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PARIS — She’s not quite performing pirouettes on the tennis court, but 15-year-old Charlène Vanneste is bringing a fresh gust of feminine grace to a sport that’s often about brute strength.
Vanneste, who trained in classical dance as a youngster, traded in her ballet slippers for a tennis racquet only five years ago. Already she’s considered one of France’s most promising young players. With a strong serve and offense, Vanneste won the Orange Bowl in Miami last year — a key tournament in junior tennis.
This story first appeared in the April 10, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
And lately the fashion, film and television industries have come knocking, too, entranced by her exotic looks, statuesque 5-foot-9-inch frame and talent. She just signed with Lacoste as a fashion sponsor. But everyone else will have to wait.
“I was asked to commit seven months to do one film in Indonesia and three months for a modeling contract, but that was too much time away,” says Vanneste, before heading to Nice where she’ll train for the French Open in May. “Tennis is my priority.”
Modeling, however, is in Vanneste’s blood. Of French and Indonesian descent, her older brother, Olivier, has already posed for the camera. For now, however, Vanneste is determined to concentrate on her game. Besides, “I’m not skinny enough,” she demures. “I’m athletic.”
And how. Vanneste is part of an elite squad of players selected by the French Open organizers, she loves going to the movies and singing, and she’s acing her high school courses, taken by correspondence. No wonder she considers multitasking celebrity Jennifer Lopez a role model.
“She didn’t have an easy start and she was still able to make it in dance, music and cinema,” Vanneste says. “I admire people who have succeeded in many things like that.”
Of course, these days Vanneste is getting a small taste of la vida Lopez, with requests piling in for photo shoots and interviews. “It must be hard to be in demand all the time,” she says. “But I guess you get used to it.”