As WIMBLEDON APPROACHES and whites brighten the catwalks, SARAH HALLIWELL says tennis has the advantage as a SPORT FOR LIFE …
Visors, sporting whites and headbands added panache to the spring/summer catwalks. Sport continues to have a big influence on fashion, but forget ballet, boxing and yoga – tennis is what the big hitters do. Vogue editor Anna Wintour famously plays every morning at 5.45am at New York’s Midtown Tennis Club (and has the arms to prove it); designer Tory Burch plays every week, while designer Thom Browne has based his spring men’s and accessories collections on tennis motifs. There’s even a quarterly magazine, Racquet, dedicated to the unique style of tennis. Wimbledon kicks off in south London on July 2, and, as we marvel at Roger Federer’s grace under pressure, we’re with designer Julie de Libran, who describes tennis as “an obsession”.
It’s a game with so many benefits. For one, longevity: there aren’t many sports you can take up as an infant and play your entire life. It’s brilliant cardio exercise, and hard to beat for shaping arms and strengthening glutes. In fact, a new book, Play On: How to Get Better with Age (Penguin Life) suggests that you’d be better replacing those relentless hours in the gym with a sports that demands a mix of endurance and power, such as tennis. Tennis has huge benefits beyond the purely physical: it’s entirely mindful, since you’re never thinking of exercise, only of winning the next point (if you’re doing it right, that is). “It’s all about mental strength,” says Norah Glynn, a inspirational figure in Irish tennis, and a great advert for taking it up at any age; having only started playing in her 30s she went on to play for Ireland. At 72, she plays three times a week and is still rarely beaten; she tours the world playing for Ireland’s veterans (several on the tour are in their nineties). June-Ann Byrne is another force to be reckoned with; she’s played everywhere from Wimbledon to Roland Garros and won championships all around the world. Now in her 80s, she continues to thwart players half her age.
“You meet a wonderful array of people when playing tennis,” notes Glynn. It is the most sociable and democratic of sports. And each club is a microcosm, with its own rules, structure and characters; in the small local club I play at, these include a French chef who brings bread, paté and cider to evening games. Donations for the floodlights are paid at the pub.
And then there’s the kit. Tennis wear is arguably the most stylish of any sport. “If you are an athlete and you don’t look right, you will look stupid,” said champion Billie-Jean King; she wore designs by Ted Tinling, who transformed women’s tennis clothing in the 1970s. Stella McCartney has designed outfits for top players, declaring: “I’m fascinated by performance and not sacrificing style for sport. I love that its one of the few disciplines that has femininity attached to it.” Rocking up with a gigantic Prince bag and a hefty clutch of racquets can help intimidate the opposition, but generally great kit does not equal great play. While traditional whites confer style on proceedings – and a few clubs rather grandly still insist on whites being worn – beyond a good sports bra and trainers, you actually don’t need to invest much. Abandon the sweaty gym, ditch your mindfulness apps and whack a ball on red clay under a blue sky – there are few better ways to spend a sunny summer morning.
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