Tennis and watchmaking combine to provide a unique way of appreciating how we spend our time.
By Logan R. Baker
“You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely.” —David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.
In David Foster Wallace’s interminable magnum opus, the sport of tennis is used throughout the novel’s 1,000-plus page count as a running metaphor for the slow crawl of time. I believe that same quote can be applied to how many of us feel about fine timepieces. Our passion for the passage of time and the mechanical power that goes along with it is limitless until it’s gone forever. By staring at the guillochéd dial of a precious watch for hours, we transcend what it means to exist in the moment and understand the beauty and equality that time grants us all. We cherish the chaos and wonder of existence as it constantly moves and the tragic quality that goes along with forever tracking our moments on the wrist. But, at the same time, we feel the power of time by comprehending its meaning and making it work for us—as well as making these seconds count. All at once, a watch can be melancholic and potent, kinetic and enduring.
Brands around the globe have realized that this specific desire for transcending the limits of time applies to both the centuries-old science of horology and the sport of tennis by connecting the two through various partnerships. Each of the four Grand Slams maintains an official and mutually beneficial timing partner: Rolex at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Longines at the French Open, and Citizen powers the clock in Flushing Meadows for the U.S. Open.
Powerful watch marques also reach out to individual tennis players to create influential timepieces and branding that reach millions of sport fans and watch geeks everywhere. The three most important tennis players of the post-Sampras era all maintain exclusive partnerships with independent brands: Roger Federer with Rolex, Rafael Nadal with Richard Mille, and Novak Djokovic with Seiko.
These partnerships make sense given each player’s personality and playing style. The fiery Spaniard Nadal teaming up with the avant-garde Richard Mille, the elegance of Federer that could be matched only by the world’s most famous Swiss watchmaker, and the multifaceted Djokovic partnering with Seiko’s industry-disrupting technological prowess.
Other brands maintain a larger-than-life presence as well.
Audemars Piguet notably includes Serena Williams and last year’s U.S. Open champion, Stanislas Wawrinka, in its large roster of world-class athletes that includes global basketball phenom LeBron James.
Rado worked with Andy Murray until a few years ago and maintains a relationship with Agnieszka Radwanska while sponsoring numerous professional tournaments around the world.
While watchmaking appears in nearly every facet of the game, from Challengers events to the holy lawn at Centre Court of the Wimbledon Championships, Rolex is the behemoth with the largest presence throughout the sport. The official timekeeper of two out of the four major Grand Slams, Rolex also partners with players of every level. In addition to 2015’s top male endorsement earner across all sports, Roger Federer, Rolex has sponsored legends such as Björn Borg, Chris Evert, Justine Henin, and Rod Laver; current players such as Juan Martín del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Milos Raonic, Angelique Kerber, and Caroline Wozniacki; and rising stars such as Dominic Thiem and Eugenie Bouchard.
They also serve as official timekeepers for the ATP and WTA year-end finals, the Davis Cup, the Monte Carlo Masters Series, the Shanghai Masters, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, the Miami Open, and the Rogers Cup.
Rolex began its storied history of supporting athletes in 1926, after Hans Wilsdorf claimed to have invented the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, the Rolex Oyster. To prove his claim, he gave an Oyster to the young swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, who swam the English Channel just a year later with the Oyster on her wrist. Unsurprisingly, the watch came out as accurate as it had entered after Gleitze swam the 10-mile Channel. In this way, she became the brand’s first testimonee and thus set the standard of excellence for all future athletes with whom the Swiss brand would partner.
Last month, at the start of the French Open, Richard Mille added to its lineup of extremely-light and shock-resistant timepieces created in tandem with Rafael Nadal by unveiling the RM 27-03 Tourbillon, a compellingly complex watch that Nadal will be wearing for the rest of 2017. The new watch is the same size as previous models but this time comes in a bright yellow and red that is meant to recall the flag of Nadal’s home country. The limited-edition timepiece is also a record-setter as it can withstand shocks up to 10,000 Gs.
In September of 2017, Seiko will unveil a new wristwatch inspired by the precision play of Novak Djokovic and directly influenced by the global sport. The Novak Djokovic Limited Edition Astron SSE143 features the name of the four Grand Slam host cities (Melbourne, Paris, London, and New York) lined across the bezel in yellow, as well as the tennis scoring system of love, 15, 30, and 40 surrounding the dual-time subdial. Each watch will feature Djokovic’s signature on the caseback.
The intersection of watches and tennis doesn’t provide just opportunities for merchandising and brand partnerships but also a poetic metaphor for how we spend time and the battles we choose to fight. It is next to impossible to win every point in a tennis match, and in timekeeping it is hardly reasonable to ensure every second of the day is spent wisely, but with a little understanding of the philosophy behind the pastimes, the rewards for each point played and minute spent can be bountiful.