With Wimbledon several weeks behind us, the tennis world has moved on from the majestic grass courts of the All England Lawn Tennis Club in London. The tour will focus mainly on the North American hard courts in the upcoming weeks. It’s all in the build-up to the US Open that will start on the 28th of August. With Rolex as the timekeeper and sponsor of quite a few players, it will be an interesting fortnight for Rolex spotting. But Wimbledon showed us that there is still only one king of tennis — Roger Federer. With the retirement of Federer almost a year ago, the new faces of tennis might be taking over. But will they ever be a better combination than Federer and Rolex?

Wimbledon this year was fascinating. The world’s most famous tennis tournament brought an abundance of great tennis, new tennis stars, and great watch spotting. I wrote an article about some of the watches we spotted on the weekend of the finals. In that article, I “accused” Men’s Singles winner Carlos Alcaraz of wearing the rose gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona ref. 126515LN during the pre-tournament press conference. As it turned out, he was wearing an 18K yellow gold version of the new Daytona with a stunning meteorite dial, a model that is not yet available to the public. It’s why watching spotting at these events is a lot of fun. Rolex-sponsored players get to wear some of the newest models that are not even out yet.

Image: Rolex

Rolex and tennis have a strong connection

But after last year, everything changed when it comes to Rolex and tennis. The brand is still the timekeeper of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Additionally, Rolex tied its name to nine ATP Masters 1000 events and is even the title sponsor of three of them — the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Rolex Shanghai Masters, and Rolex Paris Masters. Add the Davis Cup, Laver Cup, WTA Finals, ATP Finals, and Next Gen ATP Finals, and you can see that Rolex and tennis have strong ties that go back to 1978. But maybe more interesting to the general public are the players with whom Rolex has a sponsorship deal and who wear the brand’s newest watches.

Image: Wimbledon.com

The players show the actual products and are the personal connection to the audience. Currently, there is quite a significant group of players that Rolex sponsors. On the men’s side, the main man is current world No.1 and current Wimbledon and US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz. He is accompanied by Stefanos Tsitsipas, Holger Rune, Jannik Sinner, Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem. On the women’s side, Rolex sponsors the world’s No. 1 Iga Świątek, Coco Gauff, Caroline Garcia, Garbiñe Muguruza, Belinda Bencic, and Bianca Andreescu. What immediately stands out is that this group of players is very young. You could say that Rolex has its next generation of stars covered.

Rolex and Roger Federer: a partnership created in heaven

But the most well-known Rolex ambassador is, without a doubt, Roger Federer. The Swiss tennis legend has been connected to Rolex for a long time, as I explained in an article about the best brand ambassadors, Federer and Rolex connected early on. But after a short romance with Rolex in the early 2000s, Federer signed a multi-year deal with Maurice Lacroix in 2004. Only two years later, however, Rolex offered Maurice Lacroix a breakup fee and Federer a 10-year contract worth $15 million. It was the right time because, in 2003, Federer won Wimbledon for the first time, and in 2004, he added the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open to that list. A year later, another Wimbledon and US Open title followed.

Roger Federer for Maurice Lacroix — Image: Maurice Lacroix

So Federer was quickly on his way to becoming one of the game’s best, and Rolex did the right thing by making him a brand ambassador. So why did Rolex let Federer go to Maurice Lacroix anyway? A ponytailed Federer had already been the poster boy for the Rolex Datejust by then. It could be that his image as a long-haired, temperamental player wasn’t a fit for Rolex at that point. It seems hard to believe now, but it is also known that early in his career, Federer had a bad temper that he had to come to grips with before he started performing up to the highest standards. So Federer went through some personal growth before becoming the tennis ambassador that we all know him to be. But it could have also easily been a question of money.

Growing into a true Rolex ambassador

Either way, in 2006, Federer was on his way to becoming a tennis legend. His hair was cut short, his overall demeanor on and off the court changed, and his playing style was simply breathtaking. In those days, Federer dominated the game with the best tennis I had ever seen. This was only to be surpassed by a slightly older Federer 8–10 years later. And we had just come out of an era with stylish players like Pete Sampras and Patrick Rafter and greats like Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanišević. The key to Federer’s tennis magic is that everything he does seems straight out of a tennis textbook, making it look incredibly easy. That is a natural talent that I had never seen before, and it will probably be a long time until we see it again.

