Women known as much for their beauty as their backhand. Women who show a lot of leg. Women who have necklines almost cut to there. Women who wear sexy outfits on the court and get caught, by photographers, in bikinis and miniskirts off the court. Women who knew marketing was as much about being tall, blonde and lithe as being a dominant force in the sport.
All that changed last week.
Ashley Harkleroad appeared in Playboy. It was not a little tease of an article. The photos delivered everything as promised.
She was there in various poses with her tennis skirt, sports bra and a few pictures with neither. It was everything you would expect from a pictorial in Playboy. It was a professional tennis player in all her glory.
This was not Sharapova in a short skirt on Letterman. This was not Kournikova in a tight sweater on Leno. This was a tall, blonde and beautiful, professional athlete as naked as the day she was born. Granted she is not one of the world's best, but neither was Anna Kournikova.
Ashley Harkleroad has blazed a trail. Never again will we be satisfied with a glimpse of cleavage on center court. Never again will we be content to see upper thigh on a rush to the net. Never again will a bikini shot on the French Riviera bring the same attention it did before Harkleroad. We have seen the promised land, and we like it.
It will, from this point forward, take skin to win. No longer will a marginally skilled player with looks, like Kournikova, be able to smile her way to millions.
She will have to produce more than a braless T-shirt shot on Sports Center to get attention. To be considered a tennis sex symbol, she will have to produce the goods.
Tennis stars will now be like movie stars: their clothed beauty will be expected and not cherished. They will have to do something more to get notoriety. They will have to do a "Harkleroad' to get famous.
Either that, or just play great tennis—that will work too!
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