At Roland Garros, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki is still on track for her first Grand Slam championship after surviving a close call against Aleksandra Wozniak. But some women's tennis fans are focusing on what is happening off-court as the Women's Tennis Association unrolls its new "Strong is Beautiful Campaign."
The campaign highlights "athleticism and grace -- a unique combination that has turned the stars of the WTA into the most recognizable and followed female athletes on the planet," according to a WTA statement. The ads, which feature dozens of stars including Wozniacki, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Ana Ivanovic and Li Na, were shot by filmmaker Dewey Nicks, who produced a similar series for The New York Times Magazine last year.
In each 30 second shot, a star tennis player delivers not just a ball but also a voice-over storyline. In her clip, Kim Clijsters, whose pregnancy and brief retirement from tennis several years ago generated considerable buzz, rejects the idea she had to compromise now that she is a mother.
"Before I had a baby, I devoted all my time to tennis," she says as she returns a forehand crouched in a near split. Afterwards, I had to compromise. Now I devote 100 percent of my time to the baby--and 100 percent to tennis."
Li Na, who recently became the first Asian player to reach the finals in the Australian Open, speaks about the feeling of playing for a nation with 1.3 billion people that has never had a No. 1 ranked player or Grand Slam winner. "No pressure," she says at the end of the video as the follow-through of a backhand carries both her and her slinky white dress into the air.
Billie Jean King, founder of the WTA, lends the campaign her indelible stamp of approval with an appearance at the end of the behind the scenes video. Yet these ads sure do include a lot more glitter and grace than sweat or strength. Serena's infamous outfits aside, most of the players are dressed for The Hotel de Crillon rather than Roland Garros.
"I've always said that women have to prove their femininity off court, while men can prove their masculinity on court," said Michele Kort, senior editor of Ms. magazine and long-time women's tennis fan. "Let's imagine these ads were for the lesbian gaze instead of the male gaze: They wouldn't be wearing glitter, and they'd be sweating for real, not looking like they've been sprayed by a water mister." Other sports bloggers have gone even further, calling Nicks' original photo spread in The New York Times "soft core porn that has nothing to do with tennis."
Billowing smoke and flowing skirts rarely score points on the court, but whether they'll reward the WTA with new viewers remains to be seen. If so, when the new WTA converts tune in they'll have to relearn what their favorite stars look like without professional make up.
What do you think of the new ad campaign?
Watch the behind the scenes video -- which does in fact feature a water mister -- and then decide for yourself.