By Mario Sarmento
It used to be that the only tennis fashion the public cared about was on the ladies’ side, as young female tennis players couldn’t wait to see what Chris Evert was wearing, or how Tracy Austin wore her famous pigtails.
But in today’s tennis, the men are making just as much of a fashion statement as the women. Just this past January, World No. 7 Tomas Berdych was briefly the talk of Australia for sporting a white tennis shirt with vertical blue stripes, looking more like an Argentine soccer player than a world-class tennis star. When asked about the outfit at the Sony Open Tennis tournament, Berdych said, “It was different, it was interesting.” And then he added this caveat: “Wait till you see Paris,” though when pressed on what he would be wearing at Roland Garros, Berdych refused to divulge his plans.
“Andre Agassi, he definitely revolutionized fashion in tennis,” World No. 2 Novak Djokovic said. “He was the first one to dress differently and make a statement on the court.”
But Berdych isn’t the only male player who is paying more attention to his on-court attire these days, as four of the top players in the world, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all have a certain sartorial style on the court, helped by their deals with major apparel companies.
The focus on men’s fashion has been a recent development that can be traced to a certain American player who uttered the iconic phrase, “Image is everything,” that permeated television screens around the world. “Andre Agassi, he definitely revolutionized fashion in tennis,” Djokovic said. “He was the first one to dress differently and make a statement on the court.”
Agassi’s outfits consisted of bright colors, from yellow shirts to neon tops to even, yes, his famous jean tennis shorts. His legacy lives on today through the often-colorful garb the top men’s players wear on Tour, as it seems every big name has planted his flag in the fashion wars.
And in this new day of men’s tennis, players like Djokovic have a big say in what they wear on the court. And Djokovic reveals there is also a science to the art of fashion design. “Of course, I’m very much involved in trying to get my input as much as I can to design my own clothes,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have a lot of good people designing for the last two or three years. There are various inspirations behind the certain designs for certain periods of the year, and how they will surface depending on the color of the surface, the color of Serbian flag, and so forth and so forth. So there are different sources of inspiration we’re trying to put into the design and kind of create something that looks nice on the court.”
Nadal too has his own look, sticking with boldly-colored shirts, matching headbands, and mainly black, white, or gray shorts. Federer looks as graceful as his game, wearing bright red or royal blue shirts with matching headband, and white or black tennis shorts. Against Thiemo de Bakker in the Sony Open third round, Federer added some pizzazz to his standard fare, when he wore bright orange sneakers with a black instep to complement his classic look.
“My advice probably is you’ve got to make sure you wear the clothes and the clothes don’t wear you,” Federer said. “Quite simple, really, if it’s something you totally feel comfortable with, take some chances, wear it out a bit.”
Murray made a deal last year to start a clothing line in America in his agent’s bid to make him a “global icon” along the lines of soccer star David Beckham. The Scot prefers simply-colored shirts and black or white shorts, but with him, the most important feature of his clothes are their functionality. “To be honest, I just wear what’s comfortable, and so long as it works, then that’s the most important thing for me,” he said.
There are some players who still favor the classic tennis look, like American Sam Querrey, who recently finalized a deal with FILA and will wear the traditional white shirt with orange and blue stripes on the sleeves with white shorts. “This is my third month (with FILA),” he said. “It’s awesome to be part of the team. I love the clothes, I love everybody I get to work with.”
Agassi no longer flashes his style on the court, but he must crack a smile when he sees what he has wrought in the men’s game, where colors are in, and boring is definitely out.