Thursday May 21st, 2015

When competing on the red clay at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal favors the color blue, while defending French Open champion Maria Sharapova prefers particular dress styles. Nike created its 2015 French Open aesthetic with athlete’s preferences in mind, but also with a Parisian-inspired design for the new NikeCourt line. 

Expect to see French Breton-inspired stripes on Nike players in Paris. Sharapova’s dress features the stripes in traditional navy and white, while Grigor Dimitrov and Victoria Azarenka, for example, will wear stripes in brighter colors. And the stripes will play beyond the clay, showing up in practice apparel and off-court footwear too.

Courtesy of Nike

​“When we think about tennis today, we see a beautiful clash between tradition and progression,” says Joe Serino, vice president of apparel for NikeCourt. “Bright colors and bold patterns are challenging traditional white footwear and apparel.”

Serino says he sees a tension between the past and present in the game’s elite. “Players today are out to break the records of those who have come before them,” he says, “but despite that tension, there’s an inherent respect between the different generations. I think this stems from the fact that the personalities of the ‘80s and ‘90s are more similar to those of today than they are different.”

Ana Ivanovic's new French Open kit combines fashion and performance

And that “hint of rebelliousness and swagger” gives inspiration to NikeCourt, a Nike effort less than a year old that aims to create product that ranges well beyond the court, with in-match and practice apparel featuring technology meant to wick sweat from the body, ventilation zones for cooling and shapes that aim to reduce movement restriction and off-the-court lifestyle looks that often tie to classic tennis lines.

To help them accomplish that goal in France, Nike collaborated with fashion boutique colette to “reimagine” both the performance NikeCourt Zoom Vapor 9 and the off-court NikeCourt Tennis Classic shoes. Using their signature blue, colette created a look distinct for Paris, including a shoe specifically for the defending champ. Sharapova will wear the on-court collaboration, matching the colors and stripes in her dress, in a shoe that bears her logo on the back tab of the left sneaker and with five symbols on the midsole to honor her five majors. Along with the blue stripes and dots the boutique is known for, the sockliner contains Sharapova’s quote: “I am not the next anyone, I am the first Maria Sharapova.”

Courtesy of Nike

Working with Sharapova, Serino says, provides an exacting task. “She not only demands the very best performance innovation, but she also has a very developed and refined sense of style,” he says. “So her feedback is critical for us to achieve something that helps her both perform and look great on the court.”

With Sharapova opting for classic colors, NikeCourt also offers up the “irreverent spirit” of tennis in bright colors for other players. Nadal, though, won’t go stripe heavy, instead fully embracing his favorite blue in a gradient.

Courtesy of Nike

“Of course, (athletes) don’t all have the same taste, so we cater certain looks to certain players,” Serino says. “With nine titles on the red clay already, it’s safe to say that blue has been a good look for (Nadal).”

Nike hopes blue—and French Breton stripes—prove a good look for all its athletes at Roland Garros.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb


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