No. 1 Osaka goes adidas =====> Nike

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.

She was reportedly “set” to sign a “record-breaking” extension to her adidas deal that would pay her a reported $8.5 million a year

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.

No doubt the bidding was fast and furious. 

And Nike won.

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.

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Big addition to the Nike team

The press-release quote from Osaka:

“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.

And it’s the middle of the night in Europe.

Whither Uniqlo?

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:)

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.

Three years ago in Charleston, Osaka (wearing adidas) had just broken into the top 100 with a third-round result in Miami. She won two qualifying matches, but lost 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to Louise Chirico in the first round of the main draw. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.

Osaka at the Granby Challenger in July, 2015 (her first year with adidas. She was ranked No. 159 at the time. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.

Puig: Ellesse –> Yonex in 24 hours (and other fashion notes)

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

Puig coach Todero is sticking with the old Ellesse stuff as 2019 begins (WTATV)

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.

Hydrogen makes a move with Berdych

Bertens in Fila

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.

The wardrobe struggle was real for Carla Suárez Navarro during her season-opening loss to Anett Kontaveit in Brisbane.

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

EllesseellesseWith 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.

EllesseWhich 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.

Melbourne can’t arrive soon enough.

(All screenshots from WTA TV)

Rumors of Sharapova-Nike split fake news: agent

From one unsourced story in a British tabloid, come dozens of cut-and-paste clones.

And so, as rumor becomes “fact” in an Internet instant, Maria Sharapova agent Max Eisenbud set the record straight Sunday on the Russian star’s future with longtime clothing sponsor Nike.

The story in question, in The Sun, claims Sharapova has “told friends that she believes the sportswear giant will not renew her deal when it expires at the end of this year”. And that sources indicate she “is hoping that Adidas will take her on.”

Eisenbud told those assertions are fiction.

“It’s just incredible how a publication can make up lies and not be held accountable. Even worse is how other publications run with the story as if it is fact. It’s a huge issue,” Eisenbud said.

“For the record, Maria has a lifetime deal with Nike. Her fans will get to see some of her best dresses in 2019 and more La Cortez.”

Nike era over as Federer debuts UNIQLO

WIMBLEDON – Roger Federer has made some notable sartorially-splendid entrances on Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court.

There was the cardigan. The jacket with a crest. And the gold lamé bag. And various other statement pieces by his clothing sponsor, Nike.

As of Day 1 at Wimbledon 2018, make that former clothing sponsor.

Confirming weeks of rumours that Federer was going to move to the Japanese company Uniqlo after spending basically his entire like wearing the Swoosh, he walked onto centre court all in white, with some rather discreet red Uniqlo logos.

And so the rumours became reality, with a new deal that various reports have pegged at 10 years and $300 million.

Mr. Uniqlo (Photo: Ella Ling)

“I’m happy to be back at Wimbledon. I was really able to enjoy the match out there because I got off to a good start. When you get off to a good start in set one and two, you’re able to just enjoy the moment more than when you’re struggling early on, especially at the tournament like I explained yesterday. There is always pressure and nerves when you go into a first round,” Federer said after dismantling Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 19 minutes.

“Also I was excited to wear Uniqlo today. I must tell you, it’s been a long time coming. I felt very good out there. It’s also crucial to play well, so it was helpful,” he added.

A switch of this magnitude does not just materialize overnight. As Federer walked onto Centre Court to officially opening that legendary venue, an e-mail went out to tennis journalists at 1:01 p.m. announcing the 36-year-old Swiss had joined the Uniqlo family.


The press release made no mention of the outsized remuneration, of course. It focused on the intentions from both sides to do good for humanity.

Said Tadashi Yanai, UNIQLO Founder and Chairman, President & CEO of Fast Retailing,:

“Our partnership will be about innovation on and off court. We share a goal of making positive change in the world, and I hope together we can bring the highest quality of life to the greatest number of people. UNIQLO will help Mr. Federer continue taking tennis to new places, while exploring innovations in a number of areas including technology and design with him.”

Said Federer:

“I am deeply committed to tennis and to winning championships. 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.”

It’s the same sort of philanthropic strategy his Nike predecessor, Andre Agassi, and adidas used when the American made that switch years ago, after becoming synonymous with the Swoosh.

Suspense until the last moment

As Federer warmed up on Court 15 from 10:30 – 11 a.m. Monday morning, in the shadow of Centre Court, there was deliberately no hint of what was to come.

No point in revealing the big surprise during the dress rehearsal.

