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Ace actors serve up their film cameos

By Paul Gittings, CNN
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Nadal stars in Shakira video
  • Tennis stars of past and present have turned their talents to land roles in films
  • American ace John McEnroe has appeared in the credits for no less than six features
  • 1957 Wimbledon champion starred alongside screen icon John Wayne in a western
  • Indian star Vijay Amritraj was talent spotted for a supporting part in Bond movie Octopussy

(CNN) -- Rafael Nadal may be more used to serving aces than strutting his stuff on a film set but that has not stopped the former world number one from appearing with Colombian rock star Shakira in her new music video.

The scenes of the two stars used to accompany the global release of the "Gypsy" single were filmed in Barcelona, Spain last month where the chemistry between the 23-year-old Spaniard and the Latin American singer were such that denials were released by both parties to quash rumors of a love match.

Though Nadal is in no danger of winning an Oscar for his acting skills, his cameo appearance was just one in a long list of tennis stars who have flirted with the silver screen.

Any come to mind? Open Court sifted through the archives to find other famous examples of tennis stars caught on camera. Let us know if there are any we have missed by adding your comment at the bottom of the page.

Anna Kournikova:

Given her status as a celebrity, which rather overshadowed her abilities as a tennis player, the former Wimbledon semifinalist and number one ranked doubles player, was inevitably going to turn her talents to acting.

Rather in the Nadal mode, Kournikova does not have any lines to fluff when appearing with Spanish pop star Enrique Inglesias in a video to promote his 2001 single "Escape".

Having been "seduced" in a variety of role-play settings by Enrique, the pair later dated in real life. The single reached number 12 in the United States listings.

John McEnroe:

The former bad boy of tennis, famous for his rants and run-ins with umpires, would appear to have all the ingredients for a director looking to add a star name to his film credits and with a bit of acting ability to boot.

McEnroe, who was once married to the movie star Tatum O'Neal, has in fact appeared in six films, the latest Adam Sandler's 2008 release "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" where he predictably plays himself.

The film did well at the box office and, considering his other cameo alongside Robert De Niro in "Anger Management," the grand slam great could be set for further feature film parts.

But whether he will follow soccer legend Eric Cantona in taking lead roles in critically acclaimed films may be open to question.

Vijay Amritraj:

The Indian star's handsome profile and suave personality lent itself to the movie world and sure enough a Hollywood producer spotted him as he gave a post match television interview.

He was given an immediate screen test between the second and third rounds while playing at Wimbledon and landed more than just a walk-on part in the 13th Bond movie "Octopussy."

Rather predictably, Vijay's role did have a tennis angle with the baddie Kamal Khan playing at the same club as him, where he was able to keep watch for 007 Roger Moore.

Gallery: Ace actors serve up their cameos

Vijay also kills a kukri-wielding Gurkha with his racket,before getting his come-uppance from one of Bond's enemies with a nasty knife.

He dies muttering the immortal lines "It was Kamal's men."

A later appearance in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" marked the end of his film career, but Vijay made regular appearances on a popular television show on American network NBC to extend his acting career.

Althea Gibson:

Any history of tennis or indeed sport in general, will point to the pivotal role which Althea Gibson played in breaking down barriers for the African-American community.

As a forerunner for the likes of the Williams sisters four decades later, Gibson became the first black player to win Wimbledon in 1957, before defending the title the year after to add to a career haul of five grand slam singles titles.

Despite the success, Gibson had never profited from her triumphs as a lifelong amateur so on retirement in 1959 she took a career change that saw her release an album of songs and appear in "The Horse Soldiers", a John Ford-directed western -- where she played a liberated slave who rides alongside John Wayne.

William Holden also appeared in the film, but sadly it was Gibson's first and last and she turned to playing professional golf to earn a living.

Maria Sharapova:

Given her worldwide fame and celebrity, the Russian tennis icon would appear to be a Hollywood producer's dream but her chance of celluloid glory was thwarted by -- a Hollywood producer.

The 2004 feature "Wimbledon" starred Kirsten Dunst as Lizzie Bradbury, a single-minded American tennis star who finds love in the form of a less than dedicated British player Peter Colt (Paul Bettany), who inspired by Bradbury does the impossible by winning the men's singles.

A very unlikely scenario but highly predictable for a feel good film.

Sharapova was supposed to have played one of Bradbury's hapless opponents, but according to the commentary on the DVD of the film, she was considered too much of a likeness to Dunst and did not get the part.

A glut of players, Chris Evert, John McEnroe (inevitably) and Luke Jensen amongst others lend their faces to the film and CNN's Open Court presenter Pat Cash advised on the action shots.

But one can't help but think that an appearance by Sharapova may have boosted box office takings even more, although she did appear at the glitzy premiere in Hollywood in September, 2004, towering over the diminutive Dunst.

Bill Tilden:

Another infamous tennis star who is rated one of the all-time greats for his grand slam exploits, but attracted less than favorable headlines for his private life, was another to try his hand at entertainment without a tennis racket.

The controversial life of tennis great Tilden

Tilden dominated the men's game in the 1920s before turning professional and was still a force into his 40s, playing to big crowds against the likes of Donald Budge and Fred Perry.

But away from tennis, Tilden's great passion was movies and theater. He was a personal friend of screen icon Charlie Chaplin and ploughed much of his fortune into three Broadway plays, which he wrote and produced and also appeared in. All bombed spectacularly and Hollywood did not come calling.

The Players (1979 movie)

This makes our list because of the sheer numbers of star players, who have cameo roles or -- in the case of the great Pancho Gonzales -- starred in a major supporting role.

Gonzales, who received a panning from critics for his pains, also has a credit in the more successful 1953 release "Pat and Mike" starring screen legends Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

The corny plot of The Players (see "Wimbledon" above) has crooner Dean Martin's son (Dean Paul Martin) play a rising young tennis star who falls for an older woman Nicole (Ali McGraw).

It is loaded with walk on parts for John McEnroe, his predecessor as the "enfant terrible" of tennis, Ilie Nastase, and the Argentine ace Guillermo Vilas.

Tom Gullikson, John Lloyd, Dennis Ralston and Ion Tiriac also appear as well as legendary British tennis commentator Dan Maskell, but it proved a turkey.

Roll credits

So that's Open Court's guide to the best and mostly worse in tennis acting careers, but while the sport remains a favorite among celebrities and rich Hollywood film moguls, the list is sure to grow and as we went to press reports from India say 11-time grand slam doubles champion Leander Paes is wanting to join the ranks of Bollywood after taking acting lessons for over a year. Judging by the efforts of his predecessors he might need them.