Despite a plague of injuries in recent years, Rafael Nadal is hoping to make a return to the court in the Australian Open next week. Rafa has been off-court since November, nursing an ongoing knee injury. All going well, he will be returning for the year's first ATP Tournament, ready to defend his number 1 ranking, and he will be bringing the gun show with him.
According to Marca, the Spaniard will be going back to wearing his trademark sleeveless tank top if he hits the courts in Melbourne, after updating the design with his major sponsor, Nike. Whilst it may not seem a major departure for the World Number 1, it has been over 10 years since Rafa adopted sleeves, setting trends and standards of dress in the sport.
When he first blazed onto the international tennis scene, Rafa was as well known for his guns as he was for his forehand. In 2009, the same year as his last Aussie Open win, Rafa made a fashion decision with Nike, ditching his trademark singlets in favour of a more mature, Federer-esque look.
Fashion is big business for tennis brands, and high profile players such as Nadal, Federer and Murray play enourmous roles in the trends, and the resulting dollars their sponsors stand to make in merchandise sales. Creating a signature style is crucial for players and their personal brands. Fans clamour to snatch up their favourite players’ look and equipment, and Nike has been a long time beneficiary of Nadal’s appeal, forking out over US$10million to sponsor him in 2017.
The return to old-school Rafa will no doubt result in continued huge sales for Nike, and could see a wave of younger players follow suit. Sleeves or not, we’re fine with this return, as long as the Nadal ¾ pants stay in the history books.