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Blown Out On the Trail
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Men join the women in buffing, bulking up


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Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler

MASON, Ohio -- Robby Ginepri says that he's been working out a lot lately, and it shows. Another six months or so, and he'll have arms like Serena Williams.
This, apparently, is where tennis is headed. On the women's side, it goes back to Martina Navratilova, who backed up her forehand with a whole bunch of forearm. Jennifer Capriatri seems to have pumped her way back from her drug problem. Serena, meanwhile, offers more than enough shoulder to carry her sport over a threshold or two, which she has.

The men, for the most part, have not bought into strong-arm tennis. Its superstars have mostly been trim and nimble athletes, the likes of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Lleyton Hewitt, et al.; not a blacksmith in the bunch.

Thus it is that Ginepri has cut an uncommon figure along the various stops of the Masters Series. At 5-11, 175 pounds, there's not an ounce of offensive tackle in the 20-year-old Georgian, but put it this way: Of the handful of players who now wear sleeveless shirts, Ginepri wears them best.

The shirt thing is new to the men's tour, and not at all coincidental. It came up at last year's U.S. Open, when Tommy Haas showed up without sleeves and was ordered to get some. Haas's protests pointed out what the women have been wearing lately, and eventually someone got the message. Presumably, it was marketing people.

The professional women of tennis have been outstripping the professional men of tennis for a couple years now, and one difference lies in the evident buffness. This is not to say that a combination of Schwarzeneggering and sleeveless shirts will restore the men to their former station, but there is a certain popularity -- much of it female in origin -- fast attaching itself to the likes of Ginepri and James Blake, who attend that school.

As circumstantial evidence, we submit the affections of one Minnie Driver, the 33-year-old actress whose potential dating pool includes more than 99 percent of the single men on the planet. Somehow, after watching a tennis match on television, she set her cap for the young American with the back-turned hat, bully backhand and big-boy biceps. They're an item now.

As such, they're in most of the magazines of that sort, which -- in the waning days of Sampras and Agassi -- is a good and timely thing for men's tennis. It's good and timely, also, that Ginepri has been playing as he did Thursday, when he held off Argentina's Gaston Gaudio to reach the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Financial Group event at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. What was apparent, in the Cincinnati heat, is that Ginepri's workouts have not been just for show.

"I've been working a lot on my fitness and conditioning to get to the next level," he said, "and I think that's really paid off. In the match today, where we're out there hitting a lot of balls, running each other back and forth on a hot day, I think it really paid off.

"I don't know what the women do. But, you know, playing best-of-five sets for all the Grand Slams, you have to be in top-notch shape to get through the matches. If you've been doing all the work off the court, I think you're gonna get the results like today."

The bigger issue is whether the game itself will get the results. Much depends on the Gen-X class of hard-playing Americans, which includes Mardy Fish, Ginepri, Blake and Blake's Thursday night center-court opponent, almost-21-year-old Andy Roddick. Their talent -- especially Roddick's -- is indisputable and fast-developing, but that's not the pudding in which the proof is always found.

Curiously, we live in an age when the photogenic are often held in greater esteem than the gifted or hard-working; when popularity is sometimes bestowed upon the body as much as the body of work. When the two converge, you have what women's tennis has at the moment.

The men's game is getting there, or at least trying to. Before a full, appreciative stadium and the vast reaches of ESPN, it was compelling footage that the sporty Americans put up Thursday; and half the world is Minnie Driver.
 
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