- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

NEW YORK — Tennis stars’ influence and interest in fashion has been growing steadily, leaving the opportunity for Maria Sharapova and James Blake to do a little moonlighting.

They’ve long collaborated with their sponsors on their court clothes, but they’re both expanding their fashion roles, with their own collections being launched to the public.

Maria Sharapova

She’s been fashion’s bright spot on the courts for several years, even if she’s not the risk taker that fellow glamazons Venus and Serena Williams are. (Both Williams sisters also have dabbled in design.)

Miss Sharapova long has worked with her Nike team collaborators on her tournament outfits, often culminating in a cocktail-turned-tennis dress for the U.S. Open, which seems befitting for an event that coincides with New York Fashion Week.

But, Miss Sharapova says, her life isn’t spent entirely on the court — there’s lots of time running to and from airplanes, hotels and conference rooms — and she wanted to expand her wardrobe to accommodate that. She partnered with Cole Haan on a new accessory line of bags and shoes that, save the Nike comfort technology, is rooted in fashion, not athletic wear.

“I’m not a novice — I had a little experience going into this — but this is the first time I’m able to do something that totally branches out from tennis itself,” she says.

The flat-heel, over-the-knee boot she designed is first on her list of must-haves from the collection. And she wants it in gray suede. “I’d wear it with a cute jumpsuit, or going into fall, I’d wear them with a pair of jeans, or a great coat with a little dress,” she says, clearly giving this a lot of thought.

Miss Sharapova suffered an injury last year that kept her out of competitive tennis for 10 months. Sketching was one of the things she did in this newfound spare time.

Look for her in airports with the Cole Haan hobo bag in a dark gray. It’ll match those boots.

James Blake

Mr. Blake says fashion could be part of his game plan when his days on the professional tennis court are done.

The Thomas Reynolds line, however, has a bigger mission than to keep Mr. Blake working. It’s his way to honor his late father, the real Thomas Reynolds Blake.

“The first time I put something on from my collection — remember, I am not nervous on the court anymore — I was much more nervous about this,” Mr. Blake says. “I wanted to do something that would tell fans where I got my values. I want to be someone kids look up to, and I couldn’t be that guy without my father.”

Mr. Blake says he wasn’t looking to put his own name on the label. “Thomas Reynolds” probably has a little more longevity, he says, noting that he is 29, and it gives credit where credit is due.

“In the confines of our home, he’d joke that he was a fashion guy,” Mr. Blake recalls of his father. “When he got dressed up for work, he’d look stylish. But when he went out to the golf course, he looked ridiculous. I think he did that more so we’d make fun of him and have a good time.”

Mr. Blake is new to wearing Fila on the court this year, and the collaborative Thomas Reynolds Collection has been in place since the start of the agreement. There are plans for the line to include golf, tennis and other activewear — and then expand to general lifestyle clothes.

He hopes to infuse at least a little bit of the North Carolina Chapel Hill blue that he’s made a tradition of wearing as he pays homage to another role model: Michael Jordan.

Yeah, Mr. Blake says, he pays attention to a lot of details.

“I was always into fashion outside of tennis,” Mr. Blake says. “As a kid playing tennis, you just want to play, but once you’re on the (ATP) Tour and seeing other players, it was talked about, but more on the women’s side. I saw some things on the men’s side that were unsightly.”

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