Is tennis fashion in hibernation? Fans miss the magic of the past.

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Wilson Blade 9

In the realm of tennis fashion, the yesteryears shimmered with a vibrant tapestry of innovation and glamour, capturing the attention of global audiences. Approximately from 2007 until 2017, each major tournament unfurled a spectacle of attention-grabbing outfits, igniting fervent discussions and anticipation with every new release.

It was an era where the courts became runways, and players were not just athletes but trendsetters. However, the landscape of tennis couture has undergone a gradual transformation, seemingly losing its once-thriving allure. A shift has occurred, leaving many to ponder: are the exciting days of WTA fashion gone for good?

Maria Sharapova at the 2017 US Open, wearing a custom tennis dress designed by Riccardo Tisci for Nike

The long gone glory days of WTA fashion

During that enchanting epoch, the tennis courts were graced by a parade of iconic fashion statements.

The ethereal grace of Maria Kirilenko adorned in Adidas by Stella McCartney’s unique pastel-colored ensembles was nothing short of perfection. Ana Ivanovic exuded elegance in her Adidas attire, while the charismatic Jelena Jankovic effortlessly carried off various brands from Reebok, Anta, to Fila. Venus Williams debuted her extravagant EleVen designs, a bold and lavish addition to the court’s fashion palette. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a legend in her own right within the tennis fashion realm, pushed boundaries.

Grand Slam champions Kim Clijsters and Svetlana Kuznetsova struck a perfect balance with their perennially sporty Fila looks. Even Lotto, which now creates basic outfits, then surged with excitement through Agnieszka Radwanska’s lace dresses, unconventional metallic colorways, and busy prints.

The pinnacle of that era belonged to Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, reigning atop this illustrious group, not just as tennis legends but also as fashion royalty, epitomizing Nike‘s stronghold in both sport and style. Sharapova’s day and night New York dresses adorned with Swarovski crystals and meticulously coordinated with matching jackets, shoes, and bags, still live rent-free in our heads.

Serena Williams at the 2016 Australian Open, wearing a neon yellow crop top and pleated skirt.

The gradual decline, Nike moves focus away from tennis

A subtle shift began to occur probably as early as in 2018 or so, while the real decline became evident during and after the pandemic. The subsequent generation failed to produce stars with the same transcendent appeal beyond tennis, leading companies to reassess their dedication to the sport.

Nike, once a pinnacle of tennis fashion, no longer boasts a marketing team solely responsible for tennis. According to Courts, in an unofficial discussion with Nike’s Global Head of Tennis in January of 2023, it came to light that the decision had been made to integrate tennis into the generic brand marketing division, despite the sport’s growing popularity with a record number of participants and viewers.

Efforts to develop new icons like Naomi Osaka and Emma Raducanu have fallen short in achieving the level of global stardom previously enjoyed by Sharapova and Williams. Notably, a custom dress was designed for the reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka at the 2023 US Open — while absolutely welcome, this gesture inadvertently accentuated the vast disparity between the former era of glory and the ongoing endeavors to resurrect its grandeur.

The pandemic was the final blow

The pandemic’s disruptive force dealt an additional blow to an already struggling tennis fashion scene, as economic constraints and logistical challenges constrained innovation and marketing endeavors. However, amidst this bleak scenario, emerging brands have found a foothold, albeit with limited player representation, fostering a landscape where smaller brands vie for recognition.

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek is the only WTA player who wears On from head to toe.

Tennis fashion today

Currently, tennis fashion appears to lack the vibrancy and charm that defined its peak, which could partly be attributed to the elevated standards set within the industry. It’s becoming increasingly challenging to create never-before-seen and unprecedented designs.

Moreover, contract reductions and the absence of dominant brands have led numerous players to explore emerging labels that offer greater freedom of choice and creative input. Consequently, many companies are represented by only a handful of players, showcasing a diversification in brand affiliations within the WTA Tour.

For instance, Donna Vekic has ventured into her own line with Uomo Sport, while Ajla Tomljanovic promotes Original Penguin. Leylah Fernandez introduced Lululemon to the WTA Tour, marking a notable addition. Marta Kostyuk secured the distinction of becoming Wilson’s first complete ambassador. FP Movement successfully landed deals with Grand Slam champions Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin. Marketa Vondrousova proudly wears J.Lindeberg, while Jelena Ostapenko stands out in Latvian brand DK ONE, adding diversity to the spectrum of brand affiliations.

A significant milestone emerges with Ons Jabeur in 2024, the first player to endorse a brand from Saudi Arabia, reflecting the evolving global landscape of tennis fashion. Notably, world No.1 Iga Swiatek stands as the sole player on the Hologic WTA Tour sporting On apparel.

Former Adidas star Jelena Ostapenko now wears Latvian apparel, DK ONE.

What does the future hold?

During the zenith of tennis fashion, we were oblivious to its pinnacle; it simply felt like the norm. Yet, with the passage of those glory days, we now recognize them as the epitome of excellence. Life operates in cycles, marked by inevitable fluctuations. I expect a resurgence in tennis fashion, albeit possibly in a different form. Given the right circumstances, tennis will likely embrace a new era characterized by glamorous attire and groundbreaking, innovative designs.

