As the players gear up for the start of the 2016 French Open in Paris on May 22, their various sponsors have begun to release special uniforms for the red clay.
France has a signature color and Nike will embrace all shades of that color by dressing some of the game’s biggest stars in blue polos, pleated skirts and crews.
Grigor Dimitrov says dressing for Paris requires pairing colors with the red clay. “Red clay is a very distinct color, so we try to find outfits that go well with the clay,” Dimitrov says. “I work closely with the Nike designers and I often give them input. I definitely care about my outfits more than other players on tour.”
Fashion has always been an interest for the 25-year-old Bulgarian. “I think my look is always evolving,” he says. “I have had some incredible outfits over the past few years. My look has become a bit more sophisticated of late, but it still is very fresh and young.”
Dimitrov isn’t the only Nike star feeling blue. Serena Williams will play in the NikeCourt Premier Dress—a nod to French elegance, Nike designers say, by using traditional design elements such as yarn-dyed cuffs, a banded neckline and box pleats.
Madison Keys also has pleats, hers in a skirt with a waistband designed taken from training apparel. She’ll wear a sleeveless polo with an updated blade collar—a more streamlined version without the fold of fabric.
You’ll still see Rafael Nadal in his signature crew, while Roger Federer will sport a slim-fit polo with a traditional tennis collar.
The footwear choices include shades of blue to tie to the apparel. Nike also created a Paris-specific line of training and off-court apparel for its players, including a cotton pocket T-shirt with a graphic pattern on the front inspired by the final point of Andre Agassi’s 1999 crazy clay court comeback to win the French Open.
While Nike has made blue its color of choice, Adidas has done something completely different with its look for the French Open. Partnering with Y-3 yet again, Adidas Tennis was inspired by the “dazzle camouflage” from the 1940s and 1950s for a stripe-driven twist meant not to conceal, but be noticed.
“Tennis attire seems to be a predefined category, which is something we wanted to disrupt,” says Lawrence Midwood, Y-3 design director. “And while collaborations like these are only successful when there is a certain level of discomfort between the parties involved, in the end we managed to create a collection that truly excels functionally and visually."
The designs weren’t just a fashion statement, though. "We have developed the collection in close cooperation with our top athletes. From concept through on-court testing and ultimately wearing it in Paris, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Ana Ivanovic, Tomas Berdych, Kristina Mladenovic, Sasha Zverev, Dominic Thiem and many other players have played a key role in perfecting both the clothing and footwear," says Graham Williamson, Adidas senior tennis director. "We designed the apparel as to minimize distractions for the players. The result is a very athlete-focused, functional approach to tennis attire.”
Williamson says the cuts of the tops aim for freedom of movement, while the shoes include a new herringbone outsole pattern and more mesh in the upper improves breathability.
PHOTOS: FRENCH OPEN 2015 FASHION HITS & MISSES
Novak Djokovic, who wears Uniqlo apparel, sports the signature Novak Pro Adidas shoe and will take the courts in Paris in a white-red colorway.
Off the court, Adidas commemorated the 2016 event at Roland Garros by collaborating with French textile house Prelle to create two Stan Smith models in floral cotton-silk.
Bob Smith, New Balance’s tennis designer, says he took the entire clay court season—played primarily in Spain and Italy, along with Paris—into account, using blues and greens for Milos Raonic’s kit meant to evoke the Mediterranean Sea, all while “sitting neatly across the color wheel from the terra cotta playing surface, allowing the outfits to really pop for the spectators in the stands and on television.”
The blues and greens of the shirt match the colors of the socks and shoes, offset by a pair of white shorts. “As designers for tennis at New Balance, we’re always keenly aware of the environment where our kits will be worn,” Smith says.
Andy Murray has never been one to fall into the trappings of fashion since signing with Under Armour. Largely wearing blacks and whites over the last several Grand Slam tournaments, Murray will provide a slight bit of color for the French Open in 2016, with his largely black outfit trimmed with military green and a subtle camo pattern. His black shirt will feature jacquard print and venting in gray, matching black shorts and black shoes with the pattern across the upper. He’ll even adopt a black ballcap. But those wristbands, you’ll see military green in those.
For Sloane Stephens, Under Armour took a different tact. Her blue and “bright pale moon accents” contrast sharply with the clay of Roland Garros. The four-way stretch dress features an asymmetrical strap design and pairs with accessories in blue and white for a light and airy on-court aesthetic.
While the game’s biggest stars want you to notice their game, the brands that dress them want you to see their looks—styles that differ from Grand Slam to Grand Slam and personality to personality.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.