In the only sport where a uniform is not required, why is it that tennis players are not more fashionable on court?

I think my love for tennis fashion started in 2007 when I was in 6th grade. I begged my mom to buy me the Nike Air Zoom Revive tennis shoes. The shoes were epic. They came with replaceable soles. The bottom of the shoes could be removed and replaced with another color. I had four different colors that I would alternate between, and I would coordinate these with whatever outfit I wore. I also remember being obsessed with every outfit Serena wore and saving enough money to buy Sharapova’s pomegranate perfume.

Now, I know that sponsorship deals play a very significant part in a tennis players salary. But if I was on tour, I would take a unique strategy to express my own individual personality. I would force my agent to reach out to my favorite designers. Why don’t designers like Gucci or Supreme or Off-White make outfits for tennis players? Why doesn’t MCM make tennis bags? Would it actually bring more value to the game for players to have spaces in their contracts for collaborations with different brands and designers?

To me, one of the coolest tennis fashion moments was when Michael Jordan created the Nike Zoom Vapor RF AJ3s for Roger Federer to wear at the 2016 US Open. Also, at last year’s US Open, Pharrell Williams collaborated with Adidas to make outfits for the Adidas sponsored players. This kind of collaboration between mogul celebrity and athlete is something I want to see more of. I used to like how Berdych had a unique sponsorship with H&M and would wear their clothing on court.

Changing the game like this breaks all barriers of the tradition of the classic sport of tennis. But, it’s time- it’s 2018. This is the decade of “athleisure” and casual sporting attire. I mean look, FILA (originally a tennis brand) has made a huge come back. It’s time to let players express themselves and their own personal style on court. I’m tired of seeing players wear the exact same outfit across the court from each other at high level tournaments. Where is the unique personality of the players? Maybe it’s too much to ask the players to drop their basic sponsorships and wear whatever they want. But what if high end designers and clothing brands started making custom made pieces for the players on tour?

In a sport where you can have your own personality, completely separate from the rest of the other players, why not express yourself? I respect players like Dominica Cibulkova and Michael Mmoh who appreciate fashion off the court. You can see Cibulkova off the court sporting Valentino dresses and Mmoh sporting Off-White apparel.

Tennis fashion has come a long way but why not take it further. Think about it, in the early 1900s, male players were seen and required to wear all white long pants and collared button up shirts. Women were required to wear ankle length skirts, lace corsets and the occasional pullover fur. Flash forward to the 80s and 90s where Agassi’s rebellious ensembles drew attention to the game. My favorite outfit of all time was Agassi’s 1990 US Open look against Pete Sampras. With highlighter yellow Nike biker shorts under a pair of short shorts, a coordinating Nike collared zip up and headband to match, he brought his unique wild style to the court. Agassi also rocked a pair of hoop earrings.

How fun was that to see something different from the average white button up and shorts? I also used to love the early 2000s Rafael Nadal look with the sleeveless Nike muscle shirt and Capri shorts complete with the bandana to match. One of my favorite women’s outfits was Serena’s 2002 Us Open Puma skin tight, catsuit-like spandex shorts and matching top. I also loved her 2004 US Open outfit. She was seen sporting a denim tennis skirt; black, crop tank; and black, knee-high Nike socks; with black shoes to match.

I want to see more personality on court. Individuality. I feel like the last time anyone really talked about a tennis player’s on court fashion style choice was during the 2010 French Open, where Venus Williams was seen wearing a lacy black dress with what looked like a red corset out lined into the dress, almost resembling lingerie. Under the dress she wore a pair of skin colored spandex. I remember her receiving criticism for the outfit, but I loved it. Her 2010 see-through sequined US Open dress also did not allure much to the crowd. But again, I loved it. Not just because of how it looked, but because she was expressing her personality through her style on court and outfits that she designed herself. Her 2011 Australian Open outfit had unique cutouts in the midsection. Now, Venus is an anomaly, as she designs all of her own outfits with her clothing brand EleVen. Nick Kyrgios almost has the idea and expresses himself with unique hair cuts and spandex tights under his shorts.

I want to start seeing tennis players express themselves through their on-court fashion, because they can. Look at NFL players. They can only go as far as wearing a pair of cleats with designs and drawings that they had hand painted on for them. Look at baseball players, they might be able to wear an extra chain or two. Look at basketball players. Aside from their shoe choice, they might be able to wear an arm sleeve. If I was playing at Indian Wells in a couple weeks, in an ideal world, I would wear a Moschino t-shirt dress with a pair of Nike Pro Combat Shorts underneath. And Lebrons for the wheels. I’d figure out a way to make them work. Players today should too.

Rachel Stuhlmann

Author Rachel Stuhlmann

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