In the early portion of the 1990s, Nike Court was at an all-time high. Thanks in part to John McEnroe, who dominated the 1980s. Winning eight of his nine career Grand Slams in the decade with the Nike Tennis Classic of the late 70s and early 80s. And most notably, Andre Agassi, whose wild hair, flamboyant style and Nike Air Tech Challenge signature line not only broke the mold…but destroyed it. Agassi was a rising superstar and with close call after close call, Agassi broke through winning Wimbledon in 1992.
But it appeared as if Nike Court could do no wrong. And that the Swoosh indeed had the golden touch. But what seemed to happen is that tennis’ popularity dipped somewhat with the retirement in 2002 of Pete Sampras, just six years removed from his most recognizable Nike signature; the Nike Air Oscillate. Which is back for a retro run for the first time.
Agassi and Sampras’ rivalry captivated audiences with their epic encounters. A rivalry that proved rather healthy for the Swoosh. Until Sampras retired and Agassi departed for Adidas on July 25th, 2005.
Sampras’ retirement and Agassi’s defection three years later for the “Three Stripes”, the door was opened for a new generation of stars to step forth. Namely, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Federer and Nadal’s encounters was like a modern age Agassi and Sampras in terms of their on-court rivalry. With Nike as sorts being the victor either way. Yet another healthy rivalry for the Swoosh.
As the Federer-Nadal rivalry grew in stature…Nike landed professional tennis’ budding superstar, Serena Williams. Who joined the Swoosh in 2003 at the ascension of her professional career. Williams who completed the “Serena Slam” with her Australian Open singles victory in January 2003, was the perfect candidate to bear the Swoosh in the Swoosh’s eyes.
However, what was not under Nike’s control was the popularity of the sport. Which felt as if it took a hit. Thus limiting exposure of the game to the general audience. But what quietly was happening during this time period was innovation of the highest order which took us from the days of the Nike Tennis Classic to the Nike Air Tech Challenge and Nike Air Oscillate to the Nike Shox Glamour Boot worn by Serena Williams in 2004. With more than a decade that has passed since Williams signed with Nike, her on-court performance has only increased.
And increased exponentially.
Fast forward to 2015, Serena is looking to capture her second “Serena Slam” and complete the first Grand Slam in decades. A feat last completed by Stefi Graf in 1988. Who is also the wife of Andre Agassi. But Williams can cement herself as perhaps the greatest female tennis player of all-time if she is victorious at the US Open.
Her victory will give Nike what it has not…a Grand Slam. Yes there are plenty of endorsed athletes who have major tournament victories, but none have completed all four in a calendar year. In fact no person has since 1988, male or female. But the question remains, can Serena Williams bring that old Nike Court back?
Meaning…can Williams transcend across all Nike platforms in terms of visibility? Well…she’s proven she can do that. But like McEnroe who essentially kicked down the door with his marketability, which paved the way for Agassi and Sampras…can Serena’s Nike Court Flare transcend like the Nike Tennis Classic or the Nike Air Tech Challenge line? Will it? What we do know is that Serena is unique in her own right…at the most elementary of levels…she provides something that is already transcending in the discussion…she’s a woman.
That alone opens up a world of possibilities that Nike could not reach with the aforementioned pillars of the brand’s tennis division. She becomes a transcending voice to aspiring young female tennis players the world over. And in such an innovative age…and a connected digital age…this proves most vital. While we might not have the subtle builds of the Tennis Classic or the eye popping design of the Air Tech Challenge…we do have the modern day look that the Air Oscillate predicted almost 20 years ago.
As her success grows, the Swoosh’s success grows. And Nike Court grows. To touch yet again on a point two paragraphs ago…can Williams do what McEnroe, Agassi and Sampras did; and do what Federer and Nadal are attempting to…and that is lead an entire generation that has yet to come to be the next pillars of Nike Court for a new generation. Can Serena bring that “old” Nike Court back?
If there is anyone who most certainly can…it’s Serena Williams.