The rules about the limited amount of trim on the match courts – even during practice – worked in his favour. There were a few discreet Nike logos, along with the RF logo on his ballcap and his new Nike Wimbledon shoes with the “8” on them.

The members of his team also wore their Nike kits.

Two hours later, the secret was out.

Uniqlo – not a sports company

“UNIQLO describes itself as a life company that creates LifeWear, thoughtful everyday apparel with a practical sense of beauty, and constantly improved through craftsmanship and technology. With today’s announcement, LifeWear has a new champion,” the press release stated.

Along with Federer, Uniqlo also has as brand ambassadors Kei Nishikori, who is a rock star in his native Japan, as well as Aussie golfer Adam Scott.

The company just extended Nishikori’s contract through the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, which will obviously  be a huge focus for them.

The deal with Federer, you have to assume, implies that he, too, intends to play at least that long.

But there are obviously no guarantees. At any rate, it’s unfathomable that Federer will still be playing tennis at the conclusion of this contract. So down the road, we might well see multiple fashion shoots involving the tennis legend posing in economically-priced separates.

Many loose ends to tie up

Federer said Monday the Federer line isn’t close to being available to the public.  

“All this has just gotten underway. We’re hopeful the beginning of next year people can also start buying my stuff. For the moment, as fast at retailing as they are, as great as they are, it just needs a bit of time,” he said.

The lead time required to manufacture clothing that can be sold at retail is significant – at least a year, often 18 months. Of course, unless they have already been working diligently for months on the assumption that this was a done deal, that seems ambitious.

The other issue is Federer’s “RF” logo – which is on so many ball caps at a tennis tournament you hope he got a cut from each one.

The massive “RF” logo has been very much in evidence the last few weeks.

At the moment, Nike owns the trademark on that. Federer said Monday that it would revert to him “at some point.”

And he entreated his longtime sponsor to be “nice and helpful in the process to bring it over to me.”

(If they do, that will be rather a benevolent gesture, since they no doubt have already manufactured, for example, his US Open kits and now, there will be no Federer to model them).

“It’s also something that was very important for me, for the fans really,” he said.  “Look, it’s the process. But the good news is that it will come with me at one point. They are my initials. They are mine. The good thing is it’s not theirs forever. In a short period of time, it will come to me.”

“Obviously we also need to figure out with Uniqlo when at one point we can start selling clothes for the public as well. All this has just gotten underway. We’re hopeful the beginning of next year people can also start buying my stuff. For the moment, as fast at retailing as they are, as great as they are, it just needs a bit of time.”

Federer had his white Uniqlo bag on court with him, although they would already have that item.

You wonder what all the folks wearing that RF during his warmup session Monday morning think.

Will all the RF gear become obsolete, or collectors’ items? Too soon to tell for these fans gathered to watch Federer warm up Monday morning at Wimbledon. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Patch deals, shoe opportunities

With a few notable exceptions in Asia (including the now-retired Li Na), Nike’s deal with its players is that they cannot wear patch sponsorship logos on their clothes. Their deals are exclusive.

That even applies to Federer, and Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova.

Now, obviously, Federer won’t have to deal with those constraints, and he may be able to fill his coffers even more with that type of deal. He could probably also wear a “Laver Cup” patch on his gear.

Beyond that, Federer also needs some shoes, as Uniqlo can’t provide those.

It seems, again, he’s opening this up for bids while hoping Nike will agree to a shoes-only deal. As a comparison, Novak Djokovic signed a similar agreement with Asics when he moved from Uniqlo to Lacoste last year.

“I don’t have a shoe deal. I’m looking forward to see what shoes I will be wearing in the near future. For now, I will be wearing Nike. They have shown interest to have a shoe deal with me, as well,” Federer said. “Ties are not broken there. I have deep roots with Nike. I’ve had a great relationship over the last 20 years. But everything is open. Yeah, it’s very exciting also again to see what’s out there, who wants to do something with me.”

Was it a move he wanted to make?

The omnipresence of Federer commercial logos has been especially present over the last few weeks, it seems.

The man himself has often worn T-shirts emblazoned with a giant-sized version of his RF logo. There also have been a lot of Laver Cup logo sightings. At times, his agent Tony Godsick has sported both – just to have his bases covered.

There could not have been more RFing in Stuttgart, when Federer won his first tournament back. Between Monday’s warmup and the match, Team Fed had quickly become Team Uniqlo.

The sense you got from his early comments on the potential move, upon his return to the game in Stuttgart a few weeks ago, was that he didn’t want to leave.

If UNIQLO can put its signature athlete, Nishikori, in this, what have they got up their sleeve for Federer?

