Article From Daily Telegraph - Maria Kirilenko
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"Russian mixing shots with frocks"
By Mark Hodgkinson
Blonde, pony-tailed teenage Russians are nothing new when it comes to generating some glitz and glamour in women's tennis. But there is something a bit different about Maria Kirilenko, a Muscovite with cheekbones which are probably sharp enough to slice through the net at next week's Roland Garros or next month's Wimbledon fortnight.
Kirilenko has been attracting more attention from the high fashion world than Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova have ever managed. Certainly, fashionistas have been suggesting that the 19-year-old has the poise and the cool and the bone structure that would not shame someone aspiring to be the next Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell. She would not look out of place if she dropped her racket and started sashaying down the catwalks of Paris, London, Milan and New York.
Such interest in Kirilenko has already led to her appearing in Vogue magazine, the high fashion Bible, and, more importantly, being hired as the face of Stella McCartney-designed tennis outfits. Kirilenko, established in the world's top 25, is the only player on the tour to have been asked to model the McCartney tennis collection.
McCartney, Beatle Paul's daughter and a leading figure in the design world, wanted to bring "an element of cheeky femininity" to tennis with pleated dresses and brightly-coloured tank tops and shorts. And so she was taken by Kirilenko's look. "Stella told me that when she saw me for the first time she knew straight away that she wanted to work with me. I've been her muse, I suppose," Kirilenko said.
Even before starting to design with tennis in mind, McCartney had spotted her "muse" and approached Kirilenko about the possibility of the two working together, perhaps to ask the player to model her non-sporty designs.
The first contact between them was around two years ago, when Kirilenko was far lower in the rankings than the world No 22 she is now, and was yet to win her first title on the main tour, which she took in Beijing last season. "We first started to talk with Stella about two years ago. At that time, Stella was not even working in sport," said Kirilenko's agent, Valeriy Krutov.
This season Kirilenko has been modelling the range of tennis clothes that McCartney has created in conjunction with Adidas, the kit manufacturers. According to Kirilenko, McCartney has been very encouraging about her tennis, including sending one note that read: "Now get out there and kick some ass." "I feel privileged that Stella asked me to do it, as I have always loved fashion," Kirilenko said. "All teenage girls like to look good and tennis players are no different. And I think that you play better when you feel comfortable on court, so fashion can be important during my tennis career."
Kirilenko has hardly been a dumb model; she has had some involvement in the design process of the dresses. "I have had some say in the clothes as I need to feel good on the court. We have been using the latest technology to keep me cool out there," she said. McCartney has also enjoyed the collaboration.
But Kirilenko dipping her expensively-pedicured foot in the fashion world will not be to the detriment of her tennis. She is not about to become another Kournikova, who acquired a fortune in modelling and endorsement dollars without much by way of meaningful achievement. Kirilenko has already managed what Kournikova never did, by winning a singles title.
Kirilenko plainly has the shots to go with the frocks, and also the ambition. When it comes to discovering how to balance her tennis and her off-court commitments, Kirilenko has consulted with her closest friend on the tour, Sharapova.
While Sharapova received a letter from McCartney in 2004, congratulating her on winning the Wimbledon title that year and offering her the use of red carpet-appropriate clothes for parties and premieres, Kirilenko has since come through as the darling of the fashion world.
"By working with Stella," Kirilenko said, "I have been able to bring together two things that are very important to me - my sport and my style."
MARIA KIRILENKO MARIA SHARAPOVA
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS FC