do you think more consideration needs to be given to the attire of tennis players and support personnel? Are the location of the slams at the most appropriate time of the year?

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