Daria Kasatkina was gearing up to play Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth round of the U.S. Open. But she wasn't thinking about facing the no. 2 seeded player—she was entirely focused on how to promote her YouTube channel. "Guys, subscribe," she said in her pre-match interview, looking straight into the camera. "Just search my surname on YouTube and you’ll find it." The moment instantly went viral, thanks to a clip posted on the U.S. Open's social media accounts.
Kasatkina, the highest profile gay tennis player, shares the channel, "Zabiiako & Kasatkina," with her girlfriend, Natalia Zabiiako, a former Olympic figure skater, who accompanies her on the tour. The primetime moment promoting Kasatkina's channel in the tunnel at Arthur Ashe Stadium signaled the shift in the greater professional tennis landscape: Tennis influencers are here to stay.
Zabiiako is one of a select group of tennis girlfriends, which also includes the women dating the top-ranked American men's players: Morgan Riddle, Taylor Fritz's girlfriend who was recently coined "The Most Famous Woman in Men's Tennis" by the New York Times; Paige Lorenze, an influencer dating Tommy Paul; Ayan Broomfield, a former collegiate tennis player and also Frances Tiafoe's girlfriend; and Ivana Nedved, Sebastian Korda's girlfriend, who is also known for being the daughter of famous Czech soccer player Pavel Nedvěd. These women are making a career out of giving their audiences a behind-the-scenes look at life on the professional tennis tour.
Nowhere was this more clearly on display than this year's U.S. Open. Lorenze kicked off her week in New York City by launching a pop-up for her brand, Dairy Boy, where she was joined by Paul. "It's really cool that Tommy was able to support me at that because his season is so wild," she tells T&C. "For a lot of the wives and girlfriends of tennis players, I would imagine it would be hard to work on the road. Not everyone gets that opportunity, so I feel really grateful that I'm able to run a business while also supporting him."
But that's just it: The business of influencing—which often centers fashion, travel, and other lifestyle content—works in tandem with the demands of the tennis tour, which has players criss-crossing the globe from January through November each year. While life on the road is not always as luxurious as it is in New York City during the Open, the tour does bring its players (and their partners, their team, and their families) around the world.
Balancing the demands of content creation with being a supportive partner is an ongoing "work in progress" for many of these women. As Riddle told Town & Country, "first and foremost, I'm at the tournament to support him [her boyfriend, Taylor Fritz] and so nothing takes priority over the matches. But he is also super supportive and super understanding about everything that I've got going on as well; he wants me to succeed just as much as I want him to." This Open, many of these tennis girlfriend influencers landed brand deals and sponsored content specifically linked to the sport; Broomfield, for example, did a takeover for ESPNW during the first round of the tournament, while Riddle was spotted in the Grey Goose box at Arthur Ashe Stadium on a night Fritz wasn't even playing.
"The world of tennis has really been picking up and has become more and more mainstream lately—thanks not only to TV shows like Netflix's Break Point but also fashion. The tennis aesthetic is super trending right now, and it has been consistently year over year, probably for the last one or two years," cultural commentator Alexandra Nikolajev reflected. Riddle, in particular, has been "able to create her own lane as an influencer—not only capitalize on the visibility she has as a WAG to a major, affluent U.S. athlete, but also lean into the behind-the-scenes of it all, speak to her audience about how tennis actually works, [and] do things like jewelry collaborations."
In mid-aughts, the acronym 'WAGs,' came to prominence as shorthand for the "wives and girlfriends" of British soccer players regularly covered in the tabloids. Now it's used more broadly to discuss partners of professional athletes. While some tennis girlfriends have embraced the term—including Riddle, who told the Times she doesn't mind the acronym—it has been criticized for its sexist and offensive connotations. Yet, as money and interest continue to pour into global sports, this so-called 'WAG' space is only going to become more lucrative.
In men's professional tennis, though, it's rarely the wives who are influencers; those that are succeeding in this content creator space thus far are mainly girlfriends of the younger stars. For example, Novak Djokovic's wife Jelena and Daniil Medvedev's wife Daria have been around for the majority of their husbands' professional tennis careers. They're both moms, and their businesses are closely aligned with their husbands: Jelena runs the Novak Djokovic Foundation, and Daria just launched a vegan energy bar brand. Neither are traditional influencers, nor do they seem to aspire to be.
Broadly speaking, women dominate the lifestyle influencer industry and the tennis influencer space is clearly no exception. Girlfriends are finding success, but so are women players. Australian athlete Daria "Dasha" Saville, for example, posts TikToks with her dog, a daschund named Tofu. One of her videos asked her nearly 1 million followers to help her pick her U.S. Open match outfit:
Or look no further than the the newest U.S. Open champion, 19-year-old Coco Gauff. After winning her first Grand Slam title this weekend, Gauff told reporters that the night before the big match, she called her boyfriend until she fell asleep. It was the first time Gauff had mentioned a boyfriend, and she hasn't spoken about him much—the spotlight is fixated on Gauff, and Gauff alone. Though she's a tennis player first and foremost, she innately understands social media. Following her victory, she shared a TikTok of her lipsyncing to Nicki Minaj with her trophy. Gauff is the star, not any boyfriend of hers.
This U.S. Open set a new attendance record this year, welcoming more than 950,000 spectators over a three-week period—including so many celebrities, like Justin Bieber, Nicole Kidman, Shonda Rhimes, and Leonardo DiCaprio. As the interest in tennis grows in the U.S. thanks to the diverse cohort of rising American stars, there will be more eyes on the sport watching matches and following players, and a new hunger among fans—particularly younger ones—for even more content, like peeks behind-the-scenes, "get ready with me" videos, or shopping guides. And that is where the tennis girlfriends win.
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