Backhanded Compliments! Tennis Trannies Talk Trash

When the lights came back on, everyone in Manhattan suddenly realized with a shock that tennis is groovy and began frantically calculating who they have to shag to get tickets to the U.S. Open. What has possibly made this sport so screechingly and suddenly hip? Is it the fact that singer-actress Mandy Moore is dating player Andy Roddick?

No! It’s that skirt length. Yes, the mini is back-and, ergo, so is tennis. There is nothing chicer in the world right now than a mini with a couple of kick pleats (the grooviest are by Marc Jacobs, black wool felt for $850 or wool and cashmere tweed with patent leather details for $950)-and, as a result, the U.S. Open, which commences on Aug. 25, has the potential to be a veritable runway extravaganza. The star-and-skirt-strewn event will doubtless steal much thunder from Fashion Week, which succeeds it by a mere five days.

Honesty compels me to admit I have not thought much about tennis since the first time the mini was in, i.e., the 1960’s, when Teddy Tinling, the legendary tennis-design great, created press-garnering outfits with Courreges-esque transparent panels and the like. Mr. Tinling was also responsible for the famous ruffled panties worn by Gertrude (Gorgeous Gussie) Moran in the 1940’s (I crib here from Tennis Fashion , the helpful new pocket-sized manual by Diane Elisabeth Poirier, Assouline, $18.95), which were scandalous at the time but seem quite mumsy now.

With its new modish veneer, tennis has recaptured my attention. But having previously only taken an interest in the sport when scandal (Billie Jean King’s palimony), violence (the stabbing of grunt-meistress Monica Seles) or sex re-assignment (the Renée Richards debacle, which I fondly refer to as “Tennis Without Balls”) were involved, I found myself at a loss to forecast the trends for the upcoming Open.

Who will wear dreads? Who will crumble in a heap of stylishly anorexic tantrums? (The laughter, the tears, the piping, the nails, the jewelry …. ) Who will be wearing what, and with how many pleats? Who will provide the lesbian moment: bottle blondes from Ukraine with sleek ponytails and high-pitched screams? Or six-foot-plus warriors with rippling biceps?

In desperation, I called the Elsa Klensch of tennis, Françoise de Quincampoix, a.k.a. David Thorpe, a 34-year-old writer who hosts a cable show called Holding Court with “her” old doubles partner, Irina Trina Karina Zalutskaya-Koukinova, a.k.a. filmmaker Sam Zalutsky, also 34. Irina Trina Karina and Françoise are tennis-lovin’ trannies with an encyclopedic knowledge of their subject: The upcoming cable shows feature serious discussion with such commentating greats as balding, puckish NBC commentator Bud Collins and Sports Illustrated reporter Jon Wertheim, author of the tattling tennis tell-all, Venus Envy . I caught the “girls” via conference call as they sipped cocktails by candlelight in Mr. Thorpe’s East Village apartment during Blackout 2003, and began eagerly lobbing questions related to the upcoming tournament.

We started with the burning issue of the day:

Sock pom-poms or no sock pom-poms?

“We miss sock pom-poms,” gushed Irina Trina Karina. “But our favorite is the high knee sock,” interjected Françoise. “Very kinky school-girl. Très scratchy! Serena started wearing them at the French Open 2002-at our suggestion, of course. We think this trend could sweep the courts. The scratchier, the better.”

Can we expect to see any retro styles?

“Venus will no doubt be wearing that 70’s von Furstenberg look again,” sighed Françoise. (The elder Ms. Williams has been dabbling in dress design, most recently in concert with downtown denizen Diane von Furstenberg.) “But we would prefer her to reprise her backless yellow halter from 2000.”

“This was her finest fashion moment,” chimed in Irina Trina Karina, who belligerently insists on being addressed by all three names. “She wowed the crowd with that upswept tiara of braids.”

“We are so sad Serena won’t be playing,” said Françoise, sounding almost suicidal, “She brings ghetto-fabulousness courtside.”

Irina Trina Karina (henceforth, I.T.K.), who claims she grew up “playing in the sand courts of Uzbekistan,” told me that she would love Serena to return in a onesie, like the shiny black garment which sent such shock waves through the crowd at the 2002 U.S. Open. “As a proud Uzbeki woman, I was not embarrassed by Serena’s camel toe,” she said. “Camels are beautiful animals, and the camel toe-when worn correctly-is a great way to intimidate an opponent.”

Eye makeup? Who could use more?

“None of the girls are wearing enough eye makeup,” trilled I.T.K., whose current red, white and blue maquillage is worn in support of our troops in Iraq. “Daniela Hantuchova”-a skinny, blond young player-“needs top and bottom lashes and a foundation with a sweaty sheen to show off those fabulous Russian cheekbones.”

