Ashley Harkleroad is currently ranked 65th in the world, although she has been as high as No. 39 in June 2003. Considering she's 23 and pushed Maria Sharapova in a tough match at the 2006 Australian Open, her best days could still be ahead of her (currently, she hasn't advanced past the third round of a major). While her career winnings to date total nearly a million dollars, there's one thing every tennis fan (and non-fan) wants to discuss: she's the August 2008 cover girl for Playboy (on newsstands Friday). We caught up with Harkleroad via phone to talk career, posing nude, the reaction and to settle this Federer vs. Nadal thing once and for all. Bonus: for a look at the cover of the August 2008 issue, go right here.
The Mag: We'll get to Playboy in a second. What's the toughest match you've ever been in?
Harkleroad: Probably against Dinara Safina a few months ago.
Overall, who's the toughest opponent and why?
Either of the Williams sisters at this point. They're like 6-3, 170. I'm out there like 5-6, 130. It's pretty tough.
What do you love about tennis; what keeps you going during the weekly grind?
That's a good question, since I lost last night. So right now? Not a whole lot. (laughs) I enjoy competing, but I like to win; there's no better feeling than winning. Also, I have to think it's better than having a "real job."
We'll turn to Playboy now. What happened with the offer? How did you decide to pose?
My boyfriend and my agents negotiated the deal for me. It's something entirely different than playing tennis, and I enjoy being in front of a camera. It's just a different avenue and I wanted to see where it could take me, so I accepted it.
What do you think are the advantages of it?
I'm not sure yet. I'm just going to have to see where it can take me. I really do enjoy being in front of a camera, though, so I'd like to do more photo shoots and the like.
You're from Georgia. What are people back there saying about this?
You know the South—it's the Bible Belt. People were definitely a little shocked, but the reaction has been positive overall. That's good for me, because I didn't want to deal with disappointing anyone (laughs).
What about the girls on the tour?
I think they understand what I was doing; I haven't heard any negative feedback from them.
You've talked about enjoying being in front of the camera. How was the shoot itself?
I'm not a very modest person, so I was really feeling it. I was having a good time and trying to feel sexy in my own body; I think it worked. The pictures and the layout came out very classy. Playboy is a very classy operation all around. It was important to me, because I'm representing an athlete and her body, so I wanted it to come out showcasing that.
Gotta ask: if you saw your boyfriend with a Playboy, would that annoy you? They have tremendous articles, you know.
He doesn't read it. If he did, though, I wouldn't be bothered by it. I don't tend to get jealous in that way. If you need to have fun, go have fun, you know? (laughs)
Quick hitters now. Who's the most attractive girl in WTA?
(laughs) No, no. It's a tough question. I'd have to say Ana Ivanovic, though.
What song do you listen to right before a match?
I don't always listen to music before, but I like everything. You can't go wrong with Jay Z or Akon; I'm obsessed with Akon right now, because I just saw a TV special on him. I also really love Taylor Swift.
Who's the best female tennis player ever?
Right now, I'd have to say Serena if I was picking one. You go back 10-15 years, you'd probably say Steffi Graf. It's hard to say all-time because it depends on the era you're discussing; the game changes a lot.
And finally, who's hotter: Federer or Nadal?
That's another tough one. I've never been a huge fan of Nadal looks-wise; I'd probably go with Federer. The other thing with Federer is, he's so nice. He always—OK, maybe not always—talks to me when we're at an event. Last spring I had ovarian cyst surgery, and he was so sweet to me when he saw me, asking me how everything was. He's a great guy and yea, a little better looking than Nadal.