Watching this year’s edition of The Championships at Wimbledon, one of the most iconic things about tennis is evident. It is the mandate that all players participating must be garbed in solid white with only the minimal addition of a logo possible. The white protocol extends to shoes and socks. The only traditional white that has disappeared is the change in color of the ball itself.
When I was first introduced to tennis at Peter Paxton’s Tahoe Racquet Club in Incline Village, all-white togs were the order of the day. In fact, to emphasize the point, Paxton had a couple of signs posted on the entrance to the courts which stated “Whites Only”. The signs caused a couple of humorous incidents: one was when Bill Wee and his Asian family first showed up and we quickly assured him that the sign applied only to clothing and not to race. The other was an occasion when Bill Cosby, accompanied by his touring Pro, agreed to stand near the sign for a publicity shot that made the wire services. The tag line that accompanied the photo noted that there was no segregation at the Incline Club. Today even the women players who participate at Wimbledon have to use a lot more imagination in the creation of solid white outfits that still have a tinge of individualism.
The first break from all-white garb that I can remember occurred when Adidas came out with their famous three-stripe combinations. The initial appearance of color on tennis shoes probably was the green-heeled Stan Smith sneaker.
When the Tahoe Racquet Club opened in 1965, all of the Pro players such as Pancho Gonzales, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall were donned out in pristine white. Even Nevada Governor Grant Sawyer, who tossed out the first ball, sported a gleaming white tennis shirt.
When it comes to the Pro ranks, the start of the multi-colored ensembles was given its greatest boost from Andre Agassi, “the Pony Boy from Las Vegas” as he was known. His predilection for shorts made of denim startled most tennis aficionados. On one occasion, in the Australian final against Pete Sampras, Agassi appeared in a pirate-like ensemble topped by a dew rag and golden earrings. He wore a multi-colored shirt that was in sharp contrast to his flowered shorts. The outfit was made more convincing by him sporting a dark Van Dyke beard. Currently, even such fastidious dressers as Roger Federer have succumbed to wearing tennis outfits that feature crazy patterns, tie-dyes, multi-colored shoes and huge sponsor logos. Even that bane of most athletes, the wearing of black socks, has suddenly become de rigueur.
While Wimbledon is the crown jewel of tennis competition, it is interesting to note that its hallowed courts are still made of grass. This is a tricky surface that sometimes betrays the most gifted athlete. Clay courts also require a different set of skills. The most reliable bounce of the ball is achieved on hard courts, which also tend to speed-up play.