I was up late the other night, because I happened to catch German-born, Florida-based Czech teener Nicole Vaidisova when she walloped World No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo in three sets, in the French Open. Amazing serve, all-around game, high confidence, nerves of steel, plus the inevitable comparisons to fellow looker, fellow European expatriate, fellow Nick Bollettieri Academy graduate Maria Sharapova: It occurred to me then that we were going to hear more from this 17-year-old (who already has six WTA singles titles) in the coming years. Tonight, I was a little late closing the pages assigned to me, because the TV set on our side of the newsroom was tuned in to the live telecast (12 noon in Paris, 6 pm in Manila) of Vaidisova’s quarterfinal match against former World No. 1 Venus Williams. Same pattern as the previous game: an extremely close first set, which Vaidisova lost, then blow-outs in the second and third sets. Andrew Lilley, writing for the impressive (but rather slow) French Open website, could not help himself: He ended his dispatch with the following prophecy-couched-as-a-diplomatically-worded-question: "but there was no stopping Vaidisova, who continued her amazing rise to prominence throughout this tournament by breaking Venus’ final service to win 6-7 6-1 6-3. She will face No8 seed Svetlana Kusnetsova in Thursday’s semifinal, but even in the other half of the draw, the top seeds will certainly have taken note of this result. Maria Sharapova will doubtless also have picked up on the fact that a tall, blond Eastern European with movie-star looks and a pink outfit was blowing kisses to the centre court crowd – has the WTA found a new poster girl?"
But here’s the truly amazing thing: Vaidisova is programmed to be that poster girl. Managed by the wheelers and dealers of IMG, she already has her own website, the PR world’s blessing as one of the breakout athletes of 2006, and live advertising endorsements. Her website, for example, has a special photo gallery showing off — what else? — Nicole Vaidisova in the act of endorsing.
She may truly be the future of women’s tennis — in more ways than one.