Serena Williams is using her love of fashion to send a powerful feminist message at this year’s Australian Open, while Rafael Nadal is more concerned with feeling fresh in his ever-shrinking shorts.
Players of both genders have lit up the tournament with lurid neon outfits supposedly inspired by Melbourne’s graffiti street art but resembling something from a 1980s Wham video.
Women’s top seed Williams again leads the fashion pack, sporting a green and pink outfit with a distinctive cut-out back.
The 33-year-old American, who takes her design work seriously and staged a catwalk parade in New York after last year’s US Open, said her outfits had been conservative in recent years so she wanted to create something different.
The 18-time Grand Slam champion has had fun with moon boots and leopard skin prints in the past but said the decision to expose her physique in the backless dress sent a serious message: “You can be beautiful and powerful at the same time.”
“A lot of my outfits this year are based on the beauty of and the shape of the back, which a lot of people don’t think about,” she said. “But it’s so beautiful and powerful on ladies, we just wanted to focus on that.
“This whole year is about the back and strength and women and power. We wanted to look at my back all year, so all year you’ll be seeing my back!”
Rising star Eugenie Bouchard is a fan, joking: “Maybe I should cut a hole in my top and show off my back like Serena!”
However the men conducting Australian television’s courtside interviews showed they were yet to get the memo on female empowerment, pestering both Williams and Bouchard to “give us a twirl” after their matches.
Elsewhere, players such as Australian two-time champion Victoria Azarenka have taken the neon trend to glow-in-the-dark extremes.
Sportswear brand Nike, the driving force behind the luminous livery, said its designers visited Melbourne last year and saw its bright street art as a perfect symbol for the city.
“This constantly evolving art, which is in a perpetual state of change, perfectly reflected the drive and newness found in the city as a whole,” a spokeswoman told The Age newspaper.
– Shorter shorts –
Hometown hero Thanasi Kokkinakis credited his brightly coloured clothing with inspiring his first-round victory, saying it would have been unthinkable to appear before the Melbourne crowd in such a distinctive outfit and lose the match.
“I was out there and I was like ‘surely in this outfit I’ve got to get the win?’,” he said.
Nadal, notorious for obsessively adjusting his shorts mid-match, revealed he was experimenting with a less bulky style to increase his on-court comfort.
“To make the shorts shorter is something that I like. I feel more comfortable this way,” he said. “We make it shorter already last year, and this year a little bit more. I feel more comfortable here, more fresh.”
The Spaniard’s shorts extended down to the middle of his calf In the first decade of the millennium, but now stop around mid-thigh.
If the current rate of shrinkage continues, he may well be wearing the tight-fitting “budgie smuggler” swimming briefs favoured by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott by the time the 2018 tournament rolls around.