Whether they're red, blue, bright yellow, pink, gleaming white, or black, the constantly changing outfits worn by Roger Federer at the 20 or so tournaments that he plays every year are always a topic of conversation. "Normally I have around 12 different collections every year," he explains, but it's the four Grand Slam tournaments, which are played on different surfaces, that set the tone. "Usually I prefer solid colors for the majors – like deep red, blue, or classic white," he continues. "And I like the shirts to have differently colored details that really stand out." Every now and again he surprises fans at the less high-profile tournaments by wearing extremely vibrant neon colors or, as in the fall of 2010, a knockout pink. Roger thinks back: "As far as the design goes, it was the same outfit that I wore at Wimbledon, just pink instead of white. Initially people laughed, but then many of them thought it was a cool variation on the theme. In any case the shirt quickly became a bestseller in the shops."
He Likes to Try Out the Prototypes
But for Roger Federer as a tennis player, there's a more important factor than color or design, namely how the clothes feel when he's on court. That's why new materials and patterns are examined at regular meetings with the Nike design team, long before they go into production. At the meeting in Basel last fall, for example, the participants discussed the material and waistband of the new shorts, which will not appear in the shops until 2014 at the earliest. The idea is that the shorts will use a new ultra-light hi-tech material and, like surfer shorts, won't have any elastic in the waistband. Roger is skeptical and insists on trying out a prototype. After all, he doesn't want to be distracted during a match by the prospect of his shorts slipping down.
The Clothes Have to Feel Good
In principle, Nike wants to move in the future toward the idea of a "modern uniform of sports." In other words, they want functional sports clothing to emphasize athleticism and movement. Of course, Roger appreciates the advantages of the new breathable fabrics, but not at any price. "For me, a shirt has to feel comfortable to wear. In that case I don't mind sweating a little more than otherwise. After all, as a tennis player I'm allowed to change my shirt as often as I like during a match." He also prefers to wear natural fabrics when he's off the court. And, unlike the functional polo shirts from the RF collection that he wears when he's playing, the RF T-shirts are made from pure cotton.
The colors of the jackets are also a hot topic at the meeting with the design team. After all the dark grays and blues, Roger would like to see something in a high-impact red. He points out that the jackets receive a lot of media attention at tournaments because he often wears them at press conferences. And that should be better exploited.
Black Socks with a White Border
The example of the US Open in 2007 shows just how much attention is paid to Roger Federer's outfits during a Grand Slam tournament. It was here that the Swiss tennis star appeared for the first time dressed in black from headband to socks, an extreme contrast to his otherwise typical tennis whites. At some time in the dim and distant past, Roger Federer started wearing two pairs of socks, one over the other. "I don't know why I started doing it," he says today. In one of the first matches the outer pair of black socks didn't quite cover the white socks that were under them, which made it look as if the black socks had a white border. Soon Nike shops were experiencing brisk demand for new black RF socks with a white border, but they didn't actually become available until the 2011 US Open.
Interview with Roger Federer
Daniel Huber: Does the International Tennis Federation have any particular rules on what players can wear on court?
Roger Federer: Not as far as the type of clothing or the colors are concerned. The only thing that's clearly regulated is the size of the sponsors' logos. And at the Olympics or the Davis Cup the name or flag of the country should appear somewhere.
Do you have a favorite color?
I prefer solid, classic colors, like a nice red or blue. Every now and then I like to have something more extravagant, like a neon yellow or orange. I wear about 12 different outfits in the course of a year, so I can take more of a risk with my colors on two or three occasions. Otherwise the motto is: classic, simple styles in solid colors with eye-catching details.
What about materials?
Wherever possible, I prefer natural fabrics for T-shirts and jackets. On court, however, the full range of my sponsor's hi-tech expertise comes into play. Here it's important that the shirts be as light as possible and stay dry, but not at any price. I've also got to feel comfortable wearing them. And after all, I'm allowed to change my shirt as often as I like during a match.
Is the shirt that I can buy in the shops exactly the same as the one you wear on court?
Absolutely, it's exactly the same.
Apparently you wear two pairs of socks when you're playing. How did that come about?
To be honest, I don't really know any more why I started doing that 10 years ago. Of course, two pairs of socks are softer on the feet. So, if I'm playing a close match and it goes to four or five sets, I have the feeling that the impact of my feet on the surface is cushioned to some extent. In any case, it's just become part of my routine.
But would it upset you somehow mentally if you were only able to wear one pair of socks for an important match?
Not at all. From time to time I train with just one pair of socks on. It's fair to say that the strain on the feet is pretty severe when you play tennis, so you have to take enormous care in choosing and looking after your socks and tennis shoes.
Presumably in your everyday life you normally wear sports clothing from your sponsor. How important are your other clothes to you?
I really enjoy shopping for clothes. I'm interested in what's fashionable at any given time. At the start of my career I was still pretty clueless about that kind of thing. But at some point I thought I just can't keep wearing the same suit to gala events, and that I should get used to wearing formal clothes as a matter of course. So for a while I wore elegant clothes all the time when we went out for dinner. And after a while I found that I really enjoyed buying and wearing beautiful clothing. Nowadays I'm as happy in a formal suit as a tracksuit.
Do you have a tennis outfit that you're particularly fond of?
There's a whole string of them. I'll never forget the first black outfit that I wore at the US Open in 2007 when we relaunched the RF collection. We wanted something really special for this event, and it was the first time that I appeared on a tennis court dressed in black from head to toe. I also really liked the special jackets and cardigans for Wimbledon.
Do you keep the outfits that you were wearing when you had major successes?
Of course. I have a huge collection, but it's not really about me and my nostalgic feelings. It's more about the fact that I may be able to auction them sometime for a good cause.
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