Venus Williams defends controversial tennis dress

PARIS (AP) — Venus Williams’ latest fashion statement is generating plenty of questions.

During her second-round victory at the French Open on Wednesday, Williams sported the same black lace dress with bright red trim that she wore in her first match.

And after beating Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2, 6-4, Williams was asked much more about the dress than, for example, the 128 mph serve she hit or the fact that she’s now 14-2 on clay in 2010.

Williams said the corset-like outfit’s overlay and skin-toned undergarments are “about the illusion of bareness.”

“Lace has never been done before in tennis, and I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time,” she said. “The illusion of just having bare skin is definitely for me a lot more beautiful.”

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French Tennis Federation spokesman Christophe Proust said: “It gives the illusion that she’s naked (underneath), but she isn’t. Maybe some people didn’t like it, but from what I know there was no angry reaction from the organizers or French federation officials.”

WTA spokesman Andrew Walker said Williams’ outfit is “not a violation of our match attire rules.”

Top French player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lashed out at French Open organizers for turning down his request to have his first-round match scheduled for the second or third day of the tournament.

Instead, he had to play on Day 1.

“Frankly, I was a bit disappointed because I was playing on a Sunday,” the eighth-seeded Tsonga said after beating countryman Josselin Ouanna 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 in the second round Wednesday. “I had asked not to play on a Sunday, absolutely, because I had practiced in such a way that I thought I wanted to play on a Monday or Tuesday, to be totally fit. But they imposed it on me.”

Tsonga said he deserved more respect considering his ranking and nationality.

“Today, we’re in France. I’m French. I’m the French No. 1. I would have thought it was legitimate for me to be listened to,” said Tsonga, the 2008 Australian Open runner-up.

“If you look at (Andy) Murray, if he decides on a day or a time schedule at Wimbledon, nobody is going to impose anything on him. For (Roger) Federer, in his country it’s the same. And in the U.S., I suppose it’s the same thing for the best American players. I think that Lleyton (Hewitt) probably plays in the sun during the Australian Open because he loves the sun and other opponents don’t like the sun.”

Another French player, Richard Gasquet, said the tournament refused to give him an extra day off after he won a tune-up tournament in Nice. Gasquet lost to Murray in five sets in the first round at Roland Garros.

Chanelle Scheepers looked up to Amanda Coetzer. Now Scheepers hopes South African kids who want to take up tennis will look up to her.

Scheepers, who had to go through qualifying to get into the French Open, became the first South African woman to reach the third round at a Grand Slam tournament in almost seven years by beating Gisela Dulko of Argentina 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday.

“Tennis hasn’t been a big thing in South Africa, especially women’s tennis,” Scheepers said. “Hopefully with this, it can get bigger, and people will see what I do and think, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”

Coetzer was the last woman from their country to advance to the third round in a major tournament, accomplishing the feat at the U.S. Open in 2003.

In 2001, Coetzer was also the last South African woman to reach the third round at Roland Garros.

The 131st-ranked Scheepers never had won a match at any Grand Slam event before this French Open.

“It’s nice to accomplish things for your country, but at the same time, you have your personal goals,” Scheepers said. “When I won that first round, I said, ‘OK, I want more.’”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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