The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) says it has “modernised” its dress code with the rollout of a new rule, allowing leggings and mid-thigh length compression shorts to be worn without a skirt or dress during matches.
The change is part of a number of measures announced for the 2019 season, as the world body looks to take a “progressive” and “current” approach.
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Although there was no prior rule prohibiting a player from wearing leggings without a skirt, the WTA said it “approved language to make its position explicitly clear”.
“We wanted to be progressive and make sure that we were current with where fashion is going and competitive-wear may be going,” WTA CEO Steve Simon said in an interview, explaining the changes.
“We also wanted to give our players the chance to be who they want to be and wear what they want, what they feel comfortable competing in,” he added.
Top female players, who are often seen wearing leggings or three-quarter length tights during practise, have welcomed the change.
“It’s really nice for players who can wear this without any problems and to be free to do anything they like,” Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, world number 56, told Al Jazeera.
Oman’s Fatma Al Nabhani, who is one of the players on the professional circuit who wears leggings with her skirt, thanked the WTA.
“Let’s rock our leggings,” she wrote on her Instagram page.
Many consider the rule practical and “wise”, especially at tournaments played in colder climates.
“I’ve never played in tights, but when it’s cold we need those to keep the muscles warm,” world number two Simona Halep said during a press conference at the Qatar Open, adding she would still prefer wearing a skirt over leggings.
The case of the catsuit
The dress code applies only to WTA tournaments on the calendar, while Grand Slams, which come under the jurisdiction of the International Tennis Federation, are entitled to set their own rules.
WTA’s announcement comes after the French Tennis Federation president objected to the full-body catsuit worn by American tennis star Serena Williams at the French Open in May, saying it will no longer be accepted at the tournament.
The French Open’s ban on the skin-tight outfit, which was specially designed by Williams’s sponsor, Nike, to help avoid blood clots post-pregnancy, drew considerable backlash and was slammed as “racist” and “sexist”.
For the record, Serena Williams wasn’t the first woman to wear a catsuit at a Grand Slam. Anne White did it in 1985 at the US Open. They knew this was a possibility but didn’t ban it until Serena did it for MEDICAL REASONS. pic.twitter.com/0GyDbKnhEO
— ✨Mizzlé✨ (@mizzlywizz) August 24, 2018
Players on tour are still divided on the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s choice of attire.
“Serena had a message for women behind it (the catsuit) and I completely support her in that,” Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina said at a press conference in Doha.
Former world number one and 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova told Al Jazeera: “I didn’t like it, but if they allow it, she can wear whatever she wants.”
It was not the first time a player got called out for wearing a catsuit at a Grand Slam.
In 1985, American Anne White was also told to wear something more “appropriate” by the Wimbledon referee after she played her first round in a long-sleeved white spandex bodysuit.
There was more controversy around clothing and women’s tennis last year.
Frenchwoman Alize Cornet got a code violation warning of “unsportsmanlike behaviour” for changing her top behind the baseline on the court, revealing a sports bra.
The US Open later issued an apology and clarified its policy.
“All players can change their shirts while sitting in the player chair,” the tournament said in a statement. “This is not considered a code violation.”
“Female players, if they choose, may also change their shirts in a more private location close to the court, when available,” it added.
But some still feel that women tennis players face more restrictions compared with men when it comes to clothing.
“They should make everything equal – either for men or women,” said Jabeur. “They cannot treat men different than women.”
Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz