Nike is saving itself a fair bit of coin by not having Roger Federer in the stable any more.
And it’s made its first big splash, by luring world No. 1 Naomi Osaka over to the Swoosh side.
No doubt it’s a big, lucrative contract. And it adds another top brand to Osaka’s other sponsorship deals. Over the six months since she shocked Serena Williams and won the US Open, Osaka has cashed in big time.
The announcement is made even more interesting by the fact that the last we really heard about it – after the US Open – it appeared Osaka would stay with adidas.
That trial balloon was later debunked by the Japan Times. That newspaper indicated that she was still up for auction, and that Uniqlo (which obviously made the most sense) and Nike were in the running.
In retrospect, when we noted that it was interesting that the photo Osaka posted from an ESPN The Magazine story featured a logo-less, generic outfit a few weeks ago – it was more interesting than we knew.
“I’m proud to become a member of the Nike family and excited about getting involved in all of the opportunities Nike has to offer. Nike has a legendary track record of writing history and I look forward to being a part of those moments for many years to come.”
The quote from Amy Montagne, “GM of Global Categories” for Nike:
“As we continue to inspire millions of athletes to chase their crazy dreams, Naomi is an incredible talent to add to our roster and help drive our commitment to inspiring a new generation of female athletes. We are thrilled to have her join our team.”
As usual with Nike, no mention of the length of the deal (or, obviously, the dollars involved).
The time frame of the rollout (including Osaka’s Tweet, below), tells you it was aimed at the Asian market. It’s Friday morning over there, but very late Thursday night on the east coast of the U.S. and late evening on the west coast.
Given the reportedly insane amount of dollars Uniqlo will be giving Federer over the next decade, you’d think Uniqlo would have won this bidding war.
The fact that Uniqlo founder and chairman Tadashi Yanai is reportedly worth $23 billion and can buy any toys he wants only adds to that notion.
And it’s especially true with the Olympics coming up next year in Tokyo.
But perhaps Yanai isn’t as big on women’s tennis as he is on men’s tennis.
It will also be interesting to see whether Osaka, who will be big in the Asian market, will have the same exemption China’s Li Na had. Li was allowed to wear all of her other sponsorship patches on her Nike gear, unlike Nike’s other athletes – including Federer, Nadal and Serena Williams.
(Ben Rothenberg with the answer to that question:)
Confirmation from Naomi Osaka's agent, Stuart Duguid, that Osaka will continue to wear her sponsor patches (Nissin, ANA) even after switching to Nike, which normally does not allow its athletes to put patches on Nike clothes.
Li Na was first high-profile exception to that rule.
The promotional photo Nike released with its announcement (not surprisingly), contains no logos.
Osaka won’t play again until the Stuttgart event in 2 1/2 weeks. So we’ll see then.
Hopefully they will come up with some bespoke outfits for her, befitting a world No. 1. With the short turnaround time (given the average 18 months needed to design and produce a clothing line), it might take awhile for “Osaka Nike” to make a splash.
She looked terrific in the adidas – notably this year, with Nike’s main lines a design most tennis fans were tired of by the second week of the Australian Open.
Adidas left out
It’s a common thing in tennis that the companies that sign players early in their careers, giving them money, and equipment (or clothing) long before they make it, are left in the cold when a player really does make it big.
Osaka has been wearing adidas since 2015 (she wore Yonex clothing in 2014).
Her deal expired at the end of 2018.
That’s four years. And when she first began wearing it, Osaka was ranked outside the top 250. Not many people knew who she was.
Clearly she collected some nice bonuses from the company over the last few years, as her ranking rose to the top.
But all of that doesn’t matter a bit.
Once the players get to the top, and the big-dollar offers come, that’s pretty much it. The numbers and term will likely leak out eventually. But given the number that was floated for the adidas non-deal last September, it’s likely more than that.
We’ve seen it with players who have even changed racquets for the dough. That is a far more significant thing, in terms of their actual tennis, than what they’re wearing.
And we’ve seen some of them struggle and lose a big part of a season making the adjustment.
This change, obviously, is easier.
There’s no loyalty. But that’s the business.
If someone offers you a huge cheque, you’d be a fool not to take it.
With the flipping of the calendar from 2018 to 2019, Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig had a complete change of attire in the middle of the same tournament.
Must have involved some extra baggage charges on the trip Down Under.
