Last summer, Novak Djokovic wore a distinctive dragon design on the back of his white-and-black Sergio Tacchini polo shirt, and brought bite to his game in saving match points against Roger Federer en route to the U.S. Open final.
Djokovic opened this season representing Serbia at the Hopman Cup, wearing a red polo incorporating his national colors—red, blue and white—in its design. Currently, the world No. 2 is wearing a colorful new line the he and apparel sponsor Tacchini collaborated on, which features a rainbow wave graphic prominently playing on the Serbian tri-colors across the front and back of the polo. There are also t-shirts and a track suit with Djokovic’s initials emblazoned on the bottom.
The two-time Australian Open champion has risen in the rankings while spiking sales and advanced orders for the Italian sportswear brand, which once clothed some of America’s top champions. Demand for the new Djokovic line exceeds supply; the new line should be available in most American retail stores in June.
"Novak’s continuing success in 2011 has been for sure a great boost for the brand exposure and for the demand from the consumers," Sergio Tacchini vice president Janny Tang says. "This positive trend is still going as he has not lost a match. We can say there is about a high double-digit increase from that of last year. No doubt the general interest in Sergio Tacchini brand has also grown. One interesting finding is that we have a tremendous increase in demand for junior sizes, which tells us that with Djokovic, we have succeeded in appealing to younger consumers."
Older tennis fans may remember Tacchini as the brand John McEnroe wore in his classic 1980 and 1981 Wimbledon finals against archrival Bjorn Borg. A 19-year-old Pete Sampras was wearing the Tacchini archer polo shirt when he won his first major at the 1990 U.S. Open. Goran Ivanisevic sported a Tacchini polo with a zipper placket when he out dueled Patrick Rafter to win Wimbledon in 2001. Martina Hingis was clad in a Tacchini top, skirt and headband (white, orange and green) when she raised the Rosewater Dish in 1997. Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis, Gabriela Sabatini, Mats Wilander and Pat Cash have also endorsed the brand, which has endured a champion drought in recent years.
Seeking to gain exposure, Tacchini signed Djokovic to a 10-year sponsorship deal in the fall of 2009 after his existing apparel contract with adidas expired.
"It is important for the re-launch of the brand to have another great player and Novak Djokovic is definitely the one. He is young, passionate, charismatic and has a strong personality," Tang says. "The company has always had the ability and flair for spotting the No. 1 player and we trusted that Djokovic would be No. 1 soon. For this reason, Tacchini signed a contract with this young player to continue with the brand tradition of having great champions."
American retailers say Djokovic’s success has sparked interest in his new line.
"Nole’s amazing undefeated streak has certainly heightened consumer interest in his Sergio Tacchini apparel," says Tennis Express apparel buyer Arlet Allahaverdian. "We find most fans are requesting his colorful polo and crew shirts."
Djokovic is ahead of the pack on court, but his new line lags behind in reaching American stores.
"Interest in Djokovic’s line continues to be very strong," says Midwest Sports’ Dave Limke. "Unfortunately, we are only able to offer as a pre-order because it is not due in stock until mid to late June. Sergio Tacchini is working on lining up availability more closely to when he will wear it on court—that's been a bit of a struggle for them since signing Djokovic in 2010. I think the apparel-buying public is excited to see what some might view as a ‘new’ brand on the apparel scene, especially when it's being worn by the hottest player out there."
Some retailers speculate the brand underestimated Djokovic's potential impact on sales and didn't manufacture enough of his line, while others suggest the brand has been dealing with manufacturing challenges in Asia. Tacchini acknowledges demand for Djokovic’s line exceeds the brand’s distribution reach in the United States, creating "a shortfall of supply."
"We understand that there is a growing demand for the Djokovic line; somehow the demand exceeds our expectation thus causing a shortfall of supply in the (U.S.) market," Tang says. "Definitely, the U.S. is a huge potential market for us and we are planning a re-launch of the brand in the U.S. with the help of some strong and reliable local partners. At the moment we can help our U.S. customers through our on-line store (www.sergiotacchini.com) that serves all the customers around the world."
Unlike adidas, Nike, K-Swiss and Lacoste, which generally launch new lines for top stars for the four majors, Tacchini has timed its new Djokovic lines to launch at the Australian Open, Rome—where Tacchini serves as a sponsor—and the U.S. Open.
"Having Djokovic wearing a new line in Rome gives the brand even more visibility, especially for the Italian market," Tang says. "We will launch a specific T-shirt and outfit for a charitable event which will be organized by the Serbian and Chinese governments during the China Open and Shanghai ATP Masters."
Riding the wave of interest in Djokovic’s continued success, Tang says Tacchini has a vision that expands over the rainbow.
"Tacchini’s vision of the brand is to become the reference brand for tennis, as it was in the past."