He didn’t even really want to talk about it, other than to say it was one of those situations he wishes had been resolved a long time ago.

Federer’s Nike contract expired on March 1. No doubt his agent would have started negotiations to extend it long before that. And to get to the point where a rival offer is leaked – hopefully to move the process along – there had to be a huge divide between what Nike thought he was worth going forward, and what Federer and his agency, Team8, perceived his value to be

In the end, they found a company that agreed with them.

It’s going to be very strange to see Federer without the swoosh, without the “RF” logo.

While it’s not so jarring at Wimbledon, with the all-white rule, things will change quickly.

When you look at the color scheme Kei Nishikori sported in Paris, it’s hard to fathom Federer in anything close to that.

Roger Federer is back, and in the news

After two and a half months away from the match court, Roger Federer is back.

He’ll hit the grass in Stuttgart for his first match on Wednesday, against veteran lefty Mischa Zverev, a familiar opponent on grass.

Of the five times they’ve met (Federer has yet to lose a set), three have been on grass. Two of them came a year ago, in Halle and in the third round at Wimbledon.

But before the 36-year-old even serves, he has already made plenty of news.

The most amusing part was the officially-scheduled Federer practice on Sunday on the centre court in Stuttgart.

A telling sign of just exactly how much a player of Federer’s pedigree means to a 250-level tournament like Stuttgart was that his hit was announced for 5 p.m. on the official order of play.

That was – of course – right in the middle of the French Open in Paris between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem.

Federer seemed rather in good spirits for the practice with Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.

But the focus was partly on what Federer was wearing.

The answer: Nike, of course. At least for now.

Rumours of a move to Uniqlo

Fact: Federer’s 10-year deal with Nike expired March 1.

And, as with any contract renewal negotiation, discussions would have begun long before that expiry date.

But there is no deal yet.

And, in the interim, a trial balloon was floated that the Japanese company Uniqlo has weighed in with a massive offer.

It appears that Vince Martucci at was the first in the non-Asian markets to put this out there.

Uniqlo, which sponsors Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori (and just re-upped with him in a $50 million deal that takes both sides through the market-crucial Tokyo Olympics in 2020), freed up some cash after Novak Djokovic went to Lacoste.

But … $30 million US a year, for 10 years? That would take it well beyond Federer’s playing days, and well into his retirement. Well, one would assume, anyway.

Federer acknowledged that the Nike deal (which was a reported $100 million for 10 years, and probably undervalued in the market by this point, given Federer’s resurgence) had expired, and that he’d heard the rumours.

“These rumors are known to me. (Not a) rumor is that my Nike contract expired in March. There are negotiations going on, there’s nothing more to say. You are certainly the first to know when something is going in that direction,” Federer said during a press conference in Stuttgart Monday.

A lot of outlets are reporting this as a done deal. It’s unlikely that’s true. But the gloves are off.

Looking for lifetime deal?

It’s hard to imagine that Team Federer would want to leave Nike. It’s an association that has been ongoing since 1994. And Federer’s RF Nike logo is iconic.

And it’s hard to imagine that Nike would want to leave Federer. The Swiss star is, by a wide margin, the player who moves the most tennis merchandise for them – for any tennis manufacturer, actually.

But at what price?

That obviously is the rub.

If it has taken this long to come to an agreement, there are two factors to be looked at. The first is the actual dollars. The second is the length of the agreement, with Federer’s playing days counting down.

From the Team Federer perspective, you could speculate realistically that they’re looking for a lifetime deal. He has become, through the years, a sporting icon who transcends tennis.

But the Nike business revolves around the shoe.

Basketball superstar LeBron James signed a lifetime deal with the company in 2015. He’s 33..

Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who also is 33, signed a lifetime deal of his own in November, 2016.

Nike icon Michael Jordan hangs with Federer’s wife Mirka at the 2014 US Open.

Michael Jordan, who has been retired 15 years, is estimated to have earned $473 million from his Nike association since 1993. And only the first 10 years of that came while he was an active player.

Federer’s name recognition is up there with those athletes, on some levels. But the sport he plays does not bring Nike nearly the same level of revenue. And so a “lifetime” deal wouldn’t come with nearly the same number of dollars.

The Agassi comparison

In July, 2005, lifelong Nike wearer Andre Agassi switched to adidas, which had long sponsored his wife, Steffi Graf.

For a long period of time, the American was as identified with the “swoosh” as Federer is now. Maybe even more – on the North American scene, especially. And the association revolutionized the marketing of tennis.

