Caroline Wozniacki’s photo shoot in this year’s swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated leaves little to the imagination.
There she is, in a selection of suggestive poses, at times teasingly pulling at the release cord of her bikini bottom, or nudging her hip against a sign that boasts ‘Swimsuits optional beyond this point’.
Have a look, as we did, purely in the interests of research. American magazine Tennis has jumped on the bandwagon, too, showing sultry topless shots in their digital edition of Rafa Nadal and Feliciano Lopez, as well as Maria Sharapova lounging on the beach in a bikini. Again, have a quick look. There’s eye candy there for both the ladies and the gents.
Lusting aside, there’s an important question to be asked here. Are fans more interested in what tennis players look like than the shots they play? And does it matter?
There are many reasons fans watch tennis. There are the patriots who beam with pride when their countrymen and women step on court. In fact, some of them don't even care who’s playing as long as he wears the correct flag. (Look how former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond gets all excited about Andy Murray. It’s a Scottish thing, not a tennis thing.)
Then there are the statisticians, duly noting down first serve percentages, break points converted, and return games won. What matters is not the player but the statistic. These are the train-spotters of the tennis world.
Many fans appreciate the gladiatorial element of professional tennis, watching with glee as two half-naked, sweaty pugilists armed with rackets and balls battle it out to the death. Thumbs down for the loser.
Club players often watch professional tennis to glean tips for their own game. These fans are arguably the most attentive, admiring the tactics, the technique, the footwork – anything they might use to steal a march on their rivals back at their own club.
Cast your eye over the more expensive seats at any tournament and you’ll discover the corporate fans. Suited, booted, with bellies full of champagne and canapés, they haven’t paid for their tickets and they’re normally too tipsy to care who’s playing. Federer, with his smart haircut, genteel manners and monogrammed jacket is a clear favourite, however.
Then there are the teenyboppers, avidly pursuing their chosen players like excited girls at a One Direction concert.
Which brings us back to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. A great deal more fans than you think watch tennis for one simple reason: the eye candy. They admire the bronzed bodies, the taut muscles – preferably encased in tight clothing.
Why else do you think Anna Kournikova was once the most photographed female athlete on the planet? It wasn’t for her dynamic groundstrokes, or the quality of her second serve.
For what reasons will you watch the next major tournament on the tennis calendar, the Miami Open?
Miami Open: Bet on the men's event here and the women's event here.