By  on August 29, 2007

Bryant Park isn't New York's only fashion venue this September.

As the U.S. Open kicks off this week, activewear companies are introducing their designs on players, which in turn generates a frenzy of amateur tennis players and collectors buying replicas.

"This is fashion week for tennis — the courts are now a runway," said Dana Mason, women's clothing and accessories buyer for Mason's Tennis Mart in Manhattan. "The players are now doing a separate daytime and nighttime outfit, and we promote all the players' outfits. People wear them to the matches, wear them out at night, collect them."

Mason said the demand for players' on-court looks has taken off in the last five years, as tennis has become more fashion-forward and players have become more involved in designing their own outfits, which tend to sell from $100 to $125. Fans also request shoes and accessories worn by the players.

She added that Nike Inc.'s Maria Sharapova, who won the Open last year, is the player in most demand. Sharapova, who told the press last week that she takes an active role in designing her looks, allegedly changed her mind about her evening style at the last minute. Mason said she got a call Thursday, after Sharapova's Aug. 22 evening press conference in which she unveiled her dresses, and Nike had to overnight a shipment of the new dress — which will be made in more limited quantities. Nike denied Sharapova made the last-minute change.

Mason's Tennis will be selling the dropped look, which was black and white with an attached lace-like shrug, in addition to the two New York-inspired styles Sharapova will actually wear on the court: a black-and-white day dress featuring the city's skyline on the top and the new evening dress in the Big Apple's bright red. Like any fashionista, Sharapova has shoes that coordinate with her outfits, with red bottoms to match the evening dress and tongues that mimic the skyline of the day dress. (She's also wearing $295 Pearls by the Yard cultured freshwater pearl earrings set in sterling silver by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., another sponsor.)

"I've come to love New York, and coming as a defending champion makes it extra special to be here," Sharapova said. "I feel [this year's outfits are] more special than last year's because they're inspired by my love of the city."Nike also designs eighth-seeded Serena Williams' apparel and accessories, which they try to keep at lower price points for her fans. "Serena knows a lot of her fans can't afford what she wears, so she works with Nike to keep the price points lower," Mason said. "Her shoes are like $80, compared with $110 or $120 with other players, and she wears all of the product with the lower price point, too, because she is very conscious of her fans."

Although Nike dominates tennis with Sharapova in women's and first-seeded Roger Federer in men's, as well as its on-site mini store, it's certainly not the only active company serving style at the Open.

Former Open champ and fourth-seed Svetlana Kuznetsova will be wearing Fila's Collezione patriotic collection in "red, white and peacoat," which retails from $50 to $85.

Fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic will be wearing Adidas' Adilibria skort and cap-sleeve top, which retail for about $40 a piece.

With Amelie Mauresmo out with an injury and Nicole Vaidisova just back in her first tournament post-mononucleosis, Reebok is focusing on third-seeded Jelena Jankovic at this year's Open. Jankovic introduced her peach two-piece outfit, which is selling for $40 to $80, at the Reebok Club, where she led editors in a core strength fitness class.

Andy Roddick is Lacoste's tennis star, but the firm also dresses a host of female players, including 23rd-seed, Tatiana Golovin, who will be wearing a $145 polkadot tennis dress or a $78 red collared shirt and $145 white skirt, all for sale in the Lacoste on-site store at the Open.

Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., an official sponsor of the tournament, also has a huge on-site store full of tennis-inspired knits, this year with a white and gold color story in addition to the navy and yellow color scheme worn by United States Tennis Association officials and volunteer ball persons. Also, for the second year, Polo is using its Pink Pony to bring charity to the Open. A seven-foot-tall tennis ball canister filled with Pink Pony pink tennis balls greets guests, who can guess how many balls are inside for the chance to win a $5,000 Ralph Lauren gift card and an allocation of $5,000 to donate to a charity of their choice.Of course, Ralph Lauren has another big promotion to do in the tents back in Manhattan, where the fashion-loving tennis players said they hope to stop by after the Open ends Sept. 9.

"I love going to the fashion shows," Jankovic said. "But I would love to skip out on the shows if it meant doing well at the tennis tournament."

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