On Sunday, January 29 the world stopped talking politics for a short while as the most classic men’s final a Grand Slam tennis tournament could imagine today took place in the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne where the Australian Open men’s finals took place. The players in this final have both had storied careers determined by a shared high-quality rivalry; up to today they had played each other 34 times in professional tournaments, with the Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, having lead the head-to-head 23-11.
While 35-year-old Roger Federer, back to playing his first tournament after a six-month injury break, and celebrating the 100th Australian Open match in his career, took the court against the backdrop of a giant Rolex GMT-Master II watch flashing on the brand-new digital wall surrounding the tennis complex’s main show court, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic, perhaps even feeling some déjà vu: of course these two greats of modern tennis have played against each other many times in the finals of big tournaments. But the last time was already quite some time ago due to injuries both had sustained in 2016: November 2015 in the finals of the Swiss Indoors, which Federer won in three sets. That was his first win over Nadal in more than three years.
This tournament, like Wimbledon in June, is sponsored by Rolex. But it has been unusual to see the brand’s watches advertised so magnanimously; generally one sees a discrete Rolex clock here and there – and of course the watches placed on the wrists of the many Genevan brand’s ambassadors – among them Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – though rarely on court.
Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, wore his Richard Mille RM 27-02 religiously and very obviously on court. I know that he is contractually obliged to wear it while playing – which he has said took a bit of getting used to at the beginning – but I also know that it is now something akin to his good luck charm. For much more on this very special sports watch unusually outfitted with a tourbillon, see Richard Mille RM 27-02: The Quintessential Sports Tourbillon.
While Richard Mille’s watches are very rare and very expensive – the Swiss company headed by French visionary Mille makes and sells around 1,500 timepieces per year – it had two brand ambassadors competing in the 2017 Australian Open. And as luck would have it, they played against each other in the third round. Nadal ended up the winner of this five-set nail-biter against Alexander Zverev, who wore the Richard Mille 27-01 during tournament play – Nadal’s previous good luck charm.
Zverev’s older brother Misha cleared the field a bit by upsetting current world number one and previous Rado ambassador Andy Murray before losing to Federer in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
Federer then played Swiss countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals. An Audemars Piguet ambassador, Wawrinka wore the same model on court that brought him so much luck at the 2016 U.S. Open, the Royal Oak Offshore, but this time with a black rubber strap instead of the very visible pink of September’s win (see Stan Wawrinka Wins 2016 U.S. Open Wearing Pink Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore). Unfortunately for him, there was no stopping this player he knows so well in yet another five-set thriller.
Meanwhile, Nadal had come up against two more Rolex ambassadors: Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals and Grigor Dimitrov, who wears an Explorer II (albeit not on court), in the semifinals. Yet another close five-set match was on the books before these two exited the court on Friday.
Other notable timepiece aficionados playing in the tournament were world number two Novak Djokovic, who surprisingly lost in the second round after just re-signing with watch sponsor Seiko (see Seiko Nets Renewed Partnership With Novak Djokovic). TAG Heuer ambassador Kei Nishikori wore a very light, black TAG Heuer Professional Golf Watch on court as he unsuccessfully battled Federer in the fourth round. Tenth-seeded Tomas Berdych, also a watch aficionado (see Time For A Contender: Meet Tomas Berdych, The Tennis Champion With A Passion For Watches) and ambassador to newcomer watch brand Felio Siby, lost to Federer in the third round.