On Dec. 31, 2018 as the Rio Olympic gold medalist defeated wild card Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round of the ASB Classic in Auckland, she was wearing the Ellesse kit she had been sporting for four years.
On Jan. 2, 2019, for her second round against No. 3 seed Hsieh Su-Wei – a totally different look.
Puig was decked out all in Yonex, which also is her racket sponsor.
(That Puig lost to Hsieh 6-1, 7-6 likely had less to do with the new look than it did the comprehensive bit of taping on her right shoulder).
A lot of changes for 2019
The Yonex kit is actually terrific. And that has not always been the case for the company’s line of women’s tennis outfits.
So that’s a plus.
They might think about maybe relocating her AT&T sponsorship patch, though.
That one stood out against the blue of the old kit. Stuck on the lilac, it kind of blends into the background.
Puig had posted a photo on social media a few weeks ago during preseason in which she wasn’t wearing the usual Ellesse, but a Yonex top.
That was the giveaway, although the pic was later deleted.
Puig’s coach hasn’t made the switch yet.
Konta in Ellesse
Meanwhile, Johanna Konta of Great Britain has joined countryman Cameron Norrie in the Ellesse stable for 2019.
Konta had been wearing Asics.
But when she appeared on Jan. 1 and pulled off an upset against Sloane Stephens in the first round of Brisbane, she was wearing a rather retro-looking Ellesse kit.
The shoes were horribly mismatched, though; she’ll have to get on that.
Former Ellesse ambassador Feliciano Lopez also is gone, to the Italian brand Hydrogen.
Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, who joined the top 10 in 2018, got there wearing Mizuno.
As the new season dawns, she’s wearing FILA. And nice-looking Fila at that.
Suárez Navarro needs wardrobe function
Spanish veteran Carla Suárez Navarro remains with Lotto.
But judging by her listless defeat in the first round in Brisbane – she got just three games against Anett Kontaveit – a major wardrobe adjustment is in order.
Suárez Navarro would have nothing to do with the low-cut, racerback top she was given to wear.
As is – NOTHING to do with it.
She wore a rather more modest undershirt beneath it to ease any concern about accidental visuals.
But beyond that, was the length of the skirt – or lack thereof.
Generously listed at 5-foot-4, the Spaniard shouldn’t generally have an issue with skirts being too short. But this one was.
As well, she kept … having to pull down the attached shorties (we girls know this feeling all too well).
It seems like nothing. But it doesn’t take much to throw a player off her game. And being thoroughly uncomfortable in her tennis duds will do it.
Kontaveit in Lacoste
After years wearing adidas (although we don’t know 100 per cent that it was an actual financial sponsorship), the Estonian Kontaveit has kicked off 2019 in Lacoste.
She trounced Suárez Navarro and, on Wednesday, Petra Kvitova to advance to the Brisbane quarterfinals.
So – so far, so good, although that center-pleat idea was probably best left in the 1970s.
Leggings are in
With the adjustment-clarification-change in the rule for the women and wearing leggings on the court in 2019 (call it whatever you prefer), a few veterans in Shenzhen have wasted no time taking it to the max.
The less-than balmy temperatures have made it far less a fashion statement than a necessity.
Which, of course, was what it always was before the French Open brouhaha with Serena Williams that led to the “clarification” of the rule.
Some new Nike – please
A lot of the players won’t debut their 2019 tennis wear until the Australian Open.
Which means that sort-of-mismatched Stella McCartney adidas outfit is still around (with Caroline Wozniacki, among others, wearing it).
Worse: it means that … Fall 2018 Nike gear is still around.
No matter what iteration it’s in – the mismatched colours, the skirt with the unflattering horizontal lines, the short-sleeve tucked shirt, the Sloane Stephens outfit, or the too-short racerback top sported by Belinda Bencic in Perth – it’s an eyesore.
Spanish star Garbiñe Muguruza is getting a big push from adidas this fall.
She’s one of five women featured in a worldwide campaign for its “Statement Collection” along with British singer Dua Lipa, supermodel Karlie Kloss, Canadian actress Shay Mitchell and Hannah Bronfman.
Muguruza, obviously, is the only adidas athlete – the only athlete, period.
The collection features “23 high-performance pieces curated for female athletes who take a versatile approach to training, including “floral camo and geometric prints inspired by Stella McCartney” that “make a statement before, during and after every workout”.
