A Good Let: Prince Opens Tennis Store in Wimbledon
WIMBLEDON, England—“A week ago, this was empty.”
These words, spoken on June 22 by Prince Global Sports CEO Mike Ballardie, could have been used to describe the All England Club. Wimbledon’s venue is occupied throughout the year, but relatively vacant aside from two summer weeks in which tennis fans from around the world swell its grounds.
It also describes Prince’s new tennis shop in Wimbledon Village, which seven days before our chat was quite literally uninhabited.
“We started thinking about it at the back end of last year,” says Ballardie. “Right time, right place. If it’s successful for us, I think it’s something we could look at extending to the other Grand Slams.”
The difference between Wimbledon’s home and Prince’s Wimbledon store is that, when the big tournament ends on Sunday, it will be business as usual at 78 High Street, with racquets, shoes, apparel, and other tennis gear available to satisfy SW19’s demand for the sport it’s known for.
“It’s a big tennis community around here, there’s lot of tennis, not just the All England Club,” Ballardie reminds me, and that’s clear if you spend a morning at Wimbledon Park, watching locals both young and old fill its 20 courts—10 turf, 10 asphalt—in warm conditions and during patented summer drizzles. The surfaces are a far cry from the impeccably manicured lawns a short walk west, but there are many more players who hit forehands at the park, and now there is a dedicated shop for them nearby.
It is perhaps appropriate that Prince was the company that chose to open a shop in Wimbledon. The brand is a tennis classic and has been associated with the grass-court major for most of the last decade, with sales increasing at the site each year. A Prince racquet also helped John Isner, whose face you’ll see in the storefront, win one of Wimbledon’s most memorable matches, a 183-game epic with Nicolas Mahut three years ago.
The opening coincides with a number of new ventures for Prince, which has rebounded from bankruptcy with a revitalized ownership team—“Luckily that’s all behind us now; the company’s in great hands,” says Ballardie. The company met with its international distributors from around the world earlier this month in London to speak about a new line of racquets, due out in the United States at the beginning of October. This includes newer technology, seen in the popular Rebel 95 frame, and updates to longtime favorites like the Prince Graphite and “Longbody,” a longer-than-standard-length racquet famously used by Michael Chang.
“We’re going to reintroduce them in a proper way and balance out the line with the racquets of old, which are still great racquets, and the new,” says Ballardie.
Prince’s dual-pronged strategy is an effort to bridge the gap between its loyal fans, typically aged 35 and up, and a younger set of players that are only now becoming familiar with the brand. Lucas Pouille, a 19-year-old rising talent who won a main-draw match at Roland Garros in May, swings a Rebel 95, and many of the world’s top juniors are toting racquets with a “P” stenciled onto their strings.
“Over the last couple of years, and particularly in Europe for the last seven or eight years, we’ve been focused on building the Prince brand in that environment of juniors,” says Ballardie. “We started sponsoring Tennis Europe (an organization that hosts a significant number of top-level junior tournaments) and the Nike Junior Tour. Today we’ve got, I’d say, 300 world-class juniors playing Prince, including two No. 1s from last year, Kimmer Coppejans and Taylor Townsend.”
Both aspiring professionals and recreational players are catered to in Prince’s High Street store, with racquets available in a wide range of prices, and shoes, including the T22—“a real winner; it’s been huge,” says Ballardie—in an array of styles. It remains to be seen if locations in Melbourne, Paris, and New York are on the horizon.
For now, though, this one formerly empty space turned tennis place will do for Prince, to the absolute delight of Ballardie and crew, who celebrated with champagne and cheer. “The reaction of the people in this village to the store, you walk around and see all the windows are dressed up in Prince stuff—everyone’s embraced us and welcomed us and said, ‘Hey, why didn’t anyone think of opening a tennis store in Wimbledon before?”