Timepieces & Tennis: A Match Made in Heaven
The watch industry and professional tennis first joined together in 1978. That year, Rolex became the official timekeeper for Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world. With so much in common, it’s no surprise the relationship between timepieces and tennis has thrived for over 40 years. They both share an utmost appreciation for precision and perfect timing. In theory, the ideal tennis player possesses 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. It’s no secret that watches and tennis make the perfect match. Join Crown & Caliber as we look at the history of timepieces and tennis and which watches the top tennis players wear.
Timepieces and Tennis Scoring
Common qualities are not the only explanation for the perfect pairing between watches and tennis. Some historians believe the strange scoring system in tennis is a result of the clocks used to keep score. If you’re unfamiliar with the scoring system in tennis, each player starts with zero points. Throughout play, players receive points in increments of fifteen. Some people maintain that the number fifteen was chosen because clocks are organized in fifteen-minute increments. This made it simple to keep a visual record of the score by controlling the hands. There’s still some debate about this theory. However, it’s very possible the sport of tennis has used watches for more than just tracking time.
A Win-Win for Watches and Tennis
Aside from the more practical connections between tennis and timepieces, there’s 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. These attract immense amounts of press, thousands of attendees, and even more viewers through television and the web. Then, outside of sporting events, top international ads and campaigns feature top tennis pros. These boost the player’s celebrity status and promote 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.
Watches and Tennis: The Athletes
Although the history of watches and tennis dates back to at least the late 1970s, a big shift took place shortly after the turn of the new millennium. By the early 2000s, watchmakers had begun tapping some of the top players to serve as brand ambassadors. In 2001, one of the most remarkable players in the game, Roger Federer, began his long standing partnership with Rolex. The pair took a brief hiatus in 2004. That year, Federer made a surprising move to the smaller watch brand Maurice Lacroix. However, just a year later in 2005, Federer rejoined forces with Rolex. The two have continued to team up ever since.
By 2010, endorsement deals had started to grow exponentially. That same year marked the start of the famous partnership between tennis powerhouse Rafael Nadal and Richard Mille. Now, nearly every tennis pro – even those just rising in the ranks – has a deal with a watch brand. Some of the big, longstanding partnerships between watchmakers and tennis pros come as no surprise. However, you might not know which of the latest models the top tennis players are wearing today. Here, we’ve rounded up a few standouts and the watches you might find them sporting on and off the court.
Roger Federer, Rolex
Federer’s partnership with Rolex is one of the longest standing between a tennis pro and watch brand. Over the course of his career, he’s proudly sported several different Rolex models while celebrating his victories on the court. In 2009, Federer won his first French Open and broke Pete Sampras’ all-time Grand Slam record at Wimbledon. During the trophy ceremony, he wore an Oyster Perpetual Datejust II. Three years later, Federer notched his 17th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. Here he sported an Everose Day-Date with gem-set hour markers and black dial while commemorating his win. Later in 2012 at the Summer Olympic Games, Federer took home a silver medal wearing a GMT Master II Batman. You could spot him in the Batman model again in 2017 after his win at the Australian Open. Later that year, he would secure his eighth Wimbledon win sporting another Datejust variation. In 2018, Federer showed off his Sky-Dweller after his victories at both the Australian Open and U.S. Open. His latest model of choice is a yellow gold Day-Date with a green dial. Federer recently wore this model while accepting the runner-up plate at the 2019 Wimbledon championships. In addition to these notable models spotted on the court, Federer has even more in his collection. Some standouts include a 1981 Daytona Reference 6263 given to him by his wife on his 30th birthday back in 2011 and a platinum Day-Date.
Rafael Nadal, Richard Mille
Nadal is notorious for stunning watch enthusiasts at each year’s tournaments ever since he began his partnership with Richard Mille back in 2010. This duo is particularly notable for its outrageous collaborations over the years. During the first year of their partnership, the pair stunned the watch and tennis worlds with the RM 027 Tourbillon. This debut collaboration came in at a whopping $525,000. Each year since, they’ve continued to up the ante. By 2017, they had released the fourth generation of their original model: the RM 27-03 Tourbillon. As the name suggests, the $725,000 watch features a tourbillon caliber that can withstand forces up to 10,000 Gs. This set a new record for the watch industry. In addition, the bright red and orange color scheme pays homage to the Spanish flag of the player’s home country. Nadal has continued to sport this model for the past few years both on and off the court. The RM 27-03 Tourbillon seems to be a good luck charm for the world No. 2 player. He’s won an impressive five Grand Slam tournaments wearing the watch since it first debuted.
Novak Djokovic, Seiko
Novak Djokovic made the shift from Audemars Piguet to Seiko back in 2014. Since then, the pair has collaborated on several special edition models. They designed the Limited Edition Seiko Astron SSE143 in celebration of Djokovic’s career Grand Slam. It features a black color scheme with a ceramic bezel that highlights the world time cities with three-letter codes. The four cities that host tennis’s Grand Slam tournaments feature a yellow highlight. This special iteration of the Astron also uses GPS networks and solar power to automatically adjust to any time zone around the globe. In addition, the duo has also created a handsome, limited edition dress watch: the Premier Novak Djokovic Special Edition. This model boasts an impeccable design with Seiko’s unique Kinetic Perpetual caliber.