It seemed unthinkable at the time that he would leave. But Agassi spun it well; the deal with adidas had huge philanthropic element, a financial commitment to his foundation.

But in 2013, Agassi returned to Nike, emphasizing that the association would help promote the company’s “Designed to Move” campaign.


Money, or image?

Nike is Nike, the standard-bearer for sports merchandise.

Will Federer leave Nike and take the Uniqlo money? It feels like there are still a few chapters to be written in this story.

Uniqlo, which is rapidly expanding (although doesn’t yet have stores in Federer’s homeland), is far more of a sportswear company than a tennis concern.

Its clothes are reasonably priced and fairly bland, sort of on par with The Gap and Old Navy in the U.S.

The company has repeatedly tried to crack the American market, but seems to not yet have found the winning formula to compete with the other chain stores in its market segment.

Would Federer be a difference-maker worldwide? Certainly they seem to think so, especially if Federer plays on and competes in the 2020 Olympics on Uniqlo’s home turf.

But what we really don’t know is how legitimate those alleged numbers are.

Make no mistake, the news of this sudden  “competitor” for Federer’s allegiance was strategically leaked.

And those numbers are perhaps an inadvertent clue into what Team Federer believes its man is worth to Nike.

Perhaps, with negotiations not progressing after all these months, it was time to try to put pressure on Nike. The rumours are undoubtedly a move to put Federer in what’s always the best negotiation position: creating a bidding war and letting Nike know that what they’ve come up with so far isn’t nearly enough. And that if they don’t up the ante, someone else is ready to take it on.

Public-relations repercussions

The delicate balance here is the potential harm it could do to Federer’s “peRFect” image.

Forbes’ estimate of Federer’s career earnings (and this was a few years ago) came in at about $600 million.

So – and this is an understatement – the Swiss star has earned more than he and generations of his descendants could ever possibly spend.

Federer has a number of high-profile sponsorship deals, most recently a $40 million contract with the pasta-maker Barilla. The company’s Federer commercials regularly ran on French television during the French Open, despite his absence.

And early in the event, he was even in town for a Moët champagne event celebrating his 20 years on tour. A special bottle priced at $19,998 was announced, with the profits going to his foundation.

The Nike-Federer relationship is firmly anchored. And a lot fans can’t imagine one without the other.

If it’s perceived that Federer left merely because of big stacks of money, the average fan making a working salary will resent it.

So if it happens, that’s going to require some deft public relations.

There’s always a “respect” component to these things – a “scoreboard” where success is measured not so much by the actual dollars (especially when the athlete concerned is beyond worrying about the dollars). It’s about “did he get what he’s worth, relative to other athletes at his level?”

In the end, it’s a chase for one dollar more than the other guy got. That means a “win”.

The 2018 season was always going to be a fascinating one, from this perspective. Because Rafael Nadal’s long-term deal with Nike also is expiring this year.

So what happens with Federer is something Team Nadal no doubt will keep a close eye on.

But back to tennis …


Nike is ready … Is Serena ready for Roland Garros?

PARIS – As little as Serena Williams has played this year – for the last year and a half, with the birth of Olympia – there’s no way to know what her level will be.

But after she opted not to play either of the big WTA Tour clay warmups in Madrid and Rome, it’s an even bigger question mark.

It’s one of the secrets that will be revealed as the French Open gets under way on Sunday.

Williams’ sister Venus does play on Sunday, against China’s Qiang Wang. But Serena, in the top half of the women’s singles draw, won’t play until Tuesday or Wednesday.

During a practice on Suzanne Lenglen Friday, Williams was definitely not pushing herself. Similar to her sister’s practice the previous day, she really was hardly moving at all.

The sound of the ball off the racket, of course, sounds the same as ever.

Here’s what it looked like.

Nike ready to represent

There are promo posters celebrating Williams’ return to Paris all over the city.

“The Queen is Back” – they harken.


Is she? We’ll soon find out.

Williams’ first-round opponent is Kristyna Pliskova, the lefty twin sister of top-five player Karolina Pliskova.

Pliskova’s ranking has been as high as No. 35 (that was last July). It’s currently at No. 70. But she has some good wins during the clay-court swing.

She qualified and made the third round in Madrid. And in Charleston, on the American Har-Tru in early April, she defeated Petra Kvitova, Katerina Siniakova and Elena Vesnina on her way to the quarterfinals.

Can it be Serena time?

Through all of Williams’ notable absences from the Tour during her long career, you always got the sense that when she did return, she could turn on the switch and become Serena again.

