Novak Djokovic is on the brink of history at the U.S. Open with a pair of all-time accolades in reach. An Open title would complete the first calendar Grand Slam in the men’s game since Rod Laver 52 years ago. It would also mark a 21st major title, breaking the all-time men’s mark of 20 currently held by Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Win or lose this fortnight, Djokovic will still be looking up at Federer off the court. Federer is the highest-paid tennis player, earning three times as much as Djokovic from endorsements and $84 million overall. Djokovic ranks fourth with $33.4 million, including prize money, and trails Naomi Osaka ($55.2 million) and Serena Williams ($35.5 million). Earnings estimates include prize money, endorsements, bonuses, royalties and appearance fees earned during the 12 months ending May 31.
Federer turned 40 in August, and a week later announced he needed a third knee surgery and would miss the Open. He might never return to the court, but the Swiss tennis ace will still be in the game. “Federer is iconic,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Pinnacle Advertising, in a phone interview. “He is one of those guys that is going to be marketable long after his career is over.”
Federer is the first tennis player to rack up $1 billion in career earnings, but his biggest payday could be on the horizon from Swiss sneaker brand On. Federer invested in the company in late 2019 as part of an endorsement agreement and received a “significant” stake, according to one source at the time. Investors got a peek at the company’s financials last week when it filed its F-1, which the SEC requires foreign companies to file ahead of U.S. IPO plans. The company labeled Federer as an “active co-entrepreneur” in the filing. Federer’s sports agency, TEAM8, which he created with Tony Godsick, is also an investor.
On’s revenue jumped 85% in the first six months of 2021 and reached $344 million. The IPO valuation is expected to hit $6-8 billion, according to Seeking Alpha. A 3% stake for Federer would be worth roughly $200 million at that price. TEAM8 would not comment on Federer’s stake.
Federer spent 20 years adorned head-to-toe in Nike as a brand ambassador, but their split in 2018 allowed him to ink a pair of deals worth potentially nine figures. He signed a 10-year apparel deal with Uniqlo worth $300 million, a staggering commitment to a then 36-year-old tennis player. The deal left an opening for a separate sneaker deal, and Federer filled the endorsement slot the following year with On.
The Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have captured 60 of the past 72 Slam events, including 17 of the past 18, but a new crop of stars is looking to challenge their reign. Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem have all climbed into the top six in the world and rank among the 10 highest-paid players, including prize money. The difference in bank accounts and fame of the new generation compared to the Big Three is attributable to the youngsters' lack of wins on the biggest stage.
Medvedev—seeded second at the U.S. Open—is considered Djokovic’s biggest obstacle to completing the calendar Slam. Sponsors have gravitated to the 6-6 Russian, pushing his off-court income to $10 million a year. Lacoste locked him up through 2026 in a five-year contract extension that industry insiders estimate is worth $25-30 million. Other partners include Technibre, Bovet, Tinkoff and HyperX.
Austria’s Thiem won the U.S. Open last year, triggering lucrative bonuses from Adidas. He is the only men’s player under 30 who has captured a slam but has been sidelined since June with a wrist injury, and he turns 28 this week.
Tsitsipas has been dubbed the “Greek God” for his good looks, and he’s featured in Vogue’s September issue. He just turned 23 and has signed endorsements with Adidas, Wilson, Rolex and multiple Greek brands.
Zverev, who won the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo after beating Djokovic in the semifinals, had the lucrative German market to tap, but his brand has been severely damaged by allegations of abuse last year by a former girlfriend. Zverev denied the claims. He was in line for a lucrative extension with Adidas last year, but the German apparel giant did not renew their agreement after the accusations, according to multiple sources. Adidas would not comment.
The biggest marketing stars in men’s tennis, from John McEnroe to Andre Agassi to the current Big Three, have all shared one thing that trigged endorsement riches. “These guys have to win and win consistently to break through,” Dorfman said. “Grand Slam events are what attract that casual fan.”