PARIS, May 25, 2008 — -- She may have been defeated by Serena Williams at the French Open on Sunday, but Ashley Harkleroad claimed a more glamorous coup over her American rival -- by appearing on the pages of Playboy magazine.
The 23-year-old Harkleroad found herself kicking her heels earlier this year when she was recovering from surgery to remove a cyst from her ovaries.
While others would choose to convalesce on a relaxing vacation or just lounge in front of the television, Harkleroad chose to accept the offer of posing nude for the world's most famous glamour magazine.
"I was just laying there for three weeks, and, you know, an offer came to me," the woman from smalltown Georgia told goggle-eyed reporters.
"I thought, well, I'm not really doing anything right now so I thought about it and it was something that I did. I'm proud of my body. I was representing a female athlete's body."
She said she would be the first tennis player to appear in the magazine, August's edition the male journalists furiously noted, and that it had been a refreshing change to the treadmill of the women's tour.
"It was hard work, but, you know, it was just a completely different experience. It was fun. I think it comes out July 13th. It's the August edition. So you'll see for yourself.
"I stay in shape and try to stay fit, so like I said, I'm just trying to represent a female athlete and her body. That can be sexy too, you know."
Serena was full of admiration for Harkleroad's naked ambition when she was told about the Los Angeles photoshoot.
"I'm just surprised that she beat me to it," Serena, no stranger to the camera lens herself, joked with reporters.
"I'm happy for her if that's what she wanted to do. It takes a lot of courage. And whether I'm courageous enough, I don't know, but that's great for someone to be so courageous and tough."
Would Serena be following in the footsteps of Harkleroad, U.S. swimmer Amanda Beard and volleyball player Gabrielle Reece and bare all for Playboy?
"I can't say right now it's in any thought of my mind to be in that mag. I do appreciate that mag. I think (Playboy owner) Hugh Hefner is a great businessman."
(Editing by John O'Brien)