“I didn’t even go out with girls until I was 20,” confesses Patrick Rafter. “I was afraid of girls in high school.” Considering that he’s only 24, the Aussie tennis star, who has recently dated a succession of Dutch models, has certainly made up for lost time. Good thing, too, or the 6’1″ winner of the U.S. Open would never survive the hordes of teenage girls and young women who mob him after every match. He gets bags of fan mail as well. “The thing about it,” he says, “is that it comes from women of all ages. I even hear from one who’s 70.” But Rafter professes not to understand the uproar: “Sexy is really not a word I use very much or think about very much. When I go out, I really dress down to grunge.” As for the ponytail that has become his trademark, Rafter says it originated just before the Open, when he and doubles partner Mark Philippoussis pulled back their hair “to be silly.” Now he removes the rubber band when he wants to go unrecognized.
The seventh of nine children of an accountant and a home-maker, Rafter lives in a poolside Bermuda condo. What makes him ace of hearts? “He’s as nice as he is smoldering,” says CBS and HBO commentator Mary Carillo. But what women like best, he claims, are his legs, though he says, “I can’t see that.” Neither can his coach, Gary Stickler. “Patrick is a naturally built athlete,” Stickler says, “but he’s a little bowlegged.”