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Baring Biceps: ATP Approves Sleeveless Shirts For First Half Of 2003

By Richard Pagliaro

A spontaneous disappearing act struck the U.S. Open last September. Tommy Haas had nothing up his sleeves when U.S. Open officials made his shirt disappear. Actually, Haas had no sleeves at all; his sleeveless shirt was ruled in violation of the Grand Slam rule requiring “clean and customarily acceptable attire” and he was required to change to a traditional shirt with sleeves.

Haas, who had struggled with a chronic strained shoulder for much of the summer, said he selected a sleeveless shirt because traditional tennis shirts restricted his shoulder movement.

Complaining a double standard was at work, Haas criticized the rules, which permitted Serena Williams’ skin-tight cat suit as well as Anna Kournikova’s belly-button baring adidas short shirt, yet denied the German the chance to bare his biceps.

U.S. Open officials countered that Williams’ cat suit had been submitted for approval prior to the tournament, while Haas’ shirt had not. Haas and other male players believed the shirt exposed the hypocrisy of a system that allows women to show substantial skin while holding men to a different standard.

ATP officials heard Haas’ complaints and have opted to allow sleeveless shirts in tournament play for the first six months of the 2003 season before revisiting the rule again.

“There are people around who are not sold on this as a good idea,” ATP CEO Mark Miles told the SportsBusiness Journal’s Daniel Kaplan. “We think it is worth getting out there and getting the public’s reaction to it.”

That reaction could come next month at the Australian Open. The year’s first Grand Slam, which starts on January 13th, will permit the sleeveless shirts though it remains to be seen if the other Slams will follow suit.

Each Slam maintains the right to issue its own interpretation of what constitutes “acceptable tennis attire” and there is probably a better chance of All England club officials allowing a player to wear a tie-dye t-shirt to the Champion’s Ball than there is of them permitting a player to wear the sleeveless shirt on Wimbledon’s hallowed grass courts.

“It is genuinely right on the border of what is appropriate tennis attire, Bill Babcock, the executive administrator of the Grand Slam committee, told Kaplan. “You could say it is positive, it is creative or beyond the envelope.”

The U.S. Open, which has permitted players such as Andre Agassi to wear denim shorts and the Jensen brothers to wear cartoon characters on their shirts in the past, will review any request by a player to wear the sleeveless shirt.

“The door is open and we will take it (the sleeveless shirt) under consideration,” USTA Chief Executive of Professional Tennis Arlen Kantarian told Kaplan.

The biggest winners in the decision may well be Nike, which made Haas’ shirt, as well as other apparel companies. Nike plans to begin sales of its sleeveless shirt once Haas wears it during the 2003 season.

“We will have the shirt at retail as soon as possible,” Nike’s global tennis business director Bruce Schilling said. “Hopefully, this helps the sport — not just the players. It is a step in the right direction for tennis.”
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