Over one week has passed since the dramatic, history-making final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick—yet aside from Federer’s record-breaking 15th major win, one element of the match has remained at the forefront of many fans’ and analysts’ minds: the now infamous “15” jacket.
An obsession over small embroidery. A sudden hatred for gold stitching. “Ridiculous attire.” Describe the offending article how you please—it seems that this piece of sartorial manufacturing has touched a nerve in tennis circles.
Seemingly presumptuous, arrogant, and brash to tennis neutrals and fans of anyone but Federer, the idea that this jacket was already made has illustrated, in material form, a tarnishing of the Swiss star’s image.
Opinions are divided. The crux of the matter: Did Federer believe so strongly that the final would be a cakewalk, did he so confidently anticipate collecting his 15th Slam trophy and sixth Wimbledon win as soon as the semifinals were complete, that he immediately ordered a jacket to be made with indicative ornamentation?
Or did Nike have the upper hand in proceedings, either expecting Federer to win and encouraging him to carry the modified jacket in his gold bag, or delivering it to the victor in the aftermath of his five-set, four-hour marathon?
Both of these latter explanations assume that the jacket was more a management-level marketing tool rather than a Federer-induced fantasy and self-aggrandizing blip in the Federer consciousness.
By viewing the footage from various television channels (and, perhaps most importantly, remembering Federer’s more humble and consistent character), the last of these explanations—that a representative produced the jacket from off-court after the match—is correct.
Even if we assume that Federer and Nike collaborated on this idea, one must agree that Federer could never have been confident enough, nor arrogant enough, to have the jacket ready and waiting in his bag.
Yes, he celebrated his victory by having the jacket decorated with a “15” logo. But given the size and position of the embellishment, as well as the fact that no attention was drawn to the logo until the interviewer made Federer turn around to show the global televised audience, there should be no need for such hullabaloo.
This moment will not pass again—Federer, and anyone else, for that matter, would only have one chance to celebrate a record-breaking 15th Slam victory. Surely we should respect this feat and a recognition of it, combined with Federer’s understated grace and sartorial elegance, in such a moment.
Remember, please, that Federer himself faced disaster in last year’s final against Rafael Nadal—surely he could know how terrible it felt to be on the receiving end of defeat without even the addition of a celebratory jacket for the victor.
For someone to appear on court with the jacket and for Federer to not mention it himself until pushed neatly represents Federer’s understanding of history (and fashion) as well as a subtle humility—indications, therefore, that the jacket was produced as a result of marketing demand rather than a prophetic demand for attention.
In this regard, it is not Federer that should be mauled—instead his Nike representative, or managerial leader, should ideally take the flak. Whoever is tasked with Federer’s image needs to remember why he is so rightfully adored by young and old.
Federer rose to the pinnacle of men’s tennis as a populist champ, an artist and player who characterised quintessential Swiss restraint and precision. Simultaneously, the Swiss is a citizen of the world, a fashion enthusiast, thus there is no fundamental problem with the odd simple embellishment or interest in on- and off-court clothing.
Federer fans and followers may even agree that the suspense and surprise over what the Swiss will wear next is another enthralling element to his spellbinding power.
Certainly no one else could pull off his fashions, and no other tennis player has propagated such interest in a clothing range (Federer’s RF hats, as well as his shoes and match garments, are frequently sold out around the world).
Yet for the majority of the tennis world—and other neutral viewers who watched the annual and traditional spectacle of a Wimbledon final this year—this latest manifestation from the Nike Design Studio introduced a gauche megastar content with morally rising above the rest.
Roger Federer will hopefully be remembered by the number of his Major titles, his number of weeks at No.1, and numerous other records. But we must ensure that many more than a few tennis fans and analysts remember him—by ensuring that his image does not overhaul his universal character, artistry, and skill.
(Published on Bleacher Report; July 13th, 2009)
Tags: federer, tennis, wimbledon