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With the U.S. Open officially opening Monday, Nike offered a tennis and fashion teaser at Pier 54 Wednesday, the night before the tournament’s singles draw. The event: the Nike PrimeTime Knockout, tagged “Lights On. Lights Out.” Since New York is known as the most fashion-forward city on the tennis circuit, Nike seized the opportunity to trot out its sponsored athletes for a little charity match. The lineup included current number one, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova, all wearing their snazzy new night-session looks. Victoria Azarenka replaced Serena Williams, who is sidelined with an injured foot but showed up in a skintight black minidress and matching orthopedic boot to conduct a few hard-hitting courtside interviews. (Sample question for Nadal: “You have a great body. Can I see your abs?”)

Quasi-celebrity doubles was the name of the game. Nadal, in black-on-black with a pop of electric green, partnered with model Bar Refaeli for team “Rafa and Refa,” who looked better than they played. They lost to Azarenka and her partner, New York Giants defensive end Justin Lee Tuck. Next up: Maria Sharapova, in a deep purple dress with tuxedo lapels, and Bradley Cooper versus Federer, sporting a moodier version of preppy classic in a navy polo and matching shorts, and Sami Ahmad, one lucky kid from the New York Junior Tennis League. Even with Cooper playing hardball against Ahmad, team Federer dominated until John McEnroe told Ahmad to take a seat while he teamed up with Federer, which did nothing to improve Federer’s record. Not that the kids from the charities — Harlem Children’s Zone (Sharapova and Cooper), New York Junior Tennis League (Federer) and City Parks Foundation (Azarenka and Tuck) seemed to mind.

This story first appeared in the August 27, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Even at a postgame press conference, style took priority over strategy. McEnroe kicked off the Q&A session and cut directly to the clothes, with most of the questions served to the men: “Rafa, do you call Nike to ask what Roger’s doing so you can do something extra special?”

“I love always the right colors. No, Roger?” said Nadal, apologizing for his English before deferring to Federer’s fashion expertise.

“He loves the bright colors,” corrected Federer. “I see it on the other side of the court. Left. Right.”

It was hard to say who was the resident fashion plate, Sharapova or Federer. Both have Nike lines with their names on them, among other fashion endorsement deals. But Federer has a certain insider on speed dial, lest anyone, McEnroe included, forget. “Who’s that famous fashion lady you’re friends with, Anna Wintour?” asked McEnroe. “Do you talk to her about your new lines?”

No shame there.

“I get a second opinion — a very strong second opinion,” said Federer. “I asked her about the pink color I was wearing last week, and she was like, ‘Are you sure about that, Roger?’ I was like, ‘Well, it’s too late now anyway.’ I snuck that one by, but she loved it and I got good reviews.”



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