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Alcaraz’s sleeveless T-shirt: A tribute to Nadal that is garnering headlines

At the U.S. Open, the Spanish tennis player debuts a colorful and tight-fitting Nike kit that gives those who see him as the new Rafa additional fodder for their argument, this time through fashion

Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz of Spain reacts to Matteo Arnaldi of Italy on day eight of the 2023 U.S. Open.Robert Deutsch (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

Players’ attire on the tennis court, a territory defined by lots of codes, can still make headlines. Spectators at the U.S. Open, which began on August 28, took notice of the style that Carlos Alcaraz, the world’s number one-ranked tennis player, wore for his first match at one of the four most important tournaments in the world: a tight-fitting sleeveless shirt with a colorful abstract print on a white background. Given the Spaniard’s habit of dressing the same way throughout a competition (as he himself has stated on several occasions), it is to be expected that he will keep wearing the outfit until the tournament ends.

The public has been quick to point out the similarities with another of the pioneers in wearing a sleeveless shirt instead of a short-sleeved one: none other than Rafa Nadal. Alcaraz himself has acknowledged that his look is a nod to Nadal. The U.S. tournament is more flexible than the others in terms of clothing, so it is a fertile ground for stylistic innovations, as well as for declarations of intent. Alcaraz’s statement is both. Until now, he had worn short sleeves in competition. In addition, the new kit confirms the good relationship between the tennis player and Nike, the company with which he has had a sponsorship agreement since 2019; the brand created his exclusive new kit. Indeed, since this week, Nike has been selling a very similar model—for the moment, only shirts with sleeves are available—with versions in white, blue and an unmistakable burgundy color, the same hue as the tennis shorts Alcaraz wears during competition.

An individual and individualistic sport, tennis is perfect for showcasing the personality of its champions: in a field in which classic and uniform elegance once predominated, anyone who steps out of line is still newsworthy and a subject of controversy. Alcaraz’s new kit has made headlines and caused a stir on social media, with reactions both for—some proponents suggest that Nike should generalize the pattern designed for Alcaraz, as it is flattering and innovative—and against, because of the ensemble’s striking print. But no one disputes that all great tennis players have the right to create their own style.

Few sports have a roster of style rebels as complete as tennis: from Björn Borg, whose blond hair and tight shorts befitted the disco era (and his fruitful partnership with Fila), to John McEnroe’s bandana (and curls!), to André Agassi’s colorful revolution, complete with a mullet and his fondness for prints, neon and layered clothes; Agassi even decided to forgo Wimbledon for several seasons because of his annoyance with its requirement to wear white. More recently, the gradients and digital illustrations that Novak Djokovic usually incorporates into his outfits have coexisted with the almost retro neoclassicism of Roger Federer, who eschewed prints and bright colors. Rafa Nadal, a fan of tight-fitting garments and bright, even neon tones, was somewhere in the middle. He also likes sleeveless t-shirts, which are designed to improve ergonomics and could have inspired Alcaraz’s choice in 2023.

In any case, Alcaraz is experiencing a particularly sweet moment, not just in sports but also in his relationship with the fashion world, where tennis is having a moment. This summer, Alcaraz became the first Spaniard to be named a global ambassador for Louis Vuitton, the world’s most influential luxury brand. His harmonious relationships with the companies he collaborates with reveal the character of a sportsman who understands the mechanisms of celebrity. He does not splurge much, but he has partnerships with leading brands in their respective fields. And his much-discussed sleeveless T-shirt, which differentiates him from the rest of the competitors—of the eight tennis players who are still active in the tournament, only Tiafoe has opted for a similar cut—show signs of being another masterstroke that further fixes Alcaraz’s image in the visual memory of our day.

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