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Friday, July 6, 2012
For tennis stars, how much makeup is too much?

By Kamakshi Tandon

Maria Sharapova, a diva? Surely not. "I don't wear makeup on court," she says by way of proof. "I'm sure divas do that, right?"

There was a little smile on her face, and little indication of who she had in mind. But the remark, made one day in the interview room at the French Open, also offered a hint of how delicate and thorny the issue of makeup during matches continues to be. To wear or not to wear? How much is too much? What works and what doesn't?

The uniform of a modern female tennis pro is a fairly standard one. A tennis outfit made by one of the major manufacturers, preferably your own line. Shoes with your name stitched on the back are a must. Brightly painted nails, done while waiting in the player lounge between matches. Hair, tied back in a ponytail. And in at least one case, "a padded bra from Victoria's Secret."

But the face? Now that's a more complicated question. There remains a lingering dissonance between cosmetics and athletic endeavor, and for good practical reason. The sweat, heat, running and wiping involved in a match is a stern test for even the most waterproof, long-lasting wear.

Some players eschew makeup altogether, opting for function over form. "I feel like I would be blotting my face and rubbing makeup off," said American teen Sloane Stephens, who does not wear it on court and says that she has had a few messy experiences during practice.

"I go out and I forget to just wipe all my mascara off. And I'll wipe my hand and be like, oh ... I have it all over my arm."

Of course, the definition of "no makeup" can be a flexible one. "I don't wear makeup," said Wimbledon quarterfinalist Tamira Paszek, but added, "Little mascara here and there."

Her dark-rimmed eyes have stood out during her turns on Centre Court over the past week and a half, as did those of fellow quarterfinalists Sabine Lisicki and Serena Williams. It's all part of what Paszek sees as a growing image-consciousness on court. "Definitely dressing up and looking elegant on court is very important to all of us," she said. "It's been a big issue in the [few] last years. It's really grown.

"We have Sharapova. ... Everyone has a different collection. We really wear beautiful clothes.

"It's fancy. We're girls," she adds, as explanation.

From Suzanne Lenglen in the 1920s to Chris Evert to Anna Kournikova, the women's game has not lacked for fashion icons, but the prevalence of TV cameras, photographers and smartphones these days means even lower-ranked players are in the spotlight.

The trend toward wearing more makeup on court has been noticed by former players.

"Definitely. I can't remember one player in the '90s who ever wore it. And it seems like a lot more do now," said former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, who now commentates for BBC and the Tennis Channel. "[Jelena] Jankovic, I think, wears a bunch, and sometimes Serena.

"But you know, a lot of people are watching and seeing you when you're out there, so I guess it makes sense."

Martina Hingis and occasional doubles partner Kournikova helped kick-start the current glamour era, but Hingis reports that neither of them wore makeup on court like others do now. "I think I noticed Serena wearing some makeup," she said. "Jankovic also. She was the first one I noticed.

"It's become more of a show business. It's even better when you look good and you win. The result at the end, it's more important, but looking good doesn't hurt," Hingis laughed.

Overdoing it will raise some non-penciled eyebrows, as Sharapova indicated, but the general reaction is that it's up to individual players to decide how much to wear. Even though it doesn't come up very often in public, the topic is sometimes the subject of girl talk in the locker room. The lively doubles combo of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sania Mirza offered a glimpse behind the curtain with a little good-natured banter.

"I don't wear that much makeup on court. I mean, I have a little bit just to cover up," Mirza said.

"She spends like an hour getting ready," Mattek-Sands said, glancing at her partner.

"Yeah, right. And that's why I'm ready before you every time?" Mirza responded.

"I'm doing stuff like putting on sunscreen, OK?" Mattek-Sands said. "You're like..." -- and she mimics putting on mascara.

After the laughter subsided, Mirza continued, "No, I just sometimes put eyeliner and mascara. That's it. I don't go with the whole lip-gloss look on court."

How much is too much? "It depends on who the person is, what's too much," Mirza said. "I'm not going to name them, but I have seen some tennis players..."

"Oh come on, we'll name them," Mattek-Sands breaks in. "Jelena Jankovic is pretty..."

"I didn't say that!" Mirza exclaimed. "She did."

"Oh, come on. She'll laugh," said Mattek-Sands, relating how Jankovic had begun reapplying face powder during a match at the French Open while her opponent took a bathroom break.

On a more serious note, the two did agree that the desire to look a little more put-together is natural when players are in the public eye.

"Women in general, when they get photographs taken of them, are normally all dressed up," Mattek-Sands said.

"Even a normal everyday woman, waking up every day and going to work, full-on makeup. And we're out there sweating, and on top of us, we get pictures taken of us like ... the most terrible positions," she said, screwing her face up into a typical grimace made when hitting a shot.

"I've had people come up to me afterward and I'm maybe in just this much [light] makeup, and they're like, 'Oh, you're so pretty. I didn't know you were so pretty.' I'm like, 'That's how bad I look in my pictures.'"

There seems to be a consensus that anything which goes on the skin, like foundation, is the toughest to manage on the court. But Mirza confides she's recently discovered that using a new spray foundation, covered with long-lasting face power, will keep it from running.

"That's our beauty tip of the day," she laughed.

So on the tennis court, as elsewhere, it may be less about how much makeup you wear than how little you can make it look like you're wearing.