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Long braids take centre court at US Open

Women tennis players have become style icons,setting trends in hairstyles.

Written by New York Times | Published: September 4, 2011 12:12:40 am


There were high-pitched grunts and moans during this year’s Wimbledon three-set semifinal match between Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus,but the hair remained under control. Both players,in white headbands and long dramatic braids,seemed to have torn a page out of the bohemian-chic playbook.

As if piped in directly to the fall 2011 collections,more and more female tennis players are playing with long plaits. Jenna Goldate,a spokeswoman for the recently opened Braid Bar at the John Barrett Salon on Fifth Avenue,pointed out that braids were spotted last spring at the runway shows of Alexander McQueen,Pucci and Mara Hoffman,and celebrities like Blake Lively have continued to wear braids this summer. “The fashion of tennis has been elevated,” she said,“so the hair plays into that as well.”

The style is also practical. “I like to have long hair off court,” the Russian player Maria Kirilenko,currently ranked No. 29,wrote in an e-mail,and braiding her hair is “less disturbing while playing.” In a far cry from the late ’70s,when Tracy Austin’s pigtails and bangs signalled her youth and Chris Evert’s beribboned ponytail personified the country club ideal,today’s braids are creative and sophisticated.

Azarenka,for Wimbledon and other tournaments,braided the hair along the sides of her head and then had all of her hair meet in the back for one big braid,while Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic sometimes places a tiny braid across the top of her forehead—reminiscent of Jennifer Aniston’s 2009 Academy Award look. But mostly,long-haired players,like Kvitova,Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark,Ana Ivanovic of Serbia,Christina McHale of the United States, Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia,Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan and Sabine Lisicki of Germany,have one big roped plait that bounces off their backs and shoulders while they play.

“It is great during workouts and tennis as my hair doesn’t bother me that way,” said Lisicki,who cited the former tennis champion Mary Pierce as a source of inspiration,along with Aniston’s hair in general. Lisicki herself became an object of tennis fans’ adoration earlier this week by winning the Sony Ericsson Xperia Hot Shots contest,which received some three million YouTube video views and more than 823,000 “likes” on Facebook.

“Women tennis players are style icons that are always pushing the fashion envelope and setting trends both on and off the court,whether it’s Victoria Azarenka’s trendy new way of braiding hair or Serena Williams’s iconic black cat suit,” said Stacey Allaster,chairwoman and chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association.

Braids have been a popular presence on the court since the days of Ms Pierce,Anna Kournikova,and Venus and Serena Williams (late 1990s-early 2000s). But in the last few years,they have become ubiquitous. Even Sharapova,famous for her sleek on-court pony,sported a braid at a pre-Wimbledon party earlier this summer.

Julia Farel,a celebrity hairstylist who maintains a full-service salon for the players and VIPs at the United States Open,said that long hair on the court is more standard these days than,say,practical shoulder-length styles. Perhaps players won’t be the only ones braiding up inside Arthur Ashe this season: watch for spectators to embrace the trend as well. According to Goldate of Barrett’s Braid Bar,braids are “really big” for fall and are a low-maintenance way to combat the open-air stadium’s exposure to sun,rain and wind. “Braids can go very casual or upscale,” she said,“They can get your hair out of your way,but you’ll still look stylish and on trend.”

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