Roger Federer. Wimbledon, 2009. The then longest men’s major final in history; a five set, 77-game thriller against Andy Roddick. But of greatest significance? His jacket.
An RF-monogrammed zip-up with gold piping, the jacket sported the number 15 – the record-breaking total of grand slam titles Federer had won upon his match victory – in cursive embroidery.
Was it presumptuous? Had Fed brought it out hidden in his bag in quiet hope? Or did a Nike representative hand it to him before the trophy presentation? Whatever it was, the jacket generated plenty of column inches, just like Federer’s attire throughout that year’s tournament. Take the suit trousers teamed with a military-inspired jacket – a sort of All England Club Sergeant Pepper – under which he wore a tailored waistcoat, only stripping down to shorts after the warmup. Then there were the subtly pinstriped shirts, or even gold-accented trainers. This was the kind of aesthetic panache Federer was becoming known for.
Now, with last week’s news of his retirement, following Serena Williams’ announcement in August, tennis (and sport in general) has lost one of its most stylish protagonists. Federer has had quite the sartorial journey. From a roll call of dodgy hairstyles (peroxide home dye job, awkward top-knot, greasy pony-tail, and wearing his suit trousers back-to-front, to the best friend of US Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour. Federer is a frequent front-row attendee, Rolex ambassador and designer. Oh, and according to LVMH chief Bernard Arnault, a “living god”.
It is an unfortunate cliche with stylish men, but Federer credits his wife, Mirka, with his initial fashion awakening, once telling GQ: “I used to wear jogging shoes, jeans and a practice shirt, then when Mirka met me, she would look and go, ‘Errr, are you sure about this look?’
“Then, I started really getting into it. I was travelling more and going to different cities and meeting interesting people. The next thing you know, you look around yourself – maybe it’s in Milan, in New York, wherever – and you notice everyone is giving it a good effort.”
Ever since, Federer’s sleek, sophisticated style off the court has matched his gentlemanly one-handed backhand and balletic volleys on it. Off-court, he loves a turtle neck; a smart, well-cut wool coat with the collar worn up; sweater draped over his shoulders; double-breasted suits. But he is also not afraid to mix it up with bomber, denim and leather jackets, gingham button-downs, colourful sneakers.
He has hands-on design involvement with Uniqlo, with whom he signed a $300 million, 10-year deal in 2018, ending his longstanding association with Nike. Federer approached the Japanese brand, famous for its comfortable, pleasing basics, and he collaborates closely with designer Christophe Lemaire, who is creative director at Uniqlo’s research and development centre in Paris; and he has certain edicts (no yellow). Comfort is his number one priority, closely followed by flair.
Separately, Federer has a footwear deal with the Swiss brand On, with his line rather amusingly – to British audiences at least – called The Roger Collection. His signature shoe, The Roger Pro, which began life with a 3D scan of his own foot, sold out when it launched last year. Meanwhile, the Roger Advantage model is Stan Smith levels of understated.
He has become an astute analyst of his personal style past, and that of his sport in general. He recognises, for instance, the long-gone days of the looser fit, and now actively embraces a sleeker silhouette on the court, telling GQ magazine: “Was I crazy to wear XL at 17? You want to think you’re big and buff. Now [players] look stronger and slimmer.”
He (perhaps cheekily, but entirely accurately) used Rafa Nadal’s unfortunate capri-wearing era as an example of how important image is for the modern sports star. But Federer refuses to be harsh on his younger self about the pony-tail era: “Everything was part of an evolutionary process. Do I regret having long hair? No, I’m happy I had it and I’m happy I got rid of it again!”
He is proud of his innovative approach, including his striking all-black ensembles at the US Open, which gave the vibe of a racquet-wielding assassin during night sessions. Of his time with Nike – which he fought for more than two years for the return of the rights to the RF monogram – he told GQ magazine:
“We tried to push the envelope – sometimes a bit too much. But it was fine. These moments stay memorable, and I was willing to take chances. I’ve tried to bring a little bit of style into tennis.”
Sometimes he did go too far. At least, according to the Wimbledon officials who banned his orange-soled shoes in 2013, deeming them a breach of the strict all-white dress policy. But, he has never been reproached, as such, in the way that, say, Williams was (most memorably when the president of the French Tennis Federation appeared to call her Roland Garros catsuit disrespectful). Federer has never been accused of caring more for style over substance, which perhaps reflects enduring double standards.
Although Federer has – along with Williams on the women’s side of the sport – done more than anyone to progress the modern tennis aesthetic and bring athletes into the world of fashion, he is not, strictly speaking, the first.
Federer has alluded to the fact his preppy, V-neck knit cardigans worn on Centre Court were a throwback to the likes of tennis champions René Lacoste and Fred Perry (who founded their eponymous brands in 1933 and 1952 respectively). Suzanne Lenglen, the charismatic women’s world number one in the 1920s, had a propensity for walking on to the court in glamorous furs. Arthur Ashe played in Buddy Holly specs, and, when fashions changed, aviators. And you might say that Andre Agassi cultivated a dubious kind of “pirate chic”. But, especially in the men’s game, Federer’s influence on his younger colleagues and the wider tennis sphere is undeniable.
The Bulgarian player and Vogue favourite Grigor Dimitrov dabbles in modelling. Flame-haired young gun Jannik Sinner has graced the covers of GQ and Icon magazines, and, earlier this year, he announced a partnership with Gucci. Italy’s chiselled Matteo Berrettini has a capsule collection with Hugo Boss. Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime looked particularly dapper at last year’s Met Gala in New York. Even Andy Murray has a range of sports clothing, AMC.
It’s not unfeasible that Federer will move into fashion full-time after his retirement. First, he plays his final tournament in London this weekend. Last month, Williams wore a diamond-encrusted cape to bid her own farewell at the US Open. The bar is set high. All eyes on Federer then – and his jacket.