The watch industry and professional tennis first joined together in 1978 when Rolex became the official timekeeper for Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world. With so much in common, it’s no surprise the pair was an instant match. They both share an utmost appreciation for precision and perfect timing. In theory, the ideal tennis player shares many of the same qualities as a well-crafted timepiece. Top tennis players are always dressed impeccably and, on the outside, they gracefully maintain their composure with a calm confidence. However, on the inside, tennis pros relentlessly push their bodies to pursue excellence like a well-oiled machine. A fantastic watch is no different – flawless on the outside and dynamic on the inside. Perhaps all these similarities are what have driven the relationship between timepieces and tennis to thrive over nearly forty years.
Common qualities are not the only explanation for the perfect pairing between watches and tennis. Some historians believe that tennis’s strange scoring system is a result of clocks being used to keep score. If you’re unfamiliar with the scoring system in tennis, each player starts with zero points. Throughout play, points are awarded in increments of fifteen. Some people maintain that the number fifteen was chosen because clocks are organized in fifteen-minute increments, which made it simple to keep a visual record of the score by controlling the hands. While there’s still some debate about this theory, it’s very possible watches have been used in tennis for more than just tracking time.
Aside from the more practical connections between tennis and timepieces, there is another important reason the two have sustained a relationship for almost four decades: mutual growth and success.
Both industries benefit from each other’s exposure. Watch brands are able to have their names advertised during globally beloved events that attract immense amounts of press, thousands of attendees, and even more viewers through television and the web. Then, outside of the sporting events, top tennis pros get to be featured in international ads and campaigns, which boosts the player’s celebrity status and promotes the sport of tennis as a whole. It’s no wonder the partnership between these two industries has flourished over time. Now, the connection between the watch industry and the sport of tennis is stronger than ever before.
Although the history of watches and tennis can be traced back to at least the late seventies, a big shift took place shortly after the turn of the new millennium. In 2001, one of the most remarkable players in the game, Roger Federer, began his longstanding partnership with Rolex. The pair took a brief hiatus in 2004 when Federer made a surprising move to the smaller watch brand Maurice LaCroix, but just a year later in 2005, Federer rejoined forces with Rolex. The two have continued to team up ever since.
Beginning around 2010, endorsement deals with the top players in tennis began to grow exponentially. That same year marked the start of the famous partnership between tennis powerhouse Rafael Nadal and Richard Mille. This duo is particularly notable for its outrageous collaborations over the years. During the first year of their partnership, the pair stunned the watch world and tennis world when they released their first collaborative timepiece priced at a whopping $525,000. Just three years later, they released their second joint creation, which was even more extravagantly priced at $690,000. Then, at the 2015 French Open, Nadal and Richard Mille debuted their third and most expensive wristwatch to date, priced at an incredible $775,000.
Now, nearly every notable tennis pro has an endorsement deal with a watch brand. Novak Djokovic, the number one ranked male tennis player in the world, worked with Audemars Piguet from 2011-2014 and now has a contract with Seiko. Young women’s tennis star Caroline Wozniacki has represented the ladies line of Rolex for the past four years, number two ranked men’s tennis pro Andy Murray has partnered with Rado since 2012, and, beginning in 2010, popular women’s tennis icon Maria Sharapova has worked with TAG Heuer’s ladies collection. Just last year, women’s tennis legend Serena Williams formed a partnership with Audemars Piguet to represent its ladies line. In addition to sponsorships with tennis greats, numerous watch brands have worked with other tennis pros over the course of nearly two decades. However, these endorsements are not the only partnerships between tennis and timepieces – many watch brands serve as the official timekeepers for tennis tournaments around the world.
Since Rolex kicked off the longstanding relationship between watches and tennis while serving as the official timekeeper for Wimbledon in 1978, countless other brands have followed suit. Citizen has partnered with the United States Tennis Association and served as the official timekeeper for the U.S. Open since 1992. The pair extended their work together during the 2010/2011 season. In celebration of renewing their longstanding commitment to each other, they created a limited edition U.S. Open timepiece in 2012. Longines has served as the official timekeeper of the French Open since 2007, as well as the Kremlin Cup and Japan Open Tennis Championships. In 2014, Baume & Mercier sponsored the Women’s Tennis Association Tournament of Champions. Rolex has continued to work with numerous other tournaments, including the Shanghai Rolex Masters, Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals, and the BNP Paribas Women’s Tennis Association Finals Singapore Presented by SC Global. Since 2008, Rolex has also partnered with the Australian Open.
For nearly forty years, the watch industry and the sport of tennis have proven to be a match made in heaven. From a mutual appreciation for precision, perfect timing, a polished appearance, and perseverance to the mutual benefit of increased exposure and recognition, timepieces and tennis truly go hand in hand. The notable growth of sponsorships and endorsements between watch brands and tennis pros and tournaments over the past twenty years shows that this duo’s relationship is in it for the long haul. With the 2016 tennis season underway, it should be interesting to see how the partnerships evolve throughout the next year.