Sunday, May 23, 2004

Serena's designs are on French

Fashion guru wants another Grand Slam

The Associated Press

PARIS - Serena Williams calls it a tribute to the Moulin Rouge, but Paris has never seen anything like this.

Never shy about pushing the boundaries of tennis fashion, Williams came up with a look for the French Open boasting a white leather motorcycle jacket with "Serena" in gold across the back, a hot pink minidress and matching sneakers.

"I don't want to look mediocre," said Williams, who showed off her flashy "French Open Collection" Saturday, two days before play starts at Roland Garros. "It's perfect, because I feel if I look good, I'll play good."

Once she's on the court, the leather jacket will come off, and attention will turn to tennis - something Williams hasn't played much of in the past year.

The 2002 French Open champion and former No. 1 just returned from nearly a month off with a sore left knee. It's the same knee that required surgery Aug. 1, keeping her away from the tour until March.

During her time off, Williams designed dresses and signed a new Nike contract that could be worth close to $40 million over five years. She worked with the sponsor to create her tennis fashions.

"This is a Roland Garros special," Williams said at a news conference, flanked by mannequins wearing her creations and larger-than-life photos of herself. The Paris collection - in shades of pink and red - feature plunging necklines and high hems.

"This is what we call 'Moulin Rouge,' because of all the colors," Williams said, referring to Paris' best-known cabaret, which inspired the film starring Nicole Kidman.

"Tennis whites are boring, unless it's Wimbledon, where it's classy," Williams said in a later interview.

Down to seventh in the WTA Tour rankings, the 22-year-old said she feels as if she's starting over. But she doesn't find it daunting.

Williams reached the semifinals last year, losing to eventual champion Justine Henin-Hardenne in a match that left the American in tears. Williams questioned line calls, and the chair umpire ruled in her favor, but the crowd turned against her - even cheering her mistakes. Adding to the tension, Williams questioned Henin-Hardenne's sportsmanship.

Williams insists she has blocked it all out, though. "I really don't remember that match," she said, smiling.

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