Summer: Shooting Tennis
More accustomed to fashion shoots, ace photographer Radka Leimeritz turned her lens to capturing tennis stars in a stylish new way and her collections of portraits and tennis locations are a gift to the sport she loves
By Tomi Otekunrin
Photography by Radka Leitmeritz
Fashion photographer Radka Leitmeritz was at her local playground with her son when she saw a poster for tennis lessons. She was in search of something new, took the poster as a sign from the universe and immediately signed up for the lessons. Radka went to her first tennis lesson in what she describes as a ‘Wimbledon finals outfit’ and picked up a tennis racket for the first time. It was love at first sight for the photographer. She became obsessed with the sport and now practises almost every day. Radka didn’t leave her passion solely on the court, she brought it over to her world of photography. Now she’s fully immersed in capturing the world’s best tennis players in a completely different and refreshing light.
Radka calls Los Angeles home now but spent her childhood in Prague, Czech Republic competitively swimming and then eventually stopped at thirteen-years old. She switched to horse jumping and did that for a few years before she grew tired of it. “I was a bad teenager so I didn’t stick to it for a long time,” she explains with a grin. The photographer avoided sports for a long time and just did yoga and running here and there. Radka had always admired tennis from afar: “I had a very romantic and very visual, stylish idea about tennis.” Think all white chic tennis outfits, retro vibes and private members’ clubs. She didn’t think playing tennis was feasible until she met up with a friend her age who was obsessed with tennis. “I didn’t know that a sport like tennis is something you could start in your 40s. I thought it’d be too late,” she says.
She remembers her friend’s giddiness over the sport when she signed up for tennis lessons in the park. Now three years later, she is just as obsessed: “I would practise every day if I could but I do it four, five times a week,” she adds: “It’s a really hard sport to learn especially if you started late like I did.” Everyone in Radka’s inner circle knows of her love for tennis and the team over at Elle Czech Magazine knew who to call when they had an upcoming shoot with tennis player Petra Kvitová. The photoshoot was gritty, playful and inviting. “We did this really beautiful series on the clay courts and I remember being so excited about it,” Radka recalls.
Tennis is such a beautiful sport and watching your favourite player is a roller coaster of emotions. However the beauty and the emotions are rarely ever seen in tennis photography. Radka decided to bring a certain flair that was missing by approaching tennis shoots the same way she approaches fashion shoots. “I’m not interested in the classic reportage action shots approach. I’m trying to find a certain lifestyle in it or a certain style in general. I try to find emotions more than the perfect athletic performance,” she explains. When she goes to tournaments she doesn’t just see athletes, she sees performers and this influences the way she takes the photos. Radka thinks about the lighting, capturing the right angles and is very specific about her edits: “I’m always trying to make sure that they don’t have some weird expressions on their faces,” she laughs.
Radka is big on bringing a personal touch to her work and celebrating individuality. She believes the aforementioned is missing from tennis fashion: “It’s very uniform like. I wish to see every player with their own personal twist on the court,” she says. When it comes to sports fashion it’s a cardinal rule to mix brands, but Radka doesn’t subscribe to this rule. She loves to mix Nike with adidas and throw in some vintage pieces for good measure. Fashion is still a major part of Radka’s work and she loves tennis stars that enjoy fashion too. When asked if she has a favourite player to photograph, she doesn’t hesitate: “Yes actually I do! Her name is Barbora Strýcová,” she adds: “She understands what it means to create an image and she is very fashion conscious as well.”
The photographer has had the pleasure of shooting many tennis stars – both men and women. Capturing the emotions between the two is no different for Radka. She does note the double standard in tennis though: “Women are judged faster for letting their emotions out”, she says. Tennis players trust Radka as they know she’ll make them look good. “Most players are very happy to collaborate with me and are very open. It’s been really great,” she adds. The industry alongside the players have welcomed the fashion photographer with open arms: “I think people were hungry to see other images of tennis.”
Radka has positively impacted the world of tennis and tennis has done the same for her own world. She is attracted to the psychological side of the game: “When I’m on court the only thing I have to focus on is the ball, otherwise I will miss it so you have to be 100% present,” she explains. Tennis stars often get in their own head whilst playing, however this is the opposite for Radka. “Being an artist, you are in your head a lot! Playing tennis allows me to be somewhere else for two hours because there’s nothing else you can think of when you’re on court.” Tennis is a form of therapy that she likes to seek out almost every day. She’s not worried about her level of play: “I’m just proud of myself, I keep really working hard on my game. I’m still going out there all the time no matter what,” she says. Radka’s humble but also competitive and attributes this fact to the nature of her industry and would welcome anyone to compete against her solid backhand shot.
Earlier this year, Radka teamed up with the Women’s Tennis Association and sponsor Porsche, to release a tennis photography book, One Love, which is entirely dedicated to Czech female tennis players including legends Martina Navratilova, Helena Suková, and Hana Mandlíková. It didn’t stop with just a book, as last month an exhibition displaying portraits of nine famous Czech female tennis players opened in the garden of the Museum of Applied Arts in Prague and will run until 30 July.
The photographer has worked really hard on acquiring a collection of portraits and tennis locations to deliver a piece of work that would serve as a gift to the sport, and her second book Court Supremes, which is dedicated to international women’s tennis, was also released earlier this year. She also has ambitions outside of tennis to photograph swimming, polo and dance. Radka will do this eventually on one condition: “I will do it when I feel like I have something to say, or when I have an angle that’s not been done already,” she states.
No matter what, Radka’s first love will always be tennis and she’s thankful for the many ways it has shaped her life recently. Players such as Barbora Strýcová have taught her how to up her game: “She’s not like a two-metre high, super tall player with the perfect ace serve, so she has to be creative,” she explains. Most of all she loves how relatable being a photographer is to being a tennis player. Both careers involve high moments, low moments, lots of travelling and constantly having to adapt. “You have to keep believing in yourself and in what you do and this is what I’ve learnt from the athletes,” she says. Radka is a big believer in sport and art inspiring each other, and with the release of her tennis photography book, she plans to turn tennis into an art that fans of the sport can truly enjoy.