When Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer come face to face on court, the swoosh squares off on opposing foreheads. The two iconic champions play dramatically different styles but share an affinity for wearing the tourniquet-tight Nike headband on court.
It's such an identifiable style that when I watch Federer or Nadal wearing the American contribution to tennis fashion—the backward baseball cap—during practice, it can look as unfamiliar as imagining Mozart forgoing the powdered wig in favor of a stove pipe hat. Several of my favorite players—John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Gustavo Kuerten, Martina Hingis (in her younger years), Gabriela Sabatini and Patrick Rafter (at times)—wore headbands of various sizes and styles.
The headband offers more face time with players: headbands reveal and caps conceal. The baseball cap that Jim Courier popularized during his playing days (wearing it forward), Lleyton Hewitt wore during his days as No. 1 (wearing it backward) and Donald Young wears slightly askew ("I feel like I'm putting it on straight, but it just moves a little to the left," Young said with a smile during the U.S. Open) and its modified counterpart, the visor, as prevalent as nail polish in women's tennis, obscure the wearer's face, sometimes creating a shadow that shrouds the eyes like a veil. It's not surprising Brad Gilbert's first move when he took over as Andy Roddick's coach was to ban the visor the young American wore.
Caps and visors are the "Do Not Disturb" signs of the sports world, which may be why so many professional poker players wear them in an effort to disguise their tells.
Headbands frame the face and provide the emotional entrance to a player's state of mind, but if you have no desire to turn your forehead into a branding billboard for tennis' top apparel companies, now you have some options.
Two American companies—Fly Head Ties and BondiBand—are putting your head in your hands by enabling you to personalize your headband with your name, team name, slogan or graphic of your choice.
Fly Head Ties founders Barbara Askenazi and Vikki Goldberg created the Denver, CO-based company after unsuccessfully searching for customized headbands for their USTA league team.
"We always try to create a uniform for our USTA team and I love the adidas and Nike head ties, but you could only get them in black or white and they all had the company logo on them, which didn't reflect our team name." Askenazi says. "So I ordered some fabric and made them on my own with our own team monogram and then people started asking me about them and where they could get them."
As the name suggests, the Fly Head Ties tie in the back and are available in four colors: black, white, blue and red. The dry-wick head ties, which are about 3" wide and 36" long, sell for $12 apiece and can be customized with your initials, slogan, team name or graphic for an additional $3 per Fly Tie.
"The tennis ball graphic is popular with tennis teams and it's a quality monogram so the stitching does not show through on the reverse side," Askenazi says. "So if you wear it playing tennis or beneath your ski helmet then you need to go out to a store, you can flip it over and the monogram does not show through."
Bondiband is a headband bonded with a seam in the back. The Maine-based brand, which also manufactures moisture-wicking caps and towels, initially launched its head bands for runners, but the style has caught on with everyone from tennis players to triathletes.
"Our headbands are made of moisture-wicking, no slip, no drip fabric that keeps the headband from sliding down into your eyes," says Bondiband's Tiffany Pittman. "A lot of our customers wear the headbands under their caps to keep the hair and sweat out of their eyes and also to keep the sweat from discoloring their caps. The fabric is stretchy so one size fits all—my five-year-old niece can wear the same headband as an adult with a much larger head. They're machine washable and they don't shrink or fade; we advise people not to use fabric softener as it can hurt the moisture-wicking properties of the fabric."
Bondibands sell for $8 with customized bands—"Tennis Rocks" is a popular-selling slogan along with the graphic of crossed tennis racquets—costing more depending on quantity of bands ordered.
"We charge a one-time set-up fee of $25 and will print any logo someone sends us in a .jpg,"Pittman says. "We do custom orders with a minimum of 12 Bondibands per order so if you ordered 12 it would cost $6 apiece after the one-time set-up charge."