'On-Court Runway' Takes Tennis Spotlight

With the spotlight on today's tennis champs, players' style is getting as much attention as their game play.

Wristbands and rhinestones are now among a slew of accessories that dictate fashion on and off the court.

"It's an on-court runway," said Dana Mason, a buyer for Mason's Tennis Mart, a Manhattan, N.Y., staple for tennis enthusiasts for 31 years.

Mason cites bright colors and accessories as biggies this year. "Every season, the collections are specific."

Basic tennis whites just don't cut it anymore, she said. "Tennis is really hot right now."

Third-seeded Maria Sharapova shows off a lavender tennis dress this year, refusing to alter her daytime wardrobe, according to Mason -- because she's superstitious.

For night games, the 19-year-old Russian debuted a little black number adorned with tiny Swarovski crystals.

"The whole inspiration for the night dress was Audrey Hepburn," Sharapova told reporters at an afternoon news conference.

Noting her fondness for Hepburn's classic style in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Sharapova said she was inspired by the actress' style.

"It's classy. It's elegant," she said. "I love the neck of [the dress]. That was kind of my input towards the design, all the crystals and everything. It's one of my favorite dresses that I've ever worn."

Sharapova, who's focused on fashion nearly as much as she is on her forehand, has worked with Nike for years to personalize her look on the court.

"I love clothes-designing with them and giving them my ideas into what I want to wear," she told ABCNEWS.com. "Everyone wants to feel confident and feel good about what they're wearing. Little girls, you know, women, anyone."

Fashionable Off the Court

Tennis has recruited some fans based on fashion alone, who have taken the on-court look to the streets.

"Innovations in both styles and textiles have been born in tennis and subsequently adapted for everyday city wear," said Diane Poirier, author of "Tennis Fashion."

"A perfect example is a staple of today -- the polo by Rene Lacoste!"

Mason said some people come into her tennis store looking for everyday wear, pairing pleated skirts and minidresses with hoop earrings and heels for a night out.

Young fans also are collecting the looks of the pros.

"They don't even look at the price," Mason said. "All the young boys want [Rafael] Nadal's capris. They're cool, funky. Kids are crazy for him."

Alexis Chang, a tennis specialist for NikeTown in New York City, said men, women and children have also requested the large bandanas worn by Swiss superstar Roger Federer and Spain's Nadal, the Top 2 seeds.

Serena's Own 'Project Runway'

The must-haves du jour are Sharapova's dresses and Serena Williams' suits, Chang added.

Williams, a former two-time U.S. Open champ, also pitches her own ideas for new looks, taking a front seat in the design process.

"We need to keep the silhouettes really simple, and just have the fabric and the patterns do all the talking," she said of the purple, Asian-inspired dress she's wearing this year. "So, yeah, I liked it a lot."

Williams' enthusiasm for fashion has many analysts worried that the unseeded American's passion for tennis has waned as a result.

She denies such claims.

"It's like, you just never know what's going to happen," Williams said. "I love [fashion], don't get me wrong. I love designing. I love wearing things that I sat down and had a part of and came up with the concepts for. It's exciting. But, you know, it's hard. It's a hard business to be in."

Williams has received criticism, however, for her tennis fashion, including a black cat suit she wore to the 2002 U.S. Open Grand Slam.

Mason called the skintight outfit "absurd."

The knee-high leather boots Williams debuted at the U.S. Open 2004 also took a beating from critics.

Bethanie Mattek offered some unique competition this year, when she paired her now-trademark tube socks with skimpy brown shorts and a batwing top.

Williams called Mattek's outfit "really interesting."

"Tennis has allowed women in the beginning of the 20th century to express their liberty," author Poirier said, pointing out Suzanne Lenglen's daring debut of a short dress at Wimbledon in 1920.

Tennis fashion has made its rounds among the men as well.

"Compare Jimmy Connors in his short shorts and fitted shirt with Federer in his oversized polos and baggy shorts," she said. "Totally opposite!"

Custom Made

With scores of individual accessories available, wristbands, headbands, compression shorts and rhinestones have become an integral component of tennis fashion.

"Accessories have changed a lot with the evolution of materials and textiles," said Poirier, a fashion designer for 25 years.

"Items are lighter and more breathable. Shoes are more colorful, and accessories now allow more personal style and expression."

So, what's up for next season? Mason predicts camouflage.

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