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.