Tennis demands of its players etiquette usually associated with finishing school. It imposes attire requirements more stringent than those of Vegas nightclubs. It includes the word "love" in its scoring. Tennis: it's EXTREME.

Or so the folks behind Smash would have you believe. Announcing on its cover the onset of a "tennis revolution," the mag takes more of its cues from MTV than from the sport's traditionally understated publications. Readers get a "Cribs"-like visit to the trophy-strewn home of the Bryan brothers, a "House of Style"-ish Miami fashion spread, and fresh-from-the-red-carpet snapshots of players intermingling with "Total Request Live" mainstays like Lindsay Lohan. But for the puzzling absence of Downtown Julie Brown playing air guitar on a vintage ceramic-graphite Donnay, you'd wonder what kind of sport/celebrity miasma you've wandered into.

This may be a spectacularly misguided approach in theory, but it works considerably better in execution. For all its dopiness (a bottom-of-the-page crawl detailing Andy Roddick's Starbucks faves) and force-fed attitude ("Editor's Babble," rather than "From the Editor's Desk" or something similarly harmless), Smash attempts to do something different--a laudable goal in itself, given the by-the-numbers construction of most sports titles targeting younger athletes.

In places, the Spring 2006 issue succeeds independent of its attitude and approach. Especially on the design front, Smash aces the competition ("aces"... get it? get it? whoo! tennis! yeah!). Pop-arty illustrations inject personality into the didactic "Into the Zone" section, while a coat-of-arms motif adds graphic luster to the profile on Scot next-big-thing Andy Murray. The mag also pushes the envelope a bit with its photo selections, including one that would appear to feature Murray puking forth a veritable river of Gatorade.

Despite a title more commonly associated with Wayne's World and street hockey, the front-of-book "Game On" section offers a lively fusion of celebrity-magazine staples and jockish blather. An item on supposed "punk tennis" practitioner name-drops Johnny Ramone; Olympic dud Bode Miller checks in with a few out-of-character respectful nods to Pete Sampras. One of the section's few straight-faced items, however, proves its sharpest: a savvy "How to Get Sponsored" primer for young players.

Elsewhere, the Spring 2006 issue's quirky content choices alternately surprise and entertain. As an old-school twerp weaned on Lendl and Wilander, I dig the circa-1972 "Back in the Day" shot of Ilie Nastase (didn't he have a quaint nickname, like "Nasty" or "Batshit Insane Ill-Mannered Romanian Guy" or something?) surrounded by a gaggle of female fans. The "Five on the Verge" mini-profiles offer similar color, striving for more than the usual coach/publicist-approved fluff.

Smash doesn't work quite as well when it downshifts into more traditional fare. "Marat Safin Uncensored" comes across as considerably less edgy and amusing than its title implies, plus a few well-chosen sidebars (scholarship stats, a quickie piece on the lost post-Katrina season of Tulane's tennis teams) can't enliven the otherwise plodding guide to college tennis.

The occasional attempts at lad-mag humor, especially in the "Smash 15" collection of pleasantries and potshots, arrive stillborn ("05: Sorry, we don't have a No. 5. We're taking an injury timeout--writer's cramp, or something."). Devoting fewer pages to actual tennis gear than to fashion/technology chaff would appear to compromise the mag's ostensible tennis-first mission. And a note to sports editors of the world: nobody cares what happens to be blaring from players' iPods--or from anybody's iPod, really, save for Elvis Costello's.

Finally, while everybody sure likes to ogle blonde-n-purty Maria Sharapova, Smash really needs to get a grip on its Maria fixation. The "Maria's Pages" collection of photos and observations ("elephants are amazing and friendly") elicits little more than unintended giggles. Speaking of which, I'll give ten bucks to the first person who can come up with a clever G-rated caption for the "Photo Ops" shot of Sharapova with Uma Thurman. Myself, I couldn't even get down into PG-13 territory.

When I grabbed Smash off the newsstand, I figured that its daffy extreme-tennis blueprint would provide easy fodder for a Magazine Rack bludgeoning. As it turns out, the mag's backers may be onto something with the youth/sport/celebrity mix. I suppose we'll know for sure if a host of similarly punchy hockey and golf titles make their way onto newsstands in the months ahead.

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