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The Hard-Court Runway: Fashion at the U.S. Open

Between the U.S. Open and Fashion Week, the stylish spectacle on display in New York over the past couple weeks has enticed a bout of rubbernecking so tiresome that when the dust settles, the whiplash will set in.

Last night’s men’s final featured a matchup that took the odds-makers by surprise and bored the fashion critics to sleep. The two finalists, Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Croatia’s Marin Čilić, entered the tournament as underdogs and dressed to look the part. Čilić pulled out the victory, his first career Grand Slam title, wearing a shirt made by Chinese sportswear brand Li Ning that made tastefully oblique reference to oil spills; it gave him the narrow aesthetic upper-hand over Nishikori, whose relatively plain outfit was designed by Uniqlo.

Of course, the anticlimactic championship couture did not detract from the well-established legacy of hard-court vogue in Flushing, Queens. Wardrobe stunts are part of the tradition at the U.S. Open, where players are thankfully unencumbered by the stodgy dress code of Wimbledon or the Frenchy refinement of Roland Garros. Consider bold pioneer of the fashion faux pas, Andre Agassi, who elevated the garish ‘90s tourist-bohemian patterns and laughably unconvincing mullet wig to championship status. (A possible factor to his wardrobe decisions, Agassi’s use of crystal meth was only revealed after his retirement.) Until the hairpiece cost him the French Open and he decided to go bald, Agassi was sporting Williamsburg looks while raking in Wall Street prize money.

Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

 

Agassi’s arch-rival and compatriot, Pete Sampras, though more moderately dressed, also donned some memorable outfits in his day. Since then, American men’s tennis fashion has suffered a drought, with the notable exception of the abstract subway map pattern on Andy Roddick’s t-shirt and trucker hat in 2004, designed by Reebok.

A measure of patriotic redemption has come in the form of doubles team and identical twins the Bryan brothers, who nabbed their 100th career title this year, wearing the exact same outfit head to toe—their signature style, but one seldom adopted by other doubles pairs, perhaps because, in runway-speak, it’s just too “matchy-matchy.”

On the women’s side, perennial fashion plates Serena and Venus Williams have contributed their share of radical on-court fashion, rocking hefty bling, beaded braids with braces, a “cat suit,” and, more recently, knee-high black biker boots (which actually turned out to be shin sleeves, like the kind of “boots” included in store-bought Halloween costumes).

Photo by Rex Features

 

This year, Serena waltzed to her sixth U.S. Open title, wearing a snow-leopard-print dress by Nike. Her sister’s blue and white dress-visor combo, designed by her own clothing line, EleVen, represented a turn-down from the louder outfits she’s worn in the past, e.g. the frill “skirt” and flesh-toned spandex she wore at the 2010 French Open, about which she was moved to clarify during a press conference that it had “nothing to do with the rear—it just so happens that I have a very well-developed one.” Having posed nude for ESPN The Magazine earlier this year, it didn’t have to be about the rear.

Photo by @federfan07 (Instagram)

 

For Roger Federer, the player with the fattest trophy case of all time, it was only appropriate that he arrive in Flushing looking G’d up from the feet up: hence the collaboration with Michael Jordan on the NikeCourt Zoom Vapor AJ3s, which feature his trademark “RF” design on the side and the iconic Air Jordan logo on the tongue. Federer’s all-black outfit was reminiscent of the Gillette ad in which he starred alongside Thierry Henry and Tiger Woods—a contrast to the white and gold blazer he wore last year at Wimbledon. Even in the twilight of his career, he is Skywalker in London, Vader in New York.

Photos courtesy of Touchstone Pictures and Island Def Jam

 

While sportswear brands design sleeker and higher-tech outfits for their players to model on court, popular off-court styles seem to lag some 20 to 40 years behind the most modern looks. The new AJ3s are premium, but they’ll never enjoy the phenomenal popularity of the adidas Stan Smiths, for which demand has been so sustained that more than 100 editions have been released— among them, collaborations with BAPE, Pharrell Williams, Young Jeezy, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and Kermit the Frog— too many for even Wikipedia to keep track of. Similarly, Ralph Lauren’s futuristic t-shirts for the ball boys, which featured built-in sensors to track their vital signs, won’t soon reach the iconic status of Fila collared shirt and headband look sported by Bjorn Borg and reinterpreted through the decades by Richie Tenenbaum and Frank Ocean.

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