Clothes don’t make The Championships, but with the All England Club’s predominantly-white dress code, they are an important part of Wimbledon. Even Centre Court looked like a seersucker suit on Monday, with painstaking lawn care yielding stripes of alternating green hues.
But on this opening day, tennis’ majestic meadow wasn’t the most striking visual. It was Roger Federer, and for once, it wasn’t because of his established, exalted image. It was for something completely new from the soon-to-be-37-year-old, who up to this point in his peerless career donned Nike apparel from head to toe. Federer has lifted Wimbledon trophies with the swoosh on his shirt, his pants and his cardigan—but if he's to win one for a ninth time, he'll do so clad in Uniqlo.
WATCH—Roger Federer addresses the clothing change in his post-match presser:
The sport’s most recognizable doubles team has split, with the Japanese lifestyle brand that currently outfits Kei Nishikori and previously clothed Novak Djokovic the beneficiary. The clothing coup had been rumored for months, and Federer’s coy remarks in Halle and Stuttgart only intensified the chatter. When Federer conversed with the press this weekend in a sport coat instead of sportswear, the writing was on the wall.
“I am deeply committed to tennis and to winning championships,” Federer said in a press release. “But like UNIQLO, I also have great love for life, culture and humanity. We share a strong passion to have a positive impact on the world around us and look forward to combining our creative endeavors.”
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Federer will receive $300 million from Uniqlo “guaranteed over 10 years and has an unprecedented clause that says that Federer will still collect the money even if he doesn't play.” Federer was still wearing Nike shoes without a formal deal—Uniqlo is not in the business of athletic footwear—which featured the the “RF” monogram-like logo. Nike owns this insignia; it's not clear if, unlike the player himself, it will live on.
Roger Federer: The RF logo is with Nike at the moment, but will come soon to me at some point. I hope sooner rather than later... It will come with me at some point, they are my initials. The good thing is it's not theirs forever.— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) July 2, 2018
That might sound grim, but it's worth noting that Federer the player was unmistakable as ever on Day 1. His bandana appeared a little longer, and his new clothes a bit starker—just a few splashes of red Uniqlo branding against bright white—but Federer had little trouble against Dusan Lajovic to begin his title defense, winning in straight sets.
It will of course be Federer’s racquet, rather than his clothes, that determines his play over the fortnight. In case you were wondering, he’s still swinging a Wilson frame.
Strokes of Genius is a world-class documentary capturing the historic 13-year rivalry between tennis icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is timed for release as the anticipation crests with Roger as returning champion, 10 years after their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.