But as of right now, industry sources tell Tennis.Life the 26-year-old Romanian doesn’t have a clothing sponsor for 2018.
Unless something gets done at the very last minute, Halep and adidas are parting ways at what is approaching the peak of Halep’s career. She goes into 2018 one of the favorites to pull off a Grand Slam title for the first time.
Manager Virginia Ruzici responded to a request for comment from Tennis.Life about adidas not renewing Halep’s deal.
She didn’t confirm it. Nor did she claim it inaccurate.
“No comment” Ruzici wrote via e-mail, adding she would be in touch when she had something to add.
Halep joined the adidas family in April, 2014, premiering the clothes at a Fed Cup tie between Romania and Serbia.
Until then, she had been sponsored by Lacoste. But she left them mid-season although reportedly on good terms.
Tennis.Life was told that the biggest issue was bad timing, and a gap in the evaluations from both sides of Halep’s worth.
The Romanian’s representatives (mentor Ion Tiriac is believed to be involved on that side) had a number in mind, commensurate with their player’s new status as the top-ranked player in the world.
The adidas offer didn’t reflect the same reality. Nothing original there; that’s basically every negotiation, ever.
But when they came back without having found much greener grass elsewhere, the German company already had allocated its 2018 sponsorship budget.
Halep is still training in adidas gear, although nothing she didn’t already have. Whether or not that’s significant will be revealed soon enough.
Where this leaves her for 2018 is unclear.
We’ll have to see what Halep shows up in when she arrives in Shenzhen in two weeks, to begin her campaign – or perhaps even in Thailand, where she’s scheduled for an exhibition Dec. 23-24. Halep has entered the doubles in Shenzhen with countrywoman Irina-Camelia Begu.
Who knows? The two sides might be able to work out some sort of last-minute, bonus-based deal for the season. All options are on the table at this point. The challenge, at this late stage, is that every other company has already spent its 2018 budget, too.
Halep’s wardrobe changes
However it turns out, it won’t be the first kit change for Halep during her career.
Here are a few different looks she’s had since 2010.
The Djokovic model of adidas tennis shoes is nothing new for Tomas Berdych.
He wears them all the time.
But the Internet and the tabloids discovered it during his Wimbledon semifinal against Roger Federer on Friday.
And so it became a pretty big deal for a few hours.
The tabloid headline writers clearly didn’t quite grasp how low the odds were that Berdych would be paying tribute to another tennis player who had not, to our knowledge, passed away or otherwise suffered great trauma.
“Tomas Berdych pays classy trainer tribute to injured Novak Djokovic”.
The Express yelled:
“TOMAS BERDYCH wore a bizarre tribute to Novak Djokovic against Roger Federer!”
When you think about it, it was pretty ironic.
Novak Djokovic was the man who theoretically should have been standing across the net from Federer in this semifinal.
But the three-time champion retired after a set and two games against Berdych in the quarterfinals with a chronic elbow issue.
And so, the Czech, who reached the singles final here in 2010, benefited from a somewhat free pass.
Shoes are a tough fit
The Czech player has the same issue many players have when switching clothing brands. In his case, from Nike to H&M to adidas in a short period of time.
Djokovic wears the adidas shoes (the company he used to endorse) for a reason.
For one thing, when you find a comfortable pair of shoes, you stick with them. Blistered feet are painful, loser’s feet.
The Serb’s subsequent sponsors, Sergio Tacchini and Uniqlo, didn’t make shoes. And most of the players who wear clothes made by his new clothing sponsor, Lacoste, wear other brands of shoes.
(Tacchini used to be in the tennis shoe business. But there were always complaints about their footwear. Pete Sampras, who represented the Italian company back in the day, used to suffer from shin splints and was concerned the shoes didn’t do enough to protect his feet. So he had to negotiate his way out of his deal. Martina Hingis, back in the day, filed a lawsuit against them.)
Officially, Berdych endorses the adidas Barricade model. But he said in the press conference after his loss to Federer that he has to wear the Djoko-sneaks, the “Novak Pro” model.
“I’m wearing Novak shoes because the other shoes just doesn’t fit well to me, so that’s why I have to play in the shoes that they are fitting well and doesn’t hurt my feet,” he said.
If Djokovic couldn’t be there, at least he was representing. Which probably brought him no comfort at all.