If not for the coronavirus pandemic, Wimbledon would have concluded this week. In some alternate universe, the winners, dressed sharply all in white, are being applauded while holding up a trophy or a big fancy plate. They’re probably wearing a couple of great watches, too. That’s because the worlds of watches and tennis have been conjoined for decades, as brands have attempted to align themselves with the sport’s country-club status and its ultra-marketable stars. Beyond the sport’s aesthetic appeal and luxury veneer, the sport is a perfect stage for timepieces because they can actually be worn during matches. The trend started all the way back in the ‘80s when Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Andre Agasssi wore their Ebel models on the court. Today, Nadal famously wears his Richard Mille during play, while Serena Williams racks up majors in Audemars Piguet. But no player has benefited from the watch world’s love affair with tennis quite like Roger Federer, who struck a deal with Rolex way back in 2006, and has amassed a world-class collection since.
Roger Federer’s Rolex GMT-Master II “Batman”
Practically every grail watch Rolex collectors have slobbered over in recent memory has been seen on Federer’s wrist. In 2011, he arrived at a press conference wearing a Rolex Daytona “Big Red,” while after winning the 2017 Australian Open, he put on the above “Batman” GMT. Photos like these are exactly why Rolex pays the Swiss legend: Federer basking in victory, holding a trophy aloft with his watch in plain sight, is about the quickest way you can connect your product to excellence. Rolex burnishes its brand by being in the right place at the right time. When Mercedes Gleitze swam the English Channel (the second time), she wore a Rolex Oyster. When Edmund Hillary mounted Everest, he wore a Rolex. Now, when Fed climbs to the top of the proverbial mountain in his sport—which he’s done more than anyone else in the history of the sport—he wears a Rolex.
Rafeal Nadal’s Richard Mille RM 27-03
There’s a saying in the sports world that the best ability is availability—that all the talent in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t stay on the court. The phrase applies to watches as well. It’s nice that Federer can show off his pieces before and after matches, but Nadal can wear his while applying a beatdown. The Richard Mille RM 27-03 is specially engineered to handle the force of Nadal’s swings, and light enough to not distract the obsessive and ritualistic Spaniard. The design, too, which features the color of the Spanish flag, is done just for Nadal.
Arthur Ashe’s Rolex Day-Date
There are several incredible photos of Ashe in his Rolex Day-Date, including this one of him wearing it while golfing. (Look at those plaid pants!) Ashe allegedly said he’d only ever wear Rolex, according to brand executive T. Walker Lloyd. Whether Ashe actually verbalized it or not, he lived that philosophy. Not only was he loyal to the brand, it appears he was committed to just one model. In the early part of his career, Ashe wore the Rolex Day-Date with a champagne dial seen above. Near the end of his life, he switched over to a watch that was nearly identical but for a dark-colored dial. The Day-Date is the watch touted as the choice for leaders and US presidents. Ashe lived up to that reputation. During his playing career, he challenged Apartheid in South Africa, and in 1972 helped form the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) to fight for better wages for players and more control over the tournament schedule. He became president of the organization two years after its founding.
Serena Williams’s Audemars Piguet Millenary
Serena Williams famously plays in an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore custom-made for her. The watch’s crown sits on the left side of the case, rather than the traditional right, so it doesn’t cut into her hand while playing. The watch even appears on Williams’s Wheaties box. That said, I wanted to feature another more unusual watch Williams has worn during play. The AP Millenary is not nearly as well known as the brand’s flagship models in the Royal Oak family tree but it’s just as interesting. The oval shaped-watch was first introduced back in the early ‘50s, but was discontinued not long after. AP brought it back in 1995, and has used the model as a canvas for some of its more challenging designs. Williams’s watch uses its stretched-out dial to feature a full traditional face alongside a peek into the machinery powering it. Williams wore a similar black model with her Off-White-designed kit during the 2018 US Open.
Björn Borg’s Cartier Tank
Borg’s career and ascent in the world of tennis is closely intertwined with John McEnroe’s (so much so there’s even a movie about it). The hotheaded McEnroe was a perfect foil to Borg, who was so collected on the court he earned the nickname “Ice Man.” It’s only fitting that the calm, cool, understated Borg would go with an equally cool and understated watch. The Cartier Tank was a favorite among icons of Borg’s era: Muhammad Ali and Princess Diana both wore one. Like Borg, there is something simple and elegant about the watch and the people drawn to it.
Boris Becker’s Ebel Sport Classic
German Boris Becker was one of the first tennis stars to wear a watch during matches. Although the name might not be familiar to the casual watch collector today, Ebel was a significant brand in the ‘70s and ‘80s. After the invention of quartz blew up the much-pricier Swiss watch industry, many brands flagged or shut down altogether. Ebel, on the other hand, rode the wave by making its own quartz movements, and introducing the quartz-driven Sport Classic line in 1977. The watches were a hit, and Ebel paired them with Formula 1 racers, golfers, and highly ranked tennis stars like Becker. Wearing the watch during games paved the way for folks like Williams and Nadal to promote their pieces on the court today.
Originally Appeared on GQ