“Irina Trina Karina’s father was a ruthless dictator and an overbearing tennis coach,” explained Françoise (whose own use of cosmetics is more Elizabeth II), apropos of nothing.

Which female player has the biggest disadvantage figure-wise, and what should she be doing about it?

“Lindsay Davenport!!” screeched the court-lovin’ cross-dressers in stereo.

“She is very tall and awkward, but she tries to be petite and dainty,” said Françoise in a kind and caring way.

“We want to see her really embrace her height with a dropped waist and vertical stripes-very 60’s. This will make her look even taller,” I.T.K. said. “A new look could put her back on top. Right now, her hair is a rat’s nest-she should dye it blond and wear it mod and straight with bangs. Very Penelope Tree–slash–Marianne Faithfull.”

Black Power: Will it continue?

“The country-club doors of tennis have been flung open,” said Françoise, with gravitas. “We applaud the diversity. You will see it more than ever at this U.S. Open.”

“There will also be great Latina presence!” gushed the mike-grabbing I.T.K., inducing hazy memories of beauty Gabriela Sabatini (Argentina), a victor at the Open in 1990, not to mention the plucky Spanish veteran Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.

Is there a stylish dyke on the horizon?

“Amélie Mauresmo!” screamed the “girls,” referring to the out, super-butch French lesbian whom the much-missed, toothy Martina Hingis referred to as “half a man.” “She is already an icon with the dykes,” said Françoise, who predicts that tattooed motorcycle-riding Mlle. Mauresmo will dominate the style press this season.

“Tennis needs lesbians,” reflected I.T.K. with moody profundity. “We all need lesbians.”

Why visors? Why now?

According to the hostesses of Holding Court , visors will be the biggest courtside trend. “We will sit with the hip-hop contingent, and we will all be wearing huge visors,” claimed Françoise. “Don’t expect to see them on the court. Visors make players look immature. Andy Roddick’s coach made him stop wearing his.”

Panties?

Irina Trina Katrina and Françoise both feel strongly that thongs will never make it to the U.S. Open. “Panties need to be practical. A girl needs to be able to do the splits in front of thousands of people without embarrassing herself,” said the always-grounded and earthy I.T.K. (See Moran, Gussy, above for guidelines.)

Who will win, and what will they be wearing?

The Belgians! Françoise thinks dermatologically challenged Kim Clijsters will win, while I.T.K.’s money is on flat-chested Justine Henin-Hardenne (whom the girls claim was inspired to hyphenate her name by Irina.) Though they differ about the potential winner, both of my interviewees agree that the “Brussels Sprouts,” as they are affectionately known, need radical style intervention, possibly by one of their homeland’s many talented designers. “Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela-please help these girls!” cried I.T.K., who counteracts her own flat-chestedness by inserting four tennis balls down the front of her dress, and feels Justine should do the same.

Eventually, we got around to the men.

Will the short shorts that John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors once sported ever come back?

“No!! In the locker room they call them ‘nut-huggers’ because they restrict the flow of one’s play, if you know what I mean,” said Françoise with a knowing wink.

Though nut-watchers will be out of luck this year, there will be compensations: According to I.T.K. , arms are the new thighs: “The boys have started wearing sleeveless shirts, which I personally find very alluring.” Two hotties who might switch to the sleeveless shirt this season-or so the girls are desperately hoping-are Marat Safin, the tall and lanky Russian with the killer serve, and Juan Carlos Ferrero, the Spaniard and clay specialist who is known as “the Mosquito” for his annoying persistence.

The sultry contemplation of their favorite tennis hunks, combined with the lack of air-conditioning, had pitched the Holding Court hostesses into a limp torpor. I perked them up by asking them to predict the winner of the men’s singles.

Irina Trina Karina is lighting candles (both metaphorically and because of Blackout 2003) for both Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. Françoise has her heart set on the stylish James Blake, the biracial hunk with the spiky Afro. “He has a lovely, powerful forehand,” purred Françoise. “I would love to see him go all the way. Oooh!”

Quel chaleur!

If you haven’t managed to boink your way into the U.S. Open and are obliged to purchase tickets in a more orthodox fashion, simply log onto Ticketmaster.com or call 1-866-OPEN-TIX. Holding Court will air on Channel 57 three times during the tournament: on Aug. 25 at 9 p.m., Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. There’s a preview party on Aug. 21 at the Remote Lounge, 327 Bowery, at 8 p.m., with a screening promptly at 8:30. Tennis apparel is strongly encouraged.