Stan Wawrinka, Audemars Piguet
Stan Wawrinka joined Audemars Piguet’s ranks of ambassadors back in 2013. The brand doesn’t specifically design their models for play like Richard Mille. However, Wawrinka has a reputation of wearing his on the court. His watch of choice is the Royal Oak Offshore. He’s sported a number of different variations of the model at some of his most monumental wins. For instance, he wore the Reference 26470ST while notching a victory at the French Open in 2015. A year later, he showed off a custom-made iteration of the Royal Oak Offshore while celebrating his first win at the U.S. Open.
Serena Williams, Audemars Piguet
Serena Williams has proudly represented Audemars Piguet since the beginning of 2014. In the early days of their partnership, you could find her sporting classic variations of the Royal Oak Offshore. Sometimes she opted for a stainless steel model or other times rose gold. Over the years, Williams’ taste has become increasingly daring. The Audemars Piguet brand is a perfect fit for the bold player. By the end of 2014, she had upgraded to an 18-karat gold Millenary. The striking model featured a black mother of pearl dial and brilliant cut diamond accents. A year later, she went back to the Royal Oak Offshore collection but upped the ante once again. This time, she chose a distinctive quartz variation. It showcased a rose gold construction and diamond set white rubber bezel. In 2016, Williams debuted yet another new watch on the court. It was an iconic Royal Oak with a black dial and complementary black rubber strap. The following year, the legendary player went back to the Millenary collection. However, she chose a model that was a bit flashier. It boasted a white alligator strap and petite diamond accents on the bezel and lugs. Most recently, Williams returned to one of her favorite AP models: the Offshore. At the 2019 U.S. Open, she sported a sleek variation featuring a panda dial, diamond-set bezel, and white rubber strap.
Alexander Zverev, Richard Mille
Alexander Zverev is newer to both the world of pro tennis and watches. However, you can expect to be seeing a lot of more of him in the coming years. Richard Mille signed the German prodigy as an ambassador when he was just nineteen years old. Early on, you could spot him wearing the now-iconic RM 27-01, also known as the first “Nadal watch.” He was also a fan of the updated RM 27-03. Then, in 2018, Zverev landed his own collaborative timepiece: the RM 67-02. Like Nadal’s Richard Mille pieces, Zverev’s features an ultra-sturdy yet lightweight construction that’s perfect on and off the court. In fact, the RM 67-02 is the lightest automatic watch currently produced by the brand. It weighs in at just 32 grams strap and all. This particular model is comprised of a carbon quartz thin ply technology or TPT. In addition, the RM 67-02’s dial elements are coated with DLC and hand-painted with bold colors. Similar to Nadal’s models, Zverev’s reflects the colors of his country’s flag. Still, Richard Mille’s innovative spirit continues in the construction of the strap. The all-new “comfort band” elastic strap features a special weave and reinforced elasticity. It seamlessly fits to the contours of the wrist with no buckle or closure.
Kei Nishikori, TAG Heuer
TAG Heuer first signed Kei Nishikori back in 2012. Since then, he’s remained loyal to one particular model: the Professional Golf. The brand first developed the watch with golf star Tiger Woods. As the name suggests, the pair specifically designed the model to endure the impact of a golf swing. However, it serves equally well on the tennis court. It features an incredibly lightweight construction comprised of stainless steel and titanium, weighing just 55 grams. To protect against powerful swings, it comes equipped with additional shock absorbers, allowing it to withstand up to 5000 Gs. To top it off, the Professional Golf boasts a flexible silicon strap. It features a patented clasp integrated into the watch head to prevent interference with the player’s movement. Last but not least, the model houses a quartz movement. This is yet another choice on the part of TAG Heuer to optimize it for play. Quartz movements lack a hairspring. This means their accuracy isn’t compromised when enduring the impact of a swing.
Dominic Thiem, Rolex
Dominic Thiem joined Rolex’s ranks of ambassadors in 2017. In just a few short years, the young and up-and-coming player has started developing an impressive collection. Sometimes, he opts for an iconic model like the Submariner. He prefers a classic variation with a stainless steel construction as well as a black dial and bezel. Thiem is also a fan of the Daytona. With this model, he enjoys a bit more elaborate and modern iteration. You can find him sporting a ceramic chronograph version with a black dial.
Beyond Celebrity Endorsements
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. Rolex was the first to kick off the longstanding relationship between watches and tennis as the official timekeeper for Wimbledon in 1978. Since then, countless other brands have followed suit. Citizen partnered with the U.S. Tennis Association and served as the official timekeeper for the U.S. Open beginning in 1992. The pair extended their work together during the 2010/2011 season. In celebration, they created a limited edition U.S. Open timepiece in 2012. However, the pair ended their work in 2018 when Rolex took over as the official timekeeper of the U.S. Open. Longines served as the official timekeeper of the French Open from 2007 to 2018. Beginning in 2019, Rolex took over, solidifying yet another spot as official timekeeper of a Grand Slam. In addition, Rolex has partnered with the Australian Open since 2008. This makes them the official sponsor of all four Grand Slam tournaments.
In it for the Long Haul
For over 40 years, the watch industry and sport of tennis have been a match made in heaven. They share an appreciation for precision, perfect timing, a polished appearance, and perseverance. They also enjoy the mutual benefits of increased exposure and recognition. Timepieces and tennis truly go hand in hand. The notable growth of sponsorships and endorsements between watch brands, tennis pros, and tournaments over the past twenty years shows that this duo’s relationship is in it for the long haul.