Venus' risque dress fashions a stir beyond the baseline

By Paul Newman

It is eight years since Venus Williams reached her only final at the French Open, but for the first three days this year no woman has drawn as much attention as the 29-year-old American.

Williams is playing her most consistent tennis for years, having returned to No 2 in the world rankings, though it is not her backhands and forehands that have been the focus of interest, despite the impressive form she showed yesterday in beating Spain's Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2, 6-4.

Glamour and fashion have always been integral parts of women's tennis and Williams has been maintaining that tradition with the dress she has been wearing here.

The front page photograph in yesterday's official programme showed her in the outfit that has caused quite a stir in one of the world's great fashion centres.

The No. 2 seed has been playing in a revealing black lace dress with a plunging neckline and bright red straps that some might consider more appropriate to the dance floor than a tennis court.

Williams designed it herself in order to "represent what I think my personality is on the court".

The dress is risque enough, but underneath it Williams has been wearing skin-coloured underwear, giving the occasional illusion of flashes of flesh.

A poll organised by one website showed that 40 per cent of voters thought she should be forced to change her outfit, while one reader suggested that she "looked more like Uranus Williams".

However, Williams insisted yesterday that "the design has nothing to do with the rear".

She explained: "It just so happens that I have a very well-developed one. It's all genetic. If you look at my mum and dad, you'll see the same thing happening. If you look at my sister, you'll see the same thing. It's genetic.

"But it's really about the illusion. Like, you can wear lace, but what's the point of wearing lace when there's just black under it? The illusion of just having bare skin is definitely for me a lot more beautiful."

When she has not been designing clothes Williams has been interviewing personalities for her new book, Come to Win, which will be published next month.

"It's really about how sport changes your life," she said.

"We did a lot of interviews with a lot of great people, fashion designers like Vera Wang and politicians like Bill Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, how they started out in sports and how it made a huge difference in their life.

"Obviously they didn't become professional athletes, but they became great people in their field. So [the book is about] the lessons that sport taught them and how they even still apply to what they do now."

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