Single Fault

Nadal and Feder at Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal may have bested Roger Federer at Wimbledon, but the defeated, in classic tennis apparel, outclassed the victor, who went slumming in a sleeveless, collarless muscle shirt.  Ready for a body slam, not a Grand Slam, all that Nadal was lacked was some visible tattoos.

The visual contrast of these two players reminded Izzy of an excellent, if little known, book on the history of tennis: Sporting Gentlemen: Men’s Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar.  Written by E. Digby Baltzell, the sociologist who both coined the term “WASP” and taxonomized that species, the book discusses the decline of tennis from a game of amateur sportsmen upholding an aristocratic code of honor (e.g., the unwritten rule that close calls go to your opponent) into a mercenary high-stakes sport in which players throw temper tantrums on the court.  In the modern era, Arthur Ashe epitomized the old ideal, while John McEnroe represented all that was rotten.  Sartorially at least, Nadal rejects the gentlemanly tradition.

Federer’s white polo shirt, interestingly, traces back to the French tennis player René Lacoste himself.  According to Wikipedia:

While winning the 1927 U.S. Open championship, René Lacoste of France wore something that he himself had created: a white, short-sleeve shirt made exclusively of a light knitted fabric called “jersey petit piqué” that served to wick away moisture due to heat, the very first version of performance clothing in sports. The shirt was a radical departure from tennis fashion of the day, which called for stiff, woven, long-sleeve oxfords. In 1923 during the Davis Cup, the American press nicknamed Lacoste “the Alligator” because of a bet made about an alligator-skin suitcase. With no cognate in his native tongue, the nickname was changed to le crocodile in French. The nickname stuck due to his tenacious behavior on the courts, never giving up his prey. Lacoste’s friend, Robert George, drew him a crocodile which Lacoste then embroidered on the blazer he wore on the courts.

Once he retired from the sport, Lacoste went into the shirt business, savvily putting a crocodile logo on the shirt’s breast—the first time a trademark was placed on the exterior of clothing.   If that wasn’t the Mark of the Beast, Izzy doesn’t know what is.

4 Responses to “Single Fault”

  1. Matthew Kimel July 10, 2008 at 7:25 am #

    haha, who do you think will win next time?

  2. Occasus July 10, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    One of my biggest peeves about Nadal is his terrible sartorial style. He’s very proud of those arms! (And get a hair cut!) Give me Sampras or Federer any day.

    But who knows – Agassi improved his sense of style greatly as he aged. Maybe Nadal will follow suit.

  3. ChaChaHeels July 11, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    Watching these two men play, I was struck by how much more composed and less “overheated” Federer appeared to be in his clothing. I wondered if it was because Nadal was so vocal during his play–but it was also obvious he was just wearing what seemed to be a much more involved costume. Big head kerchief, sweaty and stringy long hair, huge wristbands, bands around both knees, shorts that were too clumsy and long…Federer looked like he was acting effortlessly in his simple polo and tennis shorts, while Nadal seemed to be struggling all the way to his (slight!) victory.

    Maybe Nadal’s more aggressive “look” was his way of overcompensating for feeling slightly inferior to Federer and his long established abilities. In any case, it worked for him…this time.