x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

In the WAGs' court

While the boys play tennis this weekend, all eyes will be on their women.

Mirka Vavrinec and the Swiss tennis player Robert Federer have been have been dating since 2000 and finally married this year.
Mirka Vavrinec and the Swiss tennis player Robert Federer have been have been dating since 2000 and finally married this year.

Apart from acting, it is hard to think of a profession that brings with it more razzmatazz than professional sport. Not the players, you understand - mind-boggling skill can often be housed in a surprisingly ordinary package - but the wives and girlfriends, or WAGs, who accompany them. With the Capitala World Tennis Championship coming to Abu Dhabi this weekend, we'll have plenty of opportunity to ogle the real stars: there's Mirka Federer, Roger Federer's wife; Maria Francesca "Xisca" Perello, Rafael Nadal's girlfriend; Nikolay Davydenko's Russian wife, Irina; and Robin Soderling's girlfriend, Jenni Mostrom. All are crucial to their partners' peripatetic existence (behind every successful man, etc). And it just so happens that they look pretty good, too.

Male tennis players are not alone in attracting strong, glamorous women: adding much-needed colour to the US PGA tour are the golfing WAGs, including Amy Mickelson, Sonya Toms, and Adam Scott's current girlfriend, the tennis player Ana Ivanovic. And of course, the NBA would not be the same without its smattering of celebrity girlfriends cheering on their basketball-playing beaux from the sidelines. Here, we take a look at the forces of nature that are the WAGS.

Demure and immaculately turned out, this particular breed of WAG is beloved of the camera, which barely allows the players time to complete a point on court before panning to the inscrutable faces of their womenfolk. Standard courtside fare consists of a huge pair of very dark sunglasses. Only the white knuckles betray the tension, usually exacerbated by having to make strained conversation with the in-laws.

As the long-term partner of the best player of his generation, Mirka Federer presides at the top of this tree. The couple met at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and married earlier this year. Mirka gave birth to twin girls in July. Nadal met his girlfriend of four years through his sister. Eschewing all things WAG, the student, based in Palma, Majorca, rarely attends Rafa's tournaments, in order, she says, "not to be a distraction". Robin Soderling is dating his fellow Swede Jenni Mostrom. Nikolay Davydenko married Irina in 2006.

Once derided for its lack of glamour and swathes of dowdy plaid, golf now boasts its own team of ultra glamorous tag-ons. Most famously, there is Tiger Woods's Swedish wife Elin, who, as we have learnt in recent weeks, is no stranger to a golf club herself. Less visible than tennis WAGs due to the lack of fixed seating, they can usually be spotted in the mêlée during prize-giving, or wafting between treatment rooms at the clubhouse. Golf WAGs, like their tennis counterparts, are classy and sensible. Not for them endless group shopping trips followed by a trail of paparazzi. The news that the Australian golfer Adam Scott was going out with the Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic caused a stir in the summer. She now tops the glamour poll on www.wagrankings.com.

The only breed of WAG whose earning power tends to equal that of their husbands. Most famous in this category is the Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria Parker, who married the San Antonio Spurs player Tony Parker in July 2007.

The model-turned-television presenter Tyra Banks dated the player Chris Webber for three years. And the Mexican model Elsa Benitez was married to the former NBA player Rony Seikaly for six years. Basketball WAGs' style is typically dress-down and unselfconscious - with perhaps some velour thrown in. A reality TV series called Basketball Wives, which promises to give viewers a sneak peak at their apparently extravagant lifestyles, will be broadcast on VH1 in March.

The crew for whom the phrase was coined. It was 2006 and while the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerard, Peter Crouch and David Beckham earned their substantial crusts playing for England in the World Cup, their WAGs, at a loose end, strode the streets of Baden-Baden on an extended shopathon. Arguably, more column inches were dedicated to their exploits than to the players themselves. Headed up by the WAG doyenne, Victoria Beckham, those who trotted behind her - Colleen Rooney, Cheryl Cole and Alex Curran - have since stolen her crown (while she has moved into fashion design).

With their husbands and boyfriends earning tens of thousands of pounds a week, this breed of WAG has developed its own, overtly flashy style - think looks taken straight from the catwalk, and not a high street or vintage label in sight. Several of them have, though, managed to use their exposure constructively: both Colleen Rooney and Alex Curran have graced the pages of Vogue, while Rooney has also become an ambassador for several children's charities. Cheryl Cole, having been persona non grata following a conviction for assault on a woman in 2003, has gone from strength to strength as a judge on The X Factor.

If ever a sport was going to attract glamorous plus-ones, it is Formula One. The fast cars, the exotic destinations - how else can you explain Flavio Briatore's string of impossibly beautiful girlfriends? With all the blonde pit babes milling about, it can be hard to spot the F1 WAGs - but they're there. The Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger has been dating the McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton since last year. And the new world champion Jenson Button, who also recently signed for McLaren, is dating the Japanese model Jessica Michibata.

F1 style is, like that of the football WAGS, high glamour, but with less of the showiness. It's not about us, they claim. Well, it is really. But we don't want them to know that's what we're thinking.