Federer after winning Wimbledon in 2012 — Image: AP

I could talk for hours about the feeling Federer has for the tennis ball and the incredible talent that allowed him to hit certain shots that no other player would even think of. But this is a story about Rolex and Federer. As mentioned, in 2006, Federer signed a deal with Rolex for 10 years and a massive $15 million. And during those first 10 years, Federer grew into the best ambassador that the sport of tennis could have asked for. Consequently, he became the best ambassador that Rolex could have asked for too — a Swiss player that became the best tennis player in the world and did it in style. On and off the court, he became a stand-up guy, representing tennis and the companies he had deals with to his best. Because of this, Rolex had the perfect brand ambassador with worldwide prestige.

The Rolex Datejust that Federer wore during the trophy ceremony after his 2009 Wimbledon win — Image: Rolex

Federer and Rolex are a match made in heaven

When it comes to the different Rolex models that Federer wore, you could always find the newest watches that were relevant for that time on his wrist. That’s also why you will find so many ads and pictures with Federer wearing a wide variety of Rolex pieces. They range from the Yacht-Master II to the Milgauss, a plethora of different Daytonas, and the colorful Oyster Perpetual models in recent times, just before his retirement. And the watches were always accompanied by stylish outfits both on and off the court.

Image: Rolex

Apparently, before Federer met his current wife, Mirka, he was all about comfort. But that all changed after they started dating, and eventually, she also did his PR management for a while. As Federer said himself, “I used to wear jogging shoes, jeans, and a practice shirt, then when Mirka met me, she would look and go, ‘Errr, are you sure about this look?'” At one point during his career, you could find Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour in his box during matches at the Grand Slam tournaments. She would even help Federer out by advising on the new Nike collections that would be made for him. With a more sophisticated wardrobe, the variety of Rolex watches was always the brilliant icing on the cake of a stylish, impeccably dressed Federer.

Image: Rolex

Only carefully selected brands for Federer

If you go back and look at the brands that Federer has worked and still works with, you will find a well-thought-out list. One thing was clear early on: Federer would not just work with any brand. Back in 2006, when Federer signed a deal with management company IMG, Tony Godsick became his manager. Federer credits Godsick for perfectly understanding that he wanted a focus on his home market because that is where Federer can be himself. As Federer put it, “He understood how important the home market was for me, and it ended up being a great place for him to do business and also learn about who I am and where I love to live.” When Federer left IMG in 2013, he started Team 8 Management with Godsick, a successful management and investment company.

Rolex Datejust 41 “Wimbledon Dial” ref. 126331 — Image: The Watch Club

The deliberate choice to work with Swiss companies is why Federer is an ambassador for Switzerland Tourism, Credit Suisse, Jura coffee machines, Swiss telecommunications operator Sunrise, and Lindt Chocolate. On top of that, Federer invested in the Swiss shoe brand On Running. But the ultimate Swiss partnership is with Rolex. As the leading Swiss luxury watch brand, there is simply no better match than Federer. As Federer kept winning titles, in 2016, the deal with Rolex was renewed for a massive yearly sum of $8 million. And to this day, Federer has been the face of Rolex in tennis, even after his retirement.

Federer at the 100th-anniversary celebration of Wimbledon Centre Court wearing an 18K yellow gold Daytona “Orange” — Image: Wimbledon.com

What is next for Rolex in tennis?

Which brings us to this year’s Wimbledon. Federer announced his retirement from tennis in the fall of 2022. A couple of months before, Federer told fans during the 100th-anniversary celebration of Wimbledon’s legendary Centre Court, “I hope I can come back one more time.” While that did not happen as a player, he did return to Centre Court this year to be honored by the All England Lawn Tennis Club. And the reception that Federer got was a two-minute standing ovation. This standing ovation would have lasted longer if he had not sat down in his seat in the Royal Box.

