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Re: Behind the Scenes

The Miami Herald
November 3, 1996
MERI-JO BORZILLERI, Herald Sports Writer

Fort Lauderdale's Mondessa Swift already knew what Mary Joe Fernandez, Steffi Graf, Mary Pierce and Nike discovered this year.

The tennis dress is cool. Literally and figuratively.

All three stars made waves by going retro this season and wearing dresses instead of the usual skirt/shirt combinations pros have preferred for more than a decade.

Said Swift: ''I think dresses are cooler and more comfortable.''

Nike officially made it a trend with its mostly white, classic dresses, spiced with a splash of color -- which is right up Swift's alley.

It was Swift, better known by her designer name Mondessa, who played a large role in putting color into tennis. She was among the first to add bright trims and designs to tennis dresses and became famous for it.

Dresses she designed for hometown girl Chris Evert, including one with a bright red apple that made the cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine in 1972, nudged major tournaments like Wimbledon and the U.S. Open into dispensing with their white-outfits-only rule for competitors.

Mondessa took tennis lessons from Jimmy Evert at Holiday Park when Chris was 13 or 14.

''I said, 'OK, Chris. I'll make some dresses for you,' '' Mondessa said.

It was the first tennis dress she ever made.

''She wore them in the juniors. When she went to Forest Hills and Wimbledon, she wore my dresses. When she became really famous, she got big-time contracts from other companies. But all the juniors knew my dresses. They wanted to dress like Chris.''

So did a lot of people. A collection of Mondessa's dresses is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.

Now 25-year Fort Lauderdale resident Mondessa, after a decade's hiatus, is sharpening her drawing pencil again and eyeing the Home Shopping Network.

In recent weeks, she has hauled boxes of old dresses -- and her desk -- from her and husband Vince's garage. She has turned a guest bedroom into a designing studio. She has lined up another designer who has access to a factory. In eight months, Mondessa plans on selling her tennis outfits again, hopefully on television. She got the itch to design again when she saw this year's dresses on pros.

''They could fit better and be more flattering,'' said Mondessa, who won't give her age but admits she's ''close to 60.''

Mondessa, a former nationally ranked doubles player, and husband Vince never left the tennis scene, even after Mondessa sold her international company to Parker-Penn in 1974. They run tennis and other celebrity sporting events around the nation and in Mexico.

''I think there's a market out there for everyone,'' Mondessa said. ''I think it'll be a fun thing to do.''

Free lessons for kids

For 12 kids from Oriole Elementary School, the bell signaling the end of the school day Monday won't mean they'll stop learning.

The students, six boys and six girls, will receive free tennis instruction via a new program designed to teach tennis to African-American youngsters. The project kicks off Monday at 2:15 p.m. at the Lauderdale Lakes Middle School courts and will run Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Sponsored by an organization of AT&T and Lucent Technologies telecommunications employees, the program selected students in third through fifth grades who maintained a C average or better, had an interest in tennis and parental commitment for training.

For project director Barbara Wong, the organization's civic and community affairs director, the idea was a natural.

''I'm a tennis player,'' said Wong, ranked No. 15 in Florida in the women's 50s. ''I thought this was something we could bring to the community. Tennis is expensive. There may be some talent we can develop.''

Big giveaway

It's the tennis version of the golf giveaway that offers a new car to someone who aces a designated hole.

This, however, is even tougher to collect on.

The Mercedes-Benz Wild Card Championship is set for March at the Tennis Center of Coral Springs, home of the ATP Tour America's Red Clay Tennis Championship.

Win it, and you gain entry in the main draw of The Red's pro doubles tournament, where you might meet teams like Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, the No. 1 ranked doubles team in the world.

Win The Red, and your team not only wins the prize money, but gets to share a million dollars -- and you each win a 1998 Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle.

It's a little farfetched, but probably fun to try to at least reach the main draw of a pro event. To be eligible, neither player is allowed to have earned an ATP computer point in singles or doubles in the past two years.

Look for applications at your local club. That's where preliminary tournaments will be held to determine the 64 teams of the March Wild Card Championship. For more information, call Larry Martin at (954) 755-8830.
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