There was a lot of hard work and sweat behind the scenes to make that happen, of course. But her base level is so high, she can win a lot of matches even as she tries get back to her top level.

Everyone remembers that 2007 Australian Open when Williams came in visibly out of shape. And yet, by the end of the fortnight, not only was she far more match fit – she was holding up the trophy.

Williams was unseeded, ranked No. 81 when she went Down Under. On her way to a 6-1, 6-2 win in the final over world No. 2 Maria Sharapova, she defeated several top-20 players: No. 6 Nadia Petrova, No. 11 Jelena  Jankovic, No. 12 Nicole Vaidisova and No. 17 Shahar Pe’er.

She was 25 then, though. And she hadn’t had a baby and a really tough post-birth period with complications.

At 36, it’s a significantly bigger challenge.

Not match tough – but is she healthy?

There were photos of her at the Mouratoglou Academy a few weeks ago in which she had some significant tape on her knee. She was fiddling with her right leg during this Friday practice. 

But it was hard to tell if something was bothering her, because she didn’t run much.

We’ll find out soon enough just how up she is for it.

In the meantime, she’s got a bitchin’ pair of shoes to wear.


Not only that – she’s got a guy. Among his duties are collecting said blingy shoes, knocking off the terre battue – and storing them neatly in a plastic bag.


That is good living.

Nike honors Serena for Int’l Women’s Day

As Serena Williams returns to action at the BNP Paribas Open, Nike put together an inspiration little 30 seconds featuring the former No. 1 and new mom.

Williams has had an eventful six months. Becoming a mother, getting married, upping her game on raising awareness for some important causes and … getting back to tennis.

Now unranked, Williams competed Monday night in the Tie Break Tens event in New York, and has a charity event in the area Tuesday.

She drew Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan in the first round of the women’s singles.

Nike is dropping quality shoes

Maria Sharapova’s new signature Nike shoe is out.

The original 1972 Nike Cortez is now available in three dozen models. The blurb for Sharapova’s bespoke design says it exudes “the peacefulness that Sharapova soaks in during her early morning walks on her way to practice.”

Meanwhile, Kei Nishikori got a special delivery: a pair of the Air Jordan model worn by Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl.

The shoes went on sale online right after the halftime show, selling out in under five minutes. But they saved a pair for Nishikori. 

Nike’s sneaker game is strong at the moment.

Canadian kids – and a Genie lookalike

Three promising young Canadian players – 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime and 20-year-old Françoise Abanda – all Nike endorsers – got together for a photo shoot this week in New York.

At first glance you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s another Canadian in there with them: Genie Bouchard.”

And then you realize it’s not Bouchard at all; it’s Hungary’s Fanni Stollar, 18, another up-and-comer. 

But you have to have to look twice.

While Bouchard can’t be considered an up-and-comer any more, the whole concept is a bit … weird.

Tangled up in (Nike Paramount) Blue

In a few weeks, when Wimbledon rolls around, the end of the blue period will be upon us.

But until then, we are not yet done with the Nike Blue – Paramount Blue, officially – that was ubiquitous during the clay-court season.

It was a step above the yellow and green neons that fought a valiant battle for supremacy on the Nike players during the Indian Wells-Miami swing a couple of months ago.

But the French Open was absolutely overrun with it.

Here is just a small sample of the protagonists. They ranged from the juniors, to the pro players – even to legends like John McEnroe and Conchita Martiez.

There were two varieties for the women. The basic kit matched up with the shorts worn by the men.

Some of the women were chosen to wear the non-patterned Maria Sharapova kit : Russian juniors Olesya Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova, American Anastasia Anisimova, Croat Alja Tomljanovic and Canadian Françoise Abanda.

But the vestiges from the battling neons era remained.

Where are the blue socks?

It was all about the shoes and socks.


We asked several Nike players why the heck the shoes didn’t match. None of them had an answer; they just wear what they’ve given, or paid to wear.

But one did point this out: “The socks don’t match, either!”

There was a little of the green neon around the trim of the shirts – and of course the Swoosh. But the sock/shoe wardrobe malfunction was definitely out-of-the-box thinking.

They should all have been wearing Nadal’s shoes. And it would have been perfect.


As well, they are also 10 French Open, winning championship shoes. They could even have kept the personalized “Rafa” and No. 9 on the backs of them – just for good karma.

The only outfit that matched the shoes was the black version of the kit, worn by Genie Bouchard.


On a related note, the two junior girls’ finalists and all four girls in the doubles final were tangled up in Nike Paramount blue. So you can see where the future is headed once they all graduate to the pro tour.