Protests ignored as Madrid unites court and catwalk again
By Mark Hodgkinson
Organisers of the Masters Series tournament in Madrid, which starts in the Spanish capital on Monday, have decided to repeat last year's stunt of using provocatively dressed models as ball girls, a move that will add glamour to the event but also provoke controversy and criticism.
Andy Murray would undoubtedly have appreciated the models, but he was forced to turn down the offer of a wild card into the qualifying event for Madrid as he was already entered into next week's Challenger tournament in Denmark.
He has since withdrawn from the Danish Challenger because of his damaged hamstring, but he indicated last night that he would be "OK" for the ATP Tour event in Basle the week after next, for which he has a wild card into the main draw.
By employing the models for a second year, the Madrid Masters organisers have ignored strong objections from several senior Spanish politicians. Last year, Soledad Murillo, the minister for equality, wrote to the tournament director, the sponsor for the models, and the Madrid mayor demanding that the "sexist" practice be stopped.
Last season the models were required to wear slashed skirts and tight-fitting tops as they fetched the stray balls and handed towels to the players, and it is unlikely that the clothing sponsors will suddenly have come over all demure with this year's outfits. The politicians argue that the models are an example of "machismo" culture in Spain.
But the tournament organisers do not see the use of the models as demeaning or frivolous. "The initiative with the models was launched with success last year and the organisers are determined to continue with the idea this year," the directors said.
There are likely to be strong misgivings from within the sport. Some will argue that the players will be put off by the presence of the models, while other critics will question why tennis has to resort to boxing-style gimmicks to attract publicity.
The models will almost certainly show greater competence this year. The organisers claimed that the women, many of whom knew nothing about tennis before they were hired for the job, had been taking their preparations seriously and were in daily training.
Greg Rusedski had been expecting to play his opening round in Moscow yesterday, but his match against Frenchman Michael Llodra will instead take place today.