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Fashion aces

Hrbaty's shirt is just the start of trend-setting tennis

Posted: Wednesday September 7, 2005 1:18PM; Updated: Wednesday September 7, 2005 1:18PM
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NEW YORK -- Watching Dominik Hrbaty walk out of Ashe Stadium on Tuesday in his pink-on-black peek-a-boo top, exposed shoulders slumped after falling in straight sets to Lleyton Hewitt, reminded me of one of my favorite Cosby Show episodes: the one where a desperate Theo Huxtable enlists the help of older sister Denise in knocking off a designer shirt from the coveted Gordon Gartrell collection.

You see, Theo had used Cliff's credit card to buy the $95 shirt for a date. But Cliff being Cliff insisted that Theo swap the shirt for something less expensive. Somewhere in this dialog enters Denise, who volunteers to tailor a similar shirt for around $20. Though her track record for abandoning projects in their infancy and limited sewing experience give Clair and Cliff some initial pause, Denise, miraculously, comes through, delivering an article of clothing that can best be described as half-eaten.

Theo, fearing certain humiliation, threatens to back out of his date. But Cliff being Cliff, he comes to the rescue, revealing that that he had kept the Gordon Gartrell original under lock and key all along.

However, the Coz is too late. Theo is spied by his date and a friend in the knockoff shirt before he has a chance to change. And that's when the most curious thing happens: They loved it. Raved about it. Minutes later, after a hug from Denise and kisses from mom and dad, there's Theo with his broke-down Gordon Gartrell shirt on his back and a girl on each arm, strutting out of the Huxtable brownstone and off camera, a proud man.

I recall that seminal Cosby moment in order to tell you this: Yes, the Hrbaty shirt was awful, but so were the lace undies, the all-white body suit and the short shorts before we all got used to 'em. Such is the penalty for being the fashion vanguard.

Where does Hrbaty's daring frock rank among tennis' all-time greats? Herewith my list of the top 10 boldest fashion statements in the game so far:

Top 10 Boldest Tennis Fashion Statements
The Look The Skinny
Suzanne Lenglen's missing corset
British fans couldn't hold in their contempt for the Nice-born right-hander, dubbing the six-time Wimbledon champ "the French hussy" for playing without a corset during the 1920 fortnight.
Gertrude Moran's lace undies
The California-native left it up to famed tennis designer Ted Tinling to put together the perfect Wimbledon ensemble in 1949. But her lace knickers caused such a snit that Tinling was banned from the event for the next 33 years.
Bunny Austin's bare legs
A two-time Wimbledon finalist and the pride of South Norwood, London, Austin was the first top men's player to trade in trousers for shorts in 1932.
Anne White's bodysuit
White had tongues wagging at the All England Club, showing up in '85 covered head-to-toe in opalescent Lycra. After one of her matches was delayed by rain, she was told by a referee not to wear the outfit the next day.
Andre Agassi's jean shorts
The erstwhile rebel wasn't feeling the All England Club's all-white dress code in the late '80s -- he boycotted Wimbledon three times. But he left his day-glow mark elsewhere. His look at the 2000 U.S. Open was among his best ensembles: a lime-green accented polo, stone-washed jean shorts (with lime-green spandex underneath) and a rockin' headband to harness his flowing blonde mullet.
Serena Williams' cat suit
In an homage to White, Williams showed up to the '02 U.S. Open dressed to kill in a black, body-hugging Lycra cat-suit designed by Puma that left precious little to the imagination (and I mean precious little). Less startling was that she went on to win the tournament.
Bjorn Borg's painted-on shorts
From his tiny shorts to his striped headband, the Ice Man always fashioned himself a man apart. He'd follow through with his interest in fashion by launching a sporty range of men's underwear in 1982. Of course, in Sweden, they're still just shorts.
Rafael Nadal's Capri pants
Since the three-quarters-length Nike shorts were unfurled on his bed at the beginning of the '05 season, the Spaniard hasn't looked back. Before long, he was soiling them in French clay en route to winning the first major of his career at Roland Garros. The accompanying Aquaman muscle top, however, is sold separately.
Anna Kournikova and just about anything in her closet
I'd mention the clothes, but -- like her tennis -- when have they ever mattered?
Dominik Hrbaty's peek-a-boo top
The Slovakian has set a new low. And the best part is, even he knows it. "The Lotto company, they pay me to wear it," he explains in halting English. "I don't know [if] somebody just was trying to make a smiley face in the back."
Others receiving votes: Joan Lycett, for playing without stockings in 1931; Linda Siegel, for her plunging tank-top in '79 (from which she'd pop out of while reaching for a backhand); Andy Roddick, for his Ashton Kutcher-inspired trucker hats.