‘IS EUGENIE Bouchard the hottest female tennis player ever?’

‘Dominika Cibulkova shows off her pert bum.’

‘Blonde tennis stunner strips naked for sexy photoshoot.’

With headlines like these, no wonder Heather Watson is concerned. The British number three says web trolls - people who provoke upset on the internet - are putting girls off sport by taunting them about their looks.

She points out that athletes cannot not look picture-perfect all the time. “Sometimes I wish I could look cute on court, but you can’t.”

I feel for her. The pressure to look like a supermodel while playing top-flight tennis has never been so great. As Heather says, it is not realistic when you are sweating it out in a match.

Yet the players themselves should shoulder some of the blame. A growing number of them are just as likely to be seen on the pages of glossy fashion magazines as they are on court. They preen and pout in scanty clothing, and pose provocatively on social media sites such as Instagram.

‘EUGENIE Bouchard has sent fans wild with her latest steamy Instagram post,’ a national newspaper reported last week alongside provocative pictures.

‘Bouchard also posed this steamy pic of her post-gym massage’ it said, beneath an image of the Canadian player lying semi-nude, on a massage table.

Some players have posed seductively in men’s magazines. Anna Kournikova, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic (‘Even hotter than Kournikova’ announced FHM magazine) are among those who have graced the covers of Maxim, Esquire or FHM in skimpy swimwear.

That a number of players do this does not, of course, give anyone an excuse to jeer and taunt players online, but it surely must contribute to how other, less physically attractive players feel, and how they are depicted in the media.

When I was young, and the likes of Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Virginia Wade were on Centre Court, the internet did not exist, but newspapers and magazines did. You would never have seen any of the players ‘working it’ for the camera the way they do now.

You would never have read about Virginia Wade’s ‘pert bottom’ or ‘enviable curves’.

I am aware that, nowadays, if you want advertising deals and commercial endorsements it helps to look good as well as play good tennis.

But with some of today’s stars it is not easy to find an interview that actually mentions their tennis. Even the term tennis players is often bypassed in favour of the more exciting ‘tennis babes’.

Men are not averse to showing off their assets in this way - Nadal’s muscular physique glistens on the cover of many a magazine, and Djokovic has bared his chest for various publications. Even Andy Murray has stripped off for our pleasure, even appearing on the cover of the Radio Times in just his shorts.

I can’t imagine Fred Perry or Rod Laver flexing their well-oiled pecs for any photographer.

This image-focussed world is not confined to tennis - sportsmen and women in every profession are viewed more as sex objects. I have yet to see a photograph of Tom Daly without a reference to his body and skimpy trunks.

Heather Watson, who was once bullied online about her weight, urged women to “feel comfortable in their own skin.”

It can’t be easy. I remember when Wimbledon presenter John Inverdale commented that French player Marion Bartoli “was never going to be a looker.” She won Wimbledon for pity’s sake - who cares what she looks like?

Serena Williams has still had to put up with constant comments about her body shape, batting them off with comments such as: “I could lose 20lb and I’m still going to have these knockers and I’m going to have this ass, and that’s just the way it is.”

Maybe it’s time everyone took more of an interest in the actual tennis and the sheer brilliance of the players, supermodel looks or not.