As a matter of fact, of all the major tournaments, Wimbledon is the only one that specifies a player must wear white in order to compete.
This takes us back a few decades to the time when tennis was on a phenomenal rise in this country as well as the rest of the world. In those halcyon years white was the preferred color and even the shoes sported little, if any, colored markings.
When the biggest tennis news of all time for this area occurred in 1965 with the opening of Peter Paxton’s Tahoe Racquet Club at Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, white was still in vogue. At that time Wimbledon was confined to only amateur competitors and since the players at Paxton’s opening were in the reigning Pros and both events occurred on the same weekend. I can recall the Pros huddled around the black and white TV in the clubhouse watching the English matches when they themselves were not on court.
All of those Pros at the lake, who included Rod Laver, Pancho Gonzales, Kenny Rosewall, Mal Anderson and four other top contenders were garbed in pristine white outfits. Following that opening in June, which was won by Laver over Gonzales, Pancho remained on as the resident Pro for the club and ran a very successful summer camp for kids. I recall buying several white tennis outfits for my daughter and two sons that attended.
Clubowner Paxton, who was a stickler for doing things by the book, even had signs on the fences leading to the courts that said, “Whites only”. While this applied to the clothing we were able to have some fun with it when the first Oriental family to join the club, Bill Wee, was downcast as we kidded him that his application would have to go before the board of directors. Several years later the signs again came into play when entertainer Bill Cosby, a real tennis buff at the time, showed up to play. He gladly did a “gag” shot with the sign positioned prominently over his right shoulder.
The first splash of color that I remember seeing on the Tahoe courts was on a special pair of Stan Smith Addidas shoes that were endorsed by Smith, who was a ranked player at the time. The back of the shoe was colored the same hue of green that was in vogue for tennis court painting at that time.
Probably the first major player to break the “white code” was the incomparable Bjorn Borg. Clad in skin-tight shirt and short shorts Borg’s choice was sort of a cream color. At, or about, that same time the traditional white tennis balls were giving way to the current bright yellow ones. The rationale for the ball change was that for many of the amateur players the yellow balls were much easier to track than the traditional white spheroids. This was probably a good move and it soon became universal, although Wimbledon was the last to make the change. The old white balls did tend to show dirt more easily and in some cases, particularly on clay, they soon assumed the same hue as the surface on which you were playing.
Other than Borg some of the early day players that broke with traditional garb included Andre Agassi, who in those days was known on the circuit as the Las Vegas “Pony Boy” because of his shoulder-length hair. Andre’s great contribution was wearing denim tennis shorts. He was also one of the first to wear a bandanna-style cloth around his flowing locks.
When John McEnroe came into the scene he had a mountain of hair that seemed even higher as he wrapped a red, white and blue headband around it.
In addition to the trend toward garish colors on court, as far as the men were concerned, was the move to a T-shirt type tennis shirt instead of the traditional collared type. Also, somewhat like the NBA, the tennis shorts got longer and looser. The chief practitioner of this elongated look was Rafael Nadal, who began wearing what looked like white clamdiggers. Rafa is also the guy that started the “he-man” T-shirt style, with the cut off sleeves. He has since mellowed a bit but his style is still very much one of his main trademarks. Another addition to tennis attire that wasn’t there in the past is the “logoing” by manufacturers. Today you see Nadal’s Nike “Swoosh” on his headband, his shirt and his wrist bands. Currently Babolat supplies his racquet and tennis shoes, which are always color-coordinated to his outfits for each tournament.
Another addition to the present tennis outfit is the cap. Hard to say what player used it first as a trademark but it is another spot on which to affix a sponsor logo. At Wimbledon today there are a few players who wear the cap backward, which is strictly an American style. Haven’t seen anyone wear it sideways as of yet.
On the distaff slide no one can compete with Venus and Serena Williams. In fact, at last year’s French Open Venus attire was so revealing that it even shocked the French into asking her to tone it down. That’s pretty hard to do.
If you were to pick one male player to represent the GQ model of a tennis player it would have to be Roger Federer. Always impeccably attired and with the perfect tennis player’s build Federer put his signature stamp on court clothing last year when he wore, as a warm-up, a cream colored double breasted blazer with his trademark “F” emblazoned on it.