Sliderman swings into Melbourne armed with a pair of new accomplices and aiming for ranking revival. Gael Monfils, whose acrobatic slides earned him a super hero-like nickname, hopes a rebranding will revitalize his game.
Seeking a fresh start after suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for three-and-a-half months last season, Monfils has shed his dreads and undergone a gear makeover. He’s now playing with a Wilson Blade racquet after spending recent years playing with Prince, and he signed a head-to-toe apparel and shoe pact with Asics.
Monfils, who previously wore K-Swiss clothes and shoes—the company even released a Monfils signature shoe—said Asics’ long-term commitment at a time when injury-induced inactivity has caused his ranking to fall to No. 99 compelled him to make the move, along with his belief the brand’s shoes can help protect his body from the pounding his explosive style inflicts.
“I have always known about the quality of Asics products, so when they approached me, I was really receptive,” Monfils told TENNIS.com. “They explained what they would like to do with me, both in terms of design and marketing activities around the world. They came with a long-term approach, which is very rare in this industry, which appealed to me a great deal. Asics shoes are known to be the best in the world and I am sure they will limit some of the injuries that I had before. I did not know much about the clothes previously, but everything they have shown me so far looks great.”
The flashy Frenchman, who faces 18th-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov for the first time in the opening round of the Australian Open, is expected to wear a customized pair of Asics’ GEL-Solution Speed shoes built to suit his distinctive foot shape.
“The shape of my feet is also different—long and narrow,” said Monfils. “Asics has a machine that measures every single angle of my feet. With this information they made customized shoes for me and I have felt great the minute I put them on. With the help and support of a world-class brand like Asics, I am confident I will make it back to the top of the game and be challenging for titles this year.”
The former world No. 7 isn’t the only player starting the new year with new gear. The retirement of 2011 Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters means Fila lost the face of its women’s tennis line, so the iconic brand acted with its signing of 18th-ranked German Julia Goerges, who has spent her pro career wearing Nike. Fila is expected to formally announce Goerges as a brand ambassador next week. Goerges will wear the brand’s Center Court collection along will two-time Grand Slam doubles champion Yaroslava Shvedova, while Nadia Petrova will wear Fila’s Tradizione line.
“Fila was always one of the most famous and nicest brands in this business,” Goerges said. “With Fila I think about many legends and big wins in tennis history. I hope one day I can walk in their shoes.”
Another change involves former Australian Open junior champion Donald Young, who debuted the Solinco Protocol—a stick so new that the cosmetic is not yet completed. Young, who swept James Blake in the second round of qualifying before falling to Jamie Baker in a three-set third-round loss, played with a blacked-out version of the Protocol customized at a heavier weight. The California-based brand will release two versions of the racquet, the Protocol 300 and 325, in the coming months. It’s a slightly thicker beam than Young, a former Head and Prince player, has used in the past, and could provide the additional pop he’s seeking.
The game’s biggest names come to Melbourne with new gear from familiar brands. Serena Williams captured her 47th career title in Brisbane playing with the Wilson Blade’s new cosmetic, and she’ll debut Nike’s multi-colored pleated knit dress in Melbourne. The swoosh brand seeks to distinguish its leading ladies in new styles: Defending champion Victoria Azarenka will wear a peach-colored flouncy knit dress with modified racerback; Maria Sharapova will take the court wearing a yellow premier Maria dress; and 2011 finalist Li Na will wear the brand’s white polo and purple skirt.
Then there are the main men. Roger Federer fans have already helped the four-time champion leave a vivid footprint on Oz, as Nike made the Swiss’ shoe selection an interactive experience. The company posted four different versions of the Nike Zoom Vapor 9 Tour shoe on Facebok, and Federer will wear the leading vote-getter in Melbourne. At last count, 56,447 people had participated, and Federer will ultimately wear a white-and-blue model with four Swiss flags emblazoned on the heel (see below), representing his four Australian Open crowns.
Reigning champion Novak Djokovic took to the track to showcase his new speed—the HEAD Graphene Speed racquet, that is. The world No. 1 has stood on the wings of an airplane and belted balls with Maria Sharapova in past promotional ventures for HEAD; this time, he stepped up to the line and used the new racquet to hit a tennis ball faster than an Audi R8 LMS GT3 race car, driven by Australian GT racecar driver Dean Grant at Melbourne’s Sandown racetrack. Fellow Head players Sharapova, Tomas Berdych, and Marin Cilic will premiere new Graphene Instinct MP racquets as well.
In other gear news:
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga—runner-up to Djokovic in the 2008 Melbourne final—Sam Querrey, and Jerzy Janowicz are playing with Babolat’s new Aeropro Drive GT Plus racquet, and will be using the new black, yellow, and white cosmetic.
Adidas has expanded its team of players sporting Stella McCartney’s Barricade collection. Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who has been the brand ambassador for the Stella McCartney line, will be joined by Laura Robson and Andrea Petkovic in wearing the apparel this season. The collection will come in a color palette of yellow, blue and white, with accents of silver and grey.
And look for several of Wilson’s leading players to sport its new Rush Pro shoes and 2013 apparel. Feliciano Lopez, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Horia Tecau, Melanie Oudin, and Stepanie Dubois will represent Wilson head-to-toe.