Andre Agassi of the USA in action during the final match at the US Open in Flushing Meadows on August 27, 1990 in New York, United States.
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Thirty years ago, tennis legend Andre Agassi shocked the sports world by wearing jean shorts, neon shirts and his famous mane of long hair. He brought a new energy and adrenaline to professional tennis.
Today, Nike is paying tribute to the former number one tennis player in the world through its latest collection, marking the 30th anniversary of Nike’s Challenge Court collection, which Agassi introduced on court during the 1990 U.S. Open. Agassi’s signature style will be reprised for Nike’s current roster of athletes for this year’s Open. The two-week competition begins Aug. 31 and will take place without fans in attendance and with strict health protocols in place.
The collection comes at a time when U.S. sales of tennis shoes are down in the single digits. Nike has a 26% share of the tennis footwear category, which made up just $35 million of $22 billion U.S. sports footwear industry last year, according to NPD Group.
In a blog post, the Beaverton, Oregon, sports apparel company said the 2020 collection combines “unmistakable flare with a contemporary material palette” and will tread the line between performance wear and leisure wear. It will feature a mix of denim, neon, spandex and the Challenge Court logo.
Along with the on-court basics, like shorts and polos, Nike will produce logo-driven accessories and fresh colors.
“Wearing the clothes, and doing all the things that feel good to me, is all a part of me performing better,” Agassi said in a 1991 interview.
Nike signed Agassi to a multimillion dollar contract in 1988. The company initially marketed him as “tennis’ bad boy” and as the successor to John McEnroe. Later, Nike founder Phil Knight said the company marketed Agassi to contrast him to his main rival, Pete Sampras, creating the “yin and the yang of men’s tennis.”
“We had to not only satisfy ourselves but satisfy his demands going from a functional perspective and from a style perspective,” Nike designer Tinker Hatfield said when he created the line nearly three decades ago.
Tennis star Andre Agassi collaborating with Nike designers
Agassi quickly rose to fame, winning eight major singles championships, a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics and 60 ATP titles. In 1995, he held the title number one player in the world.Throughout the course of his career, he earned more than $31 million in tennis winnings alone.
The collection is inspired by the style of iconic tennis player Andre Agassi
Just as Agassi’s unique style was transformational at the time for tennis, Nike is undergoing transformations of its own right now. Even the number one sports apparel company wasn’t immune to the impact from Covid-19. The company saw revenue fall 38% in the latest quarter after 90% of its stores were forced to close during the worst of the pandemic.
Under the leadership of new CEO John Donahoe, the company recently went through a reorganization, making major changes to its senior leadership team. Yet, tennis remains a strong and very visual category for the company.
Throughout the years, Nike has endorsed many of the top tennis players, including Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer (who has since switched sponsors) and Naomi Osaka. They are known for pushing the envelope on fashion and performance.
Serena Williams teamed up with the fashion designer Virgil Abloh on the “Queen” Collection last year. Abloh has worked with Kayne West and Louis Vuitton and is known for his Off-White brand, which is a fusion of streetwear and luxury.
Matt Powell, senior industry advisor to sports at NPD Group, said that while he’s not sure Agassi still resonates today, “retro footwear remains an important trend.”