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TENNIS LISA DILLMAN

WTA Initiates Makeover

June 23, 2003|LISA DILLMAN

WIMBLEDON, England — The line between sex and salesmanship seemed to be getting blurred around WTA headquarters.

It's only one opinion, but the low point may have been the naked woman on the horse in a national magazine last year. OK, so Anastasia Myskina of Russia wasn't naked, she only appeared to be, clad in a flesh-colored body suit and with her hair strategically placed.

Tour officials were thrilled by the placement and offered to overnight copies of the magazine to some tennis reporters. This publication did mention the picture and subsequent fallout in a story about Russian players, but opted not to run the Lady Godiva shot.

With all due respect, you had to wonder who was making these decisions. Had the lads-gone-wild culture invaded the WTA corporate offices?

Finally, sense and sensibility seemed to return, in the land of tabloids, no less. On Sunday, the WTA brought out four players -- defending champion Serena Williams, former No. 1 Jennifer Capriati, veteran Maggie Maleeva of Bulgaria and youngster Daja Bedanova of the Czech Republic -- to kick off a new marketing campaign.

The foursome wore pink T-shirts with the slogan, "Get In Touch With Your Feminine Side." A television commercial was shown at the news conference a few minutes away from the All England Club, as were print ads with these slogans and players. (Some worked. Others appeared destined for a short shelf life.)

* Serves That Travel Faster Than Gossip. (Venus Williams, Daniela Hantuchova).

* Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scored On. (Kim Clijsters, Capriati).

* Some Things Need a Woman's Touch. (Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Amelie Mauresmo).

* Grunt If You Like Women's Tennis. (Monica Seles).

Serena Williams, aspiring actress, pronounced herself pleased with the final cut of the TV commercial.

Said Serena: "We're very picky. In order for us to like it, for us, it has to be really perfect. I must admit I didn't like the first one. We made a lot of different changes, put extra players in there, more European players, more American players. Definitely a lot of work went into it."

She also was not fond of the music used in early versions.

"It's subliminal," Williams said. "I was looking at the fast one and it was just, 'Boom, boom, boom.' I don't remember what players were in it. I don't remember anything about it. When I saw it [again], it seemed like it was 45 seconds as opposed to 25 seconds, and the lasting image of the players, had a lasting image on me."

Capriati approved of the new strategy of substance over style. "It's selling us as what we are," she said. "Not just sex."

Inside Politics

Respected coach Bob Brett was elected to the ATP's Board of Directors, filling the spot to be vacated by Gary Muller. Former board member Vijay Amritraj had put his name forward for the spot as well.

"Bob's a bright guy that understands the game globally, and has very broad experience," ATP Chief Executive Mark Miles said.

The ATP, though given a strong mandate to go forward, does not have a total read of how its members would feel about participating in "alternative" events should negotiations break down with the Grand Slams in a few weeks or in a few months. At Saturday's meeting, players were given a sheet of the upcoming Slam events, along with the dates of the tournament, and were asked about their willingness to take what would be a drastic step. Some took the information with them to review the possibility.

Economic issues have taken center stage, but there are many other concerns on the table, in particular governance of the game.

"We are open to finding better ways, I said since the first day I was involved, the structure could be improved," Miles said. "We really want to dive into that. All the issues are related. I believe the old structure [the Men's Tennis Council] absolutely didn't function. As a tournament director, from my perspective [then], it saw itself as a regulatory agency, where each of the entities were there to protect themselves from each other.

"That isn't what we are looking for either. What we're looking for is: What are the common interests? What are the common commitments? And how do we grow the game? Not how do we apportion it. We would be very enthusiastic about pursuing that discussion, if we do get a sense that there's a real interest, not just in dividing it differently and having a voice on internal matters but on growing the sport."

Jobs Wanted

The WTA players' meeting, also held Saturday, did not attract nearly the same attention as the ATP's session, which is natural, considering the issues involving the men and the Grand Slams.

But that isn't to say little happened. One particular point of contention involved tournament draws of 28, in which the top four seeded players are given first-round byes. The lower-ranked players expressed a concern about the loss of jobs. There are 16 events on the WTA of that size.

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