c.2015 New York Times News Service

c.2015 New York Times News Service


Last week, as the haute couture shows were being presented in the museums, hôtels particuliers and showrooms of Paris, another fashion show was taking place halfway across the world on the sun-baked, hard-surface tennis courts of the Australian Open.

The Open, held in Melbourne each January as the first Grand Slam event of the year, not only kicks off the new tennis season but also serves as a chance for the players to show off their new look for the coming year.

And this year, skin was in, with plenty of cutouts and peekaboo effects in the women’s outfits throughout the two-week tournament, particularly in the Nike dresses worn (and designed in part) by Serena Williams, the tournament’s champion. In her case, the exposed back was a key part of the design, as she explained at a news conference after one of her early-round wins.

“We really wanted to bring out a powerful woman, a strong woman,” she said, explaining that her near-backless hot pink and Day-Glo yellow outfits (as opposed to some of her more conservative looks in years past) highlighted a part of a woman’s body that she said communicated “strength and beauty.”

Her opponent in the final, Maria Sharapova, also wore a Nike outfit (in her case, tomato red with pink trim) that exposed a sliver of her back. Whether she, too, chose to show off that part of her anatomy as a show of strength, Sharapova wasn’t saying, perhaps wondering instead why she has now lost to Williams 16 consecutive times.

Others upped their fashion game, as well, many dressed by Nike, like the two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, in a Day-Glo dress that looked a bit like a yellow Sharpie, and Petra Kvitova, in hot pink. A more subdued look was worn by Caroline Wozniacki, who took the court in a pale blue and green dress designed by Stella McCartney for Adidas.

But to some viewers, especially the former champion Billie Jean King, the focus on fashion seemed to go too far when, after her second-round win, Eugenie Bouchard, also dressed in neon-bright Nike, was asked by the on-court announcer to “give us a twirl and tell us about your outfit.” Bouchard obliged, briefly, before covering her face in embarrassment.

“This is truly sexist,” King, a 39-time Grand Slam winner, posted on Twitter the next day. She added, “Let’s focus on competition and accomplishments of both genders and not our looks.”