When 19-year-old Roger Federer upset seven-time champion Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in their first and only meeting in 2001, both players sported the iconic swoosh logo. Seven years later, when Rafael Nadal beat Federer in the 2008 final, both players were wearing Nike.
At the 2022 U.S. Open, Nadal was still wearing the swoosh—alongside his personal logo—as was Francis Tiafoe, the 24-year-old American who beat him in the fourth round. Sponsoring 18 men’s singles players and 30 on the women’s side, Nike leads all brands with 48 players wearing its apparel this year in Flushing.
There is a significant gap between Nike and the next most-worn brand, Adidas, which is represented by 28 players, by Sportico’s count. Italian sports footwear and clothing manufacturer Lotto ranks third with 25, while Fila, which began outfitting 11-time Slam winner Björn Borg nearly half a century ago, comes in fourth with 20. Asics claims the No. 1-ranked woman, Iga Świątek, and 18 players overall at the Slam.
While Nike has always been a big player in tennis sponsorship, this level of dominance is a change from just a few years ago, when some of the most promising young stars in the men’s game—Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas—all signed deals with other companies. Zverev, Thiem and Tsitsipas wear Adidas, while Medvedev sports the Lacoste alligator. At the 2017 U.S. Open, Adidas and Nike sponsored 13 seeded players each. This year, Nike has a 21 to 7 advantage.
While the top five brands account for more than half of the singles draws this year, there is still room for smaller, niche brands in the space. Thirty-nine clothing companies are represented in total, and 18 of them sponsor only one player.
One example is Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, who became the face of Hugo Boss’s new tennis line earlier this year; he’s the only player out of 256 across the men’s and women’s draw to sport the brand. This type of partnership gives the athlete an opportunity to stand out from his competitors.
Some players’ sponsor choices are tied to their nationality. Joma, whose headquarters are in Spain, was worn by nine men this year, all of whom are either Spanish or from South America. Three Dutch men are sponsored by Indian Maharadja, a Dutch lifestyle brand founded in 2009.
However, Nike sponsors many of the sport’s most popular athletes. Among the 29 U.S. Open men’s and women’s players with at least 500,000 Instagram followers, Nike sponsors 15 of them, including seven of the 10 most followed players, and the entire top five. The 4.8 million viewers who tuned into the final match of Serena Williams’s farewell tour all caught a glimpse of the swoosh logo on her sparkling dress.
Nike also has a history of courting successful players after they win Grand Slams, as it did with Sampras. The No. 2 and No. 3 women’s seeds in 2017, Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza, have since come over to Nike’s side after originally wearing Adidas.
Now, the industry leader is securing stars from a younger age. Wednesday night’s quarterfinal featured 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz and 21-year-old Jannik Sinner in a Nike versus Nike showdown.
With prodigies like Alcaraz and Sinner under contract, Nike has positioned itself to be even more noticeable in Queens five years from now. The company currently sponsors 16 men’s and women’s players under the age of 25 who are ranked in the top 50 in the world, while no other brand sponsors more than three.