Home > Lifestyle > Women
Thursday September 5, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday September 5, 2013 MYT 10:25:19 AM
by alyson krueger
Kim Sears, the girlfriend of British tennis player Andy Murray.
Wives and girlfriends of tennis stars
serve up the most headlines.
IN July, on a searingly hot day, as the tennis player Andy Murray closed in on a historic sporting achievement to be the first British man to win a Wimbledon singles title since Fred Perry in 1936 the BBC cameras kept shifting their gaze from one key character to another as the match entered what would be its final game.
The first was, of course, Murray, a tortured expression on his face as one match point after another eluded him. The other was Novak Djokovic, grimly digging in as he tried to reclaim the title he had won two years earlier.
The third, however, was not on the court at all but in the stands: a striking young woman in a green lace dress captured by the cameras alternately cheering, grimacing and then covering her eyes when the spectacle on Center Court became too nerve-racking to watch.
That woman was Kim Sears, the long-time girlfriend of Murray. Her much-chronicled romance with the Scot has made Sears, an artist whose specialty is animal portraiture, as famous in Britain as any actress, model or member of the royal family.
She is, in fact, part of a group of women who have become increasingly well-known as the WAGs — the Wives and Girlfriends of world-famous athletes, a term that was first coined by the British press to describe the companions of that country’s football teams and that has now gone both global and multisport.
Many of the tennis WAGs will be seen at this year’s US Open in New York, scheduled to be played through Sept 9, with their moods, their facial expressions and even their outfits exhaustively chronicled by members of both the sports and fashion media.
For instance, within 12 hours of Murray winning his late-night, first-round match on Wednesday, photos of Sears sitting in the stands and clutching what was identified as her “Ted Baker Baillie bag” (pic below) were being e-mailed to fashion editors by the public-relations team at Ted Baker.
If you’re watching the tennis on television this week, don’t be surprised if the cameras keep searching the stands for an up-close look of Jelena Ristic, Djokovic’s girlfriend (who appears in the September issue of Vogue in a one-page feature showing her in an Oscar de la Renta gown, among other designs, and identifying her as that month’s “It Girl”); Maria Francisca Perello, the longtime girlfriend of Rafael Nadal; the actress Sara Foster, the American fiancée of the German player Tommy Haas; Ester Satorova, the model who dates her fellow Czech Tomas Berdych; Bec Hewitt, the former Australian soap-opera star and the wife of Lleyton Hewitt; and, of course, the ubiquitous Mirka Federer, the wife of the 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and a former player on the women’s circuit.
Federer has become so recognisable to even the average fan that strangers regularly approach her on the street.
“I’ve been with her many times when people ask for pictures and this and that,” Foster said. “She says, ‘Listen, I’m not the public figure here’.”
Much fuss has been made over the attention Sears got at Wimbledon. Citing Google Analytics showing that she garnered three times as many Google searches as Marion Bartoli, the women’s champion, an editor at The Huffington Post wrote, “It saddens me to think that a bouncy blow-dry and mint-green dress has attracted more attention than the world-class performance by an established athlete.”
Tennis players are not the only famous athletes whose dating lives have been well chronicled or whose girlfriends have become famous in their own right.
The New York Yankee Derek Jeter had a longtime relationship with the actress Minka Kelly (and his teammate Alex Rodriguez a shorter one with Cameron Diaz). The Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander dated the model Kate Upton, the Los Angeles Dodger Matt Kemp was in a nearly year-long relationship with Rihanna, while the football players Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez dated the TV stars Kristin Cavallari and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, respectively, and Tom Brady is married to the supermodel Gisele Bündchen.
But there is something about tennis that may explain why fans harbor a certain fascination with the romantic companions of their favourite players. As opposed to other sports, like football, where there are multiple athletes in helmets on the field, or even golf, where shots of the players are often from a distance – although the public certainly fixates on these athletes’ love lives, too – in tennis you watch up-close footage of one player, locked in combat against another, wearing relatively little clothing and grunting and sweating for an extended period of time.
“I think there is a general feeling of intimacy that comes with watching tennis,” said Gary Belsky, a columnist for Time.com and a former editor in chief of ESPN The Magazine. “And I think with feelings of intimacy come an interest in the intimate lives of people.”