Image: AP/PTI

This impressive moment shows the incredible appeal of Roger Federer. Sure, Djokovic and Nadal have won more Grand Slams by now, and Djokovic will probably break almost every record in the book. And Serena Williams has done an awful lot for tennis as well. They are the game’s greats. But if anything, the reception at Wimbledon showed how much people love Roger Federer. And around his wrist, of course, was the brand-new Rolesor Rolex Sky-Dweller ref. 336943 in white gold and stainless steel. The watch was perfectly visible for everyone to see, showing once more how great of a combination Rolex and Roger Federer are. And indeed, this partnership is not over yet.

Image: Rolex

A new generation that is almost too young for Rolex

Looking at the Rolex website, you will find that Federer plays a major part in the Rolex tennis story. With his track record and lengthy partnership with the brand, that only makes sense. It does, however, beg the question of how long it will take before the new generation takes over. Out of all the players I mentioned, Carlos Alcaraz is undoubtedly the one with the biggest potential and greatest appeal. He has already mesmerized people all over the globe with his tennis playing and great personality. And with two Grand Slam titles under his belt, he is on his way to becoming a big man in the sport. At only 20 years old, he is also very young. And so are Jannik Sinner, Holger Rune, and Coco Gauff. While their talent is unmistakable, they could easily be Tudor ambassadors due to their youthful image.

Image: Rolex

I understand that the sport of tennis is Rolex’s domain. Having said that, seeing these young players with Rolex watches on their wrists almost seems like a discrepancy after a match. As I explained in my article on the best watch ambassadors, I loved this recurring scene after every Federer match. After shaking his opponent’s hand, Federer would immediately go to his bag, put on a jacket, take his Rolex watch out, and put it around his wrist, always visible for people to see. As a watch fan, I loved those little moments — the world’s best, a Swiss player, putting a watch from the biggest Swiss watch brand on his wrist.

Image: Rolex

Following in some big footsteps

I get that Rolex sponsors the best players regardless of age. It’s a matter of claiming a space or domain, tennis in this case, and becoming the leading brand. That’s exactly what Rolex did successfully. And these new faces will also turn an entirely new generation of tennis fans on to Rolex. While I rationally understand that, these players are not there yet because they are so young. Maturity comes with age. But of the slightly older Rolex-sponsored players, Tsitsipas has a likability problem, Zverev has had trouble with his public image, and Dominic Thiem struggles to return to his old glory. So it’s more than just a matter of age.

Image: Juergen Teller for ON Running

I admit that I am getting older, and I don’t have the same sentiment for the younger players as for Federer. But it’s more than just a matter of sentiment. The new players must live up to a very high standard to even come close to Federer. His personality, style on and off the court, and achievements all resulted in an unmatched worldwide appeal. But the most important factor of all is that these young players are not “Swiss Made.” It makes it hard for them to live up to Federer’s legacy as a Rolex ambassador. The fact that Federer chose both the Swiss and non-Swiss companies (such as Rimowa, Barilla, NetJets, Moët & Chandon, and Mercedes-Benz) that he worked and works with so carefully makes my respect for him even greater.

Image: Rimowa

What does the future hold for Rolex in tennis?

The partnership that will always stand out is Rolex and Federer. It truly seems like the best partnership one could ask for, besides the “natural” ambassadors that wear their watches as part of their jobs. Federer is still a Rolex brand ambassador, so we haven’t seen the last of him. While I am in no way tempted to buy a Rolex because Federer has one (or several), he is the one brand ambassador that I greatly respect because of his association with the Rolex brand.

And while Rolex is far bigger than just Federer, this partnership is the one personal connection to the brand that is meaningful to me. In the meantime, the new generation still has to live up to Federer’s legacy, and that seems impossible when it comes to the partnership with Rolex, no matter how hard both the brand and the players will try. There is only one king in tennis, and it’s not Rolex. It’s Roger Federer. Even after his retirement, that is a fact.

Featured image: Getty Images