Likewise, in the case of Nike, I don’t believe they’ve forsaken the sport entirely; rather, they seem to await the opportune moment to reclaim their dominance in tennis. However, the landscape of tennis fashion may undergo substantial changes by then.

The proliferation of smaller brands in the industry is a positive development. Yet, the challenge lies in none having yet captured our imagination entirely. There remains an open space for a brand to assert its authority in women’s tennis, and I hope these brands recognize this opportunity.

Your opinion matters

I’m happy to acknowledge reader Karo for sparking inspiration on this topic. Now, I invite all of you to share your thoughts in the comments below. Do you long for the bygone days of tennis fashion, or do you believe the current state is satisfactory? How do you envision the future of tennis fashion unfolding? Your perspectives and insights are invaluable, and I look forward to engaging in a meaningful discussion with all of you. Thank you for joining in!

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Glad I’m not the only one to notice boring tennis fashion these days. Maria Kirilenko in Stella McCartney always looked fabulous, I didn’t really liked Caro Wozniacki in that fits. Maria Sharapova – always classy, I loved her style while Serena – not so much. I really like Aryna’s custom dress, reminds me of Sharapova times a little 🙂 I kind of hope that other brands will do something less mundane in the future.

  2. I would LOVE to see tennis fashion come back in..agree since the pandemic, it’s been horrible. Most lines..crazy patterns, colors together..nothing makes sense..we need a new Nike ambassador like Sharapova and Serena. Also another Carolyn Woz for Adidas..Stella is even gone..

  3. Kolia24, Kirilenko in Stella was literally a match made in heaven. I was mesmerized by her on-court looks at the time. Stella’s designs were unparalleled and uniquely out of this world, accentuating Kirilenko’s beauty flawlessly. I agree that the transition to Wozniacki felt somewhat like a step down in terms of fashion synergy. As for Aryna’s custom dress, it was good and a welcome move by Nike, but it was far from the glamour of Sharapova’s meticulously coordinated US Open ensembles.

    NCJenn, Stella left tennis long before the pandemic. Undoubtedly, it stands as one of the most significant losses for WTA fashion. It left a void that has yet to be filled.

  4. Thanks for the shout out, Marija! I really enjoyed reading your piece- you covered everything, and really well written too.
    It’s great you have clarified Nike’s current position within the tennis landscape. It’s clear there is no dedicated tennis team as their current designs are really generic
    You captured that heady era of tennis fashion so well- there really was so much excitement around upcoming designs and styles. I would also say Nicole Vaidisova wore some fantastic Reebok dresses during this golden era- I know you mentioned Jankovic, but some dresses were exclusive to Vaidisova. Also, Diane von Fürstenberg (Reebok) was another designer involved in tennis fashion during this time.
    I really hope you’re right Marija, and we can look forward to some great designs and innovative style. I do think there needs to be a leading player who can carry off these designs, much like Serena or Maria. Back in the 90s, Mary Pierce reintroduced the tennis dress after years of players wearing separates. We need someone of the same ilk, someone daring enough to shake things up again! Lastly, my current favourite brand is Wilson. They really have produced some classic, yet modern pieces for Marta Kostyuk.

  5. Karo, I’m glad you like how I presented the situation. My perspective is that nothing lasts forever and it will be true for the current slump as well. I think that women’s tennis, first and foremost, currently lacks a star that is widely known outside of the tennis world — level that a grandma living in let’s say Romania, not interested in tennis, knows who she is. The past era was such, with Sharapova and the Williamses. Also, we must have grown accustomed to certain designs and it takes more to wow us nowadays. Realistically, there are many stunning outfits nowadays, but they don’t seem to provide the same effects and evoke the same level of emotions as it was the case in the golden era.

  6. Can we agree Serena Williams 2022 USO night dress was the last glamour we saw from Nike.

    But I cannot choose the best outfit between Sharapova 06 RG tutu, 06 USO black, 07 Wimbledon swan dress, or 07 USO red swarovski dress..they are all too glamorous..

    Nike should really pick one more ambasador to give a line for their own, I would pick Saba since she is keep on winning, but I think Nike someone more feminine n model figure to represent the feminine style of Nike, not Raducanu since she is on a losing streak, somebody like Mladenovic, maybe Qinwen?

  7. Ian, I think that Osaka’s recent AO dress was glamorous as well, but it didn’t have the same impact since she lost so early and showed sub-par form. As for Sharapova, my all-time favorites are her 2007 US Open dresses and the tuxedo-style Wimbledon outfit from 2008. Although, both Serena and Maria introduced dozens of memorable dresses.

    I agree that Nike should pick one ambassador, but there’s no one at the level of Serena and Maria, in terms of their on-court results, charisma, marketability, etc. Naomi Osaka was close enough, but she’s been lacking that consistency. Maybe Coco Gauff can develop into that type of player. She’s so young and already very famous.

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