Perhaps for these reasons the public has always goggled at the relationships of tennis players, whether it was Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields, and later, Steffi Graf; John McEnroe and Tatum O’Neal; Pete Sampras and Bridgette Wilson; or Andy Roddick and Brooklyn Decker. But there are reasons to suggest that the current group of wives and girlfriends is getting more attention than the predecessors.
One factor is social media. The rise of Twitter and blogs has made the public expect much more information from its celebrities.
“I do think the intensity about wanting to know about somebody has naturally grown out of those new ways of communication,” said Kelly Wolf, senior director of personalities and properties for Octagon’s tennis division who has represented players like Michael Chang, Todd Martin, Martina Hingis and Hewitt. That means that the press must do a thorough job of not only constantly providing more photos and details about them but also finding new celebrities (like the wives and girlfriends) to feature.
As Belsky, the Time.com columnist, noted, “As people, without even knowing it, demand more and more fixes of their celebrity drug, there is more of a demand to create and manufacture more celebrities.”
Pam Shriver, the former professional tennis player who is now a commentator for ESPN, said that another reason is the high quality of men’s tennis at the moment. “It has never had greater, more extraordinary champions in my view,” she said. “Let’s face it: these are some of the most famous athletes in the world. They are rich, they are famous, they are young, they are great looking and they are going to have sensational girlfriends.”
And then there are the women. Serena Williams’s love life, ranging from the director Brett Ratner to her current coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, has long been a tabloid subject. Likewise that of Maria Sharapova, whose new relationship with the Bulgarian tennis player Grigor Dimitrov (after the end of her engagement to the basketball player Sasha Vujacic) was as much a topic at Wimbledon as her second-round loss to the qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito.
And then there is Hingis, whose long string of boyfriends, from the tennis players Magnus Norman, Radek Stepanek and Ivo Heuberger to the golfer Sergio Garcia — all of whom suffered serious injuries or career slumps soon after dating her — led Tennis magazine to call this former No. 1 player the “black widow of tennis”.
The occasional focus on the off-court lives of these players, male or female, can have its benefits, besides the obvious ones of being a billboard for a specific product. The Daily Mail reported that there was a surge in sales for the green dress. Sears wore to the Wimbledon final, identified as a Victoria by Victoria Beckham design, as well as outfits by Ted Baker, Whistles and Zara that she had worn earlier in the tournament. And at the champions’ dinner, both halves of the couple came dressed in Burberry, fuelling speculation that an endorsement deal may be in the works. (Burberry declined to comment.)
“I think that depending on how the media and how fans view a girlfriend or wife, it can very much help the brand of the individual tennis player,” Belsky said. “Especially if their relationship is idealised.”
He gives the example of Jimmy Connors, who was known as a wild child for most of his career, having broken off multiple engagements, including one to Chris Evert, before marrying the model Patti McGuire. “Overnight, he went from being a bad boy to being the US Open favorite,” he said.
Wolf believes a romantic partner can also help show a different side to the athlete.
“Does it endear him when you’re sitting there watching a match and you see him or another player look up at their girlfriend and give them a cute smile or a nice look or a huge hug after winning Wimbledon?” she said. “It naturally makes that person look more human than the guy who is on court fighting tooth and nail to win a tennis match. It’s just a different persona.”
Many of the girlfriends and wives say they are insistent on not using their tennis boyfriends to boost their own careers.
“Of course, Tom helps me somehow,” said Satorova, Berdych’s girlfriend. “But for me, it’s very important to build myself. I want people to know about me, that I am doing modeling, and that I do something. I don’t want people to know me because of my boyfriend.”
But she also acknowledges that there is the expectation that she will show up in the player’s box and be photographed there.
“Even on my first day I was expecting that, since I have a famous boyfriend, people talk about you as something different, and they say that you are beautiful or that you are not beautiful, I don’t really care,” Satorova said. “For me, what is important is what is between me and Tomas.” — IHT
Tags / Keywords:
Women, Tennis, girlfriends, celebrity, fashion, gender
Copyright © 1995-2013 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)