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Big girls play in nightie

Melbourne, Jan. 19 (AFP): The baby-doll nightie has become the must-have fashion accessory at this year’s Australian Open, preventing the season-opening grand slam from sinking into a sartorial slumberland.

Fourth seed Maria Sharapova was among a trio of women players to model the new look during the second-round at Melbourne Park, with a powder-blue dress described as “empire line” that looked remarkably like a nightdress.

Her attire prompted some commentators to say the Russian teenager had dispensed with the need to change after her night time victory over Ashley Harkelroad and could go straight from the court to catch forty winks.

A similar number in lavender failed to inspire Karolina Sprem to victory over top seed Lindsay Davenport, although the American did struggle in the first set, perhaps wondering why her opponent had turned up ready for bed.

But it was Russia’s Maria Kirilenko who took the look to new heights, with a ruffled pale pink version designed by British designer Stella McCartney, daughter of ex-Beatle Paul.

Kirilenko complemented her nightie with a fluorescent orange sports bra and undershorts.

The nightie, which has also been described as akin to a maternity dress, has been the highlight of an otherwise staid Australian Open.

Serena Williams, known for taking on-court fashion to places others fear to tread, has been particularly conservative as she adopts a no-nonsense approach to defending her open crown. With the number 13 seed the butt of pre-tournament jibes about her weight, there has been no sign of the infamous black lycra catsuit Williams modelled at the 2002 US Open.

Williams last year unveiled a lime-green and white costume for the Australian Open that included knee-high spaceboots with a detachable leg section that could be removed before play commenced.

This year she has confined herself to a mint-green pleated skirt and regulation-issue tanktop.

Sharapova, now Williams’ greatest challenger in the fashion stakes, said this week that she envisioned a future for herself in the rag trade when she eventually retires from tennis. “I love fashion very much,” she told reporters. “I get involved with that very often. There’s a lot of interesting things that I want to do after my career.

“I don’t want to finish my tennis career and just, you know, sit there and be empty-handed. I want to have a lot of opportunities.”

Former fashion queen Mary Pierce’s attempt to set her own trends with a bright orange and yellow striped outfit did nothing to help her game today, as the French woman crashed out in the second round.

Her conqueror, 22-year-old Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic, opted for a more revealing number, pairing a low slung tight hipster skirt with a figure-hugging black singlet that left the midriff exposed.

There were more serious questions of attire surrounding Sania Mirza, who dismissed reports conservative Islamists had issued a fatwa criticising her on-court clothing because it “leaves nothing to the imagination”.

“I’ve not heard of it now, so I guess it’s over,” the 19-year-old said, dressed for her press conference in a demure black tracksuit.

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