One of the perks, at least I think it’s a perk, about covering a large tournament like the NASDAQ-100 or Indian Wells is that we get to see these fun tennis commercials along the way. At least, I think they’re fun. Actually, they aren’t showing tennis per se, but rather a few players who have been in the news of late. They’re interesting to look at because of what they are attempting to promote, we presume, about our beloved sport.

The first thing we should say about tennis commercials is that quite often they end up being way out of sync with what may be happening in that player’s career at the time. American Express found this out last year when they ran their commercials featuring Andy Roddick. Then Andy started losing, and – to their credit – AMEX worked that right into the mix too. Andy helped the cause out by searching for his missing Mojo in a wonderfully deadpan style; he nearly let himself look as flustered there as he has proven to be this year on court.

Recently the Lotto Sport Italia company has gotten into the mix. They have been running a finely airbrushed ad highlighting Indian newcomer Sania Mirza and basically flung it at us, ad nauseum and in duplicate it seemed, on every commercial break. Just when we thought nothing would change, the Lotto people gave us a new face to look at. Sort of. Dominik Hrbaty now appears on the TV screens. Hhmmm. Dominik Hrbaty, a name that rolls easily off tennis tongues everywhere, I’m sure. But unfortunately for Lotto, Dominik has achieved fame not for his foot gear, but for the shirt he wore at last year’s U.S. Open. Do you need reminding? Oh, you do. Well. It was pink and black for starters. But the piece de resistance was the backside of said shirt. I believe I wrote at the time that it looked like some outfit Dominik had lifted from Serena Williams’ locker and then managed to put on backwards. It had two symmetrical cut-out sections, one over each shoulder blade.

It was a low moment for fashion in men’s tennis. Just when we thought we were in the clear too, and that the worst thing we would ever see is Rafa – God forbid – running around in those pirate pants for ever and ever. It was also a moment when some of us suddenly found ourselves taking Lleyton Hewitt’s side, for once, when he uttered his famous sneer, “I just couldn’t lose to a bloke wearing a shirt like that, mate.”

So when the Lotto commercial ran featuring Hrbaty, I had to burst out laughing on first viewing. What ARE they advertising, I wondered. Is it supposed to be about shoes? But the images barely tell us that. Instead they focus on his upper body, with that shirt. Hrbaty did not even have to turn around in the commercial, we never get to see the offending backside. They assume we will already share fond memories of it. And if we do, well what then? The associations would make us run screaming from the brand altogether, one would think. An odd way to advertise your product, and even though they sell jerseys too, Lotto is more known for their footwear. And in this case, you would think they would want to be known more for footwear than for the atrocity on Hrbaty’s back.

These guys did not take Advertising 101.

So I find myself scratching my head over these ads. It’s a company not well-known in our woods here in the States, featuring players no one will know, outside of tennis folk. Sania Mirza’s ranking is 39th in the world now. She has one tournament win under her belt, in her home town of Hyderabad. My co-writer, Nina Rota, thinks she will be in the top twenty soon. I have my doubts about that. She has not exactly set the women’s tour on fire yet, so some of us are wondering why she needs her own commercial. She doesn’t deserve it, goes the reasoning, although God knows neither did Anna Kournikova, and we had to look at her for a while before the advertising blitz slowly petered out.

But Sania Mirza is no Kournikova. The Lotto ad unfortunately reveals some of her chubbiness, and it’s not very flattering as far as her strokes go either. One shot in the ad shows Sonia serving, with a strangely bent elbow that gives it a cramped feeling, ditto on a forehand shot too. I wonder what the other girls on the tour feel about Mirza getting her own commercial. A recent visit I made to a tennis chat room showed me that I am not alone in feeling she doesn’t deserve this yet. Prove it to me, baby, that’s our attitude.

Sania is not so much a tennis player as she is a curiosity. She is Muslim, and she has happened along at a time when various peoples in the world have their various agendas. Sania Mirza figures into some of those agendas. That is why she is in the commercial, for that reason and no other.

You’re being picky, I am told, Sania is not unattractive to some people and she has a lot of personality. She’s already a big deal in southeast Asia, and there is a large Indian community in the States who wish her well. People will be curious about her, and perhaps go to see her play. Along the way they may grow to love tennis.

But along the way they may also feel the game is phony, because it is promoting a player who is not the best the sport has to offer, and their initial impression may be poor enough that they never come back. That’s why I object to the hype surrounding the Lotto ads, and maybe the earlier commercials too. The player never seems to be, at the moment of that commercial, able to live up to it. He or she is either ahead of the curve, as Sharapova is finally becoming, or they end up behind the 8-ball, like Andy Roddick.

But that’s also what makes them entertaining, we see the disparity going on and it becomes amusing. So bring on the airbrushing, and the new and startling fashions. I’m nearly ready for it.

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