Rafael Nadal lost an epic semifinal match against Novak Djokovic in the French Open semifinal on Friday, ending his quest for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title. A limited crowd erupted in cheers when the local curfew was waived late in the battle, allowing them see Djokovic prevail in a fourth set after 4 hours, 11 minutes and a score of 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
The third set itself lasted more than ninety minutes, but the display of tennis was timeless.
“It was definitely the best match that I was part of- ever- in Roland Garros, for me, and top three matches that I ever played in my entire career,” Djokovic said in a press conference after the event. He will move on to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final at 9 a.m. on Sunday on NBC.
Nadal had won the past four titles in Paris, leaving him with 20 Grand Slams overall and tied with Roger Federer for most all-time. He is a 14-time winner of the French Open and just turned 35 last week. Nadal has acknowledged Father Time with changes to his playing style to go along with a million-dollar reminder on his wrist.
Nadal cruised through his first five matches at Roland Garros, dropping only a single set in his trademark Nike duds and Richard Mille watch. Most pro tennis players wait until their matches are over to slip on their sponsor’s watch, but Nadal is the rare pro to wear his timepiece while competing. The RM 27-04 is the latest high-priced Richard Mille watch Nadal has worn in their decade-plus together. It carries a current retail price of $1.08 million, a tick above the $1.05 million when it was first introduced in September.
The watch weighs less than one ounce, including the strap, and was inspired by the same principles as the strings of a tennis racquet. A limited edition of just 50 watches, it is billed as the lightest tourbillon in the world. “Since it is a very complicated watch to make, our factory has not completed all 50 timepieces yet,” a company spokesperson said.
Richard Mille has used sports as a large part of its meteoric rise in the watch industry. The Swiss brand introduced its first watch in 2001 and is now the world’s seventh-largest luxury watch company by revenue at $875 million in 2020, according to Morgan Stanley. Every other brand in the top 10 was founded more than 100 years ago.
It is chasing the 1% of the 1% with its product line. The average Richard Mille watched retailed for $204,000 in 2020, per Morgan Stanley. The next priciest among the top 10 brands: Patek Philippe ($39,100), Audemars Piguet ($38,200) and Rolex ($10,900).
Nadal and Richard Mille have been joined at the wrist since 2010. Golfers Bubba Watson and Nelly Korda are also brand ambassadors, and the company has sponsorships in other high-end sports like sailing and polo. Odell Beckham Jr. made headlines for wearing a $350,000 model during a 2019 NFL game.
The brand bills itself as a “racing machine on the wrist,” and auto racing eats up much of the company’s sports marketing budget, including drivers like Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Ogier and Sébastien Loeb. Richard Mille made a splash in Formula 1 in 2017 with a 10-year deal with McLaren. It added historic F1 race outfit Ferrari to its sponsorship rolls this year under a multi-year partnership.
Nadal ranked No. 92 in Sportico’s ranking of the world’s highest-paid athletes with $26.5 million. His off-court earnings from endorsements and appearances are estimated at $23 million through deals with Nike, Babolat, Kia Motors, Telefónica, Richard Mille and more.
Nadal’s career prize money is $124.5 million, third all-time behind Djokovic ($148.1 million) and Federer ($130 million), and more than twice as much as fourth-ranked Andy Murray ($61.8 million). Djokovic now moves on to Sunday’s final and a shot at the $1.7 million French Open winner’s check, a rich payday that still likely wouldn’t cover a Richard Mille Nadal watch after taxes. For now, Djokovic is happy to live in the moment.
“The atmosphere was completely electric. I was so happy there was no curfew at 11 o’clock. It was one of these nights and matches that you will remember forever,” he said.
(This story has been updated with details of the French Open semifinal in the first four paragraphs as well as a a quote from Novak Djokovic in the last paragraph.)