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Top 10 Style Icons of Men's Tennis

Sally YoungerContributor IIJanuary 7, 2017

Top 10 Style Icons of Men's Tennis

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    Brooklyn Decker, meet a nude Boris Becker.

    Catsuit? Try cutoffs.

    Or race Roger Federer's Benz in Bjorn Borg car wrap.

    Flashbulbs and celebritas have irradiated tennis long before Andy Murray was crowned Monday night beneath the New York floodlights. In the men’s game, style has always stood the third player on the court—before Technicolor, endorsement fatigue and six-digit cash pots.

    Sports cars, fashion, controversy, poker, shoes and chateaus, a "living sex legend" and at least one Renaissance Man. A look back in commemoration of the players who combined substance and image, and defined a game.

No. 10: Guillermo Vilas

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    Before Rafa was hitching up his hemline to take his first swings from Uncle Toni, a Spanish-speaking southpaw had pirated 53 clay court victories—a streak not bested until Nadal himself in 2009.  

    Streaming-haired with a playboy air, Guillermo Vilas of Buenos Aires fused stardom with success. PUMA’s iconic "GV" line was reintroduced in 2007, in homage to the Argentine legend who sported the brand (and bagged 130 wins in 1977). The kicks featured a gilded image of Vilas on the tongue.

No. 9: Bill Tilden

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    The Agassi mullet and even Pete Sampras’ leg shag could make a run, but the reels go back to black-and-white to find America's first ace of hair. The top quaff is Bill Tilden’s.

    Why Big Bill? Because his 'do was perfect and it never gaffed, though the man himself was engulfed by sexual scandal and an infamous personality. Because it bespoke privilege and pomp and confidence and contradiction—in other words, tennis.

No. 8: Ilie Nastase

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    Bucharest Buffoon, novelist, politico—Ilie Nastase is the conqueror of more than 100 ATP titles (undisputed) and 800 female hearts, allegedly, via GQ.

    Renowned for his antics and craft, flair and speed, the Romanian remains one of the most original spirits to ever capture seven Grand Slam laurels. Part-Novak Djokovic, part-Professor Snape, he retired from the tour in 1985 without a Wimbledon singles title (ironically).

No. 7: Yannick Noah

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    The last Frenchman to major singly on the red clay, Yannick Noah has led a supernaturally high profile retirement since exiting the game in the 1990s.

    The dreadlocked, politically engaged, enormously popular, anti-doping crusading, charity-spearheading son of a Cameroonian soccer star is a West Indies restaurateur and recording artist who has sold over a million albums. He’s also the father of Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah.

    But does he have a boat?

No. 6: Jean Borotra

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    Modern coverage has accustomed viewers to the ubiquitous polo-and-ball-cap press conference. But finding the maddest hatter in the game harkens to an era when the U.S. championship was a grass-and-sweater affair.

    The distinction goes to Jean Borotra and his unfailing blue beret. Acrobatic and a crowd-delighter, the "Bounding Basque" was one of the game's original thrillmasters, and helped France stake its first Davis Cup in style in 1927.

No. 5: Boris Becker

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    Baron von Slam turned media tycoon, Boris Becker was dancing baselines before Serena Williams could hold serve.

    By 17 he was Wimbledon champion. A power player and a populist, he joins an exclusive (one-man?) group of BBC tennis commentators to have ever posed nude in protest of racism.

    “Britain’s favorite German” has stayed relevant with scandal and style, and is a face on the European poker tour.

No. 4: Arthur Ashe

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    Arthur Ashe embodied elegance to a depth no American player has since rivaled. His was an unforgettable triumph at the U.S. Open in the roiling summer of 1968, commanding respect with his game and class.

    Post-Ashe, it’s hard to imagine a world in which elite athletes don’t support a social cause or charity. But it’s also hard to imagine the world’s No. 1 player getting handcuffed for civil disobedience. Ashe was twice arrested—protesting apartheid in 1985 and again seven years later in front of the White House in defense of refugees.  

No .3: Bjorn Borg

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    Unbelievably, the unflappable white hair occasionally glimpsed around Centre Court was once…an unflappable blond occasionally glimpsed around Centre Court.

    Then as now, Bjorn Borg is perhaps the most unexpected of "rock stars," his status complete with a Monte Carlo penthouse, failed marriages, a rumor of attempted suicide and retirement at the age of 26. He also heads Sweden’s second-most popular fashion label.

    Half a dozen French titles, five championships at Wimbledon, a winning percentage across all surfaces exceeding 80 percent. The master of footwork and mentality, he cracked the million dollar prize roof.

    Not even an awkward wooden racket comeback attempt in the 1990s could uncool the Ice Man.

No. 2: Roger Federer

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    If he had retired three years ago, Roger Federer would still remain the icon of the tennis decade. A style maker, simply put. Even as younger champions emerge, his throwback chill won’t be usurped.

    The demeanor, the intelligence, the graciousness, the Dubai flat. For 295 weeks and counting, he has made elegance elegant again. Few players capture 17 Majors, none with his intangible impact.

No. 1: Rene Lacoste

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    Sophistication owned.

    Rene "the crocodile" Lacoste defines the legacy so many have sought in vain.

    Born in turn-of-the-century Paris, he claimed 10 major titles in a seven-year career. He came to tennis late, as a teenager visiting England, and turned down a prestigious engineering education to pursue the game. He was the son of privilege, a World No. 1, he captured the U.S. Open twice, he pioneered the first metal tennis racket and held 20 patents.

    The apparel brand he founded, with its iconic reptile monogram, entered the U.S. market in 1950. And hundreds of millions of dollars later, would come to plaster Andy Roddick’s retirement presser.

    Lacoste’s look on the court broke with tradition, and tradition never looked back.

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