Wimbledon 2011: Federer, Djokovic, Nadal dressed to kill
There is an understated class about the looks of the top players at the classiest of the tournaments
Wimbledon takes appearances very seriously. Everything is just so, from the freshly painted centre court seats to the finely-measured cut of every blade of grass, from the Ralph Lauren uniforms to the pace-perfect ball boys and girls.
Even the players are expected to respect Wimbledon’s style and tradition, right down to a dress code that insists on a predominance of white.
Human nature, of course, has always ensured that individuality asserts itself. Pirate pants for Rafael Nadal, a gold-emblazoned blazer for Roger Federer, flapper-style fringes for Venus Williams.
This year, though -perhaps in a nod to the All England Club’s 125th anniversary -sartorial understatement is the watchword. At every turn the outfits are streamlined, plain, tastefully co-ordinated.
The ever-traditional Federer has reduced his look back to the minimum: gold trim is replaced by the finest line of dark green piping on the seams of a cream-white shirt; no sign of jacket or waistcoat, just a feather-light, sleeveless sweater.
Nadal, too, has adopted a crisp and sharp look: brightest white with royal blue highlights, in a plain crew-neck T-shirt that is de rigueur around Wimbledon.
His white, zipped sweatshirt is a perfect match and his once raggle-taggle hair is cropped more neatly with each passing Major.
Serena Williams, like her sister, has always been fond of her own fashion statements but for her emotional return to defend her title she has discarded the bold fuchsia shorts beneath a fuchsia-trimmed dress of last year for the plainest of white dresses complemented by black. She made a stunning entrance.
And what of one of the more extrovert dressers on the men’s tour, Novak Djokovic? Well he has turned the most traditional of all in the closest thing to a classic Fred Perry polo as he could find.
Dressed in white from head to toe -with tennis bags included -his one colour concession is a deep Wimbledon-purple edge to a collar buttoned up to the throat.
All this may signify nothing more than a fashion trend, a converging of different brands towards a retro, timeless look. In the hands -or rather on the backs -of a set of players who are at such a significant point in their career, though, these looks suggest rather more.
For Williams, in particular, a year of injury and ill-health reduced her to sobs after her opening round three-set win at the scene of so many past triumphs. The reason, when it came, was simple. “It’s been so hard, I never imagined I could be here,” she said.
For the top three men, Wimbledon seems to be channelling the full impact of their rivalry. So long the pretender to the older Federer’s throne, Nadal is now the one who carries the kudos of world No1 and defending champion.
But at this tournament, this year, it is his turn to fend off the new young pretender, Djokovic. Should Nadal fail in his quest to win his third title, he will hand over the No1 spot to the man who has beaten him in every match this year -in four Masters finals.
Federer, his pride perhaps pricked not only by being No3 but from being regarded as third-best, hit back at the French Open to play his best tennis in months and bring Djokovic’s 2011 unbroken run to an end.
He expects to do well at what is his 13th consecutive Wimbledon, a place that resonates with him more than any other. But with only one title this year, in Doha, and with no Grand Slams to his name for the first time in eight years, Federer also needs to do well here to reassert himself over his rivals.
He began that campaign with a fine performance over Wimbledon debutant, Mikhail Kukushkin, winning 7-6 6-4 6-2.
The conditions were blustery, alternating drizzle-laden cloud with sunshine, but he opened the first set with a 50-second love service game and closed out the set for the loss of just two points on serve.
His opponent proved to be focused, aggressive and very sharp in his tactics. His all-court skills kept the rallies long and exciting, and drew some flamboyant shot-making from Federer.
But once he found his timing and reduced the wayward errors of a man who has not played on grass for a year, he went into overdrive: 12 aces, 38 net approaches and 53 outright winners.
The message has been the same from Nadal and Djokovic. Both broke down early resistance from their opponents in the opening set to win in straights. Both served soundly, both ventured to the net, both scored more winners than errors.
And of course it is the tennis of each of these champions that is their most potent and eloquent weapon. The way that each has deployed those weapons so far speaks volumes about their serious intent.
But it does them no harm at all to wear the look and bearing of a champion from the moment they walk onto court, with nothing to distract from their steely mission. This year, it seems, they have all decided to do just that.