The tennis fraternity has a lot of marketable players in its midst. Some of these players are already being exploited for their market worth, while others are just cash piñatas waiting to be whacked open.
I recently came across an article listing the 50 most marketable sportsmen on the planet, which had the fastest man on earth—Usain Bolt—on its pinnacle.
So I decided to formulate a more appropriate list featuring the most marketable tennis players in the world.
Now, what makes a tennis player marketable?
I think it's an amalgamation of the following traits:
- The player needs to be successful. He/she needs to be in the top 30 at least, and he/she needs to have won at least five career titles (a Grand Slam would be nice!).
- He/she needs to have a charming, vibrant personality in order to be a hit among masses.
- He/she needs to score moderately high in the looks department.
- He/she needs to have reasonable command over the English language.
So, after considering the above factors, here's my list of the 15 most marketable tennis players currently playing.
Juan Martin del Potro is enjoying his second coming in tennis right now.
The 6'6" Argentine first made waves in 2008 when he went on a 23-match unbeaten streak—the second longest by a teenager in the Open Era.
Del Potro then won his first and only Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows in 2009, thereby preventing Roger Federer from winning a record sixth US Open title.
However, a wrist injury hampered the majority of his 2010 season and del Potro, who had reached a career-high ranking of No. 4, plummeted down the rankings.
The man with a towering personality is currently endorsed by Nike and Rolex. As he continues his ascent, the Argentine is bound to attract more sponsors and lucrative deals in the future.
If you overlook the fact that she grunts like a baby banshee, Victoria Azarenka isn't bad to look at. In fact, to put it mildly, she's pretty good to look at!
Currently ranked No. 4 in the world, Azarenka is one of the rare female tennis players whose game compliments their looks.
The Belarusian beauty is currently sponsored by brands such as Nike and Head. She has also graced the cover of magazines such as Health, Smash, SOBeFit and appeared in an FHM feature.
Kim Clijsters is another player enjoying her second coming in tennis.
The former World No. 1 retired in 2007 at the age of 23 but returned to the circuit two years later after the birth of her daughter.
In only her third tournament after coming back from retirement, Clijsters won the 2009 US Open and became the first unseeded player and wildcard entrant to win the tournament. She was also the first tennis mommy to win a Grand Slam since Evonne Goolagong in 1980.
Clijsters then went on to defend her title the following year and also won the year-end championships. The Belgian then won her first Australian Open title earlier this year, which pushed her up to No. 2 in the world—her highest ranking since coming out of retirement.
Despite her clay and grass court seasons being cut shot by an ankle injury, Clijsters has maintained her World No. 2 ranking to date.
The Belgian is understandably sponsored by many brands such as Fila, Babolat, Citizen Watches and AA Drink.
Clijsters is a model mommy and family woman. She is accompanied by her husband and daughter in all her tournaments. It's a wonder she isn't sponsored by brands such as Mothercare.
After winning the US Open juniors title in 2003, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga broke out on the professional scene by reaching the final of the 2008 Australian Open as a wild card, beating Rafael Nadal on the way.
Tsonga became a crowd favorite following that performance. Much of that had to do with his thouroughly entertaining, dynamic and acrobatic style of play.
After a couple of average seasons, the Frenchman drew attention again in the pre-Wimbledon Queen's Club tournament, where he beat Nadal yet again. Tsonga was to lose in the final to Andy Murray.
The vibrant Frenchman then went on to pull off another shocker at the All-England Club by knocking out Roger Federer in the quarterfinals after being two sets down. It took an inspired performance by eventual champion Novak Djokovic to dispel the Frenchman in the semifinal.
Tsonga looks to be in the form of his life with his blistering groundstrokes, massive serves and never-say-die attitude.
The beefy Frenchman is currently endorsed by Adidas, Babolat, Tropicana and Kinder.
Serbian Ana Ivanović first burst onto the scene by reaching the final of the 2007 French Open as a 19-year-old. However, she lost the match to world No. 1 Justine Henin.
Ivanović suffered another Grand Slam final defeat at the 2008 Australian Open, this time to Russian Maria Sharapova.
The Serbian finally got her taste of Grand Slam success at the French Open that same year, where she beat Dinara Safina in straight sets in the final.
Ivanović's performances and eventual rise to world No. 1 won her a lifetime sponsorship deal with Adidas, which will see her become an ambassador for the sports apparel maker once she retires. She is, to date, the youngest athlete to sign a contract of such longevity.
The Serbian's attractive looks also won her several magazine cover endorsements such as Sports Illustrated, FHM, Cosmopolitan, Hello!, etc.
But Ivanović has undergone a major slump in form since her Grand Slam win. She hasn't gotten past the fourth round of a Major since and has earned the tag of being a one-hit wonder.
However, other than Adidas, she continues to be sponsored by brands such as Yonex, Rolex and Technogym.
Andy Roddick has been the face of American tennis ever since he won the US Open back in 2003.
It remains his only Grand Slam triumph to date.
Roddick did reach the final of Wimbledon thrice, most recently in 2009, but lost to Roger Federer on all three occasions.
However, that hasn't stopped him from being a cult figure in American tennis.
One of the reasons for Roddick's popularity is his jovial nature and flamboyant personality. He is known to do good impersonations of other tennis players and is quite witty in his interviews.
Roddick is also known for his tantrums and frequent tirades against umpires and linesmen.
One of the memorable incidents was during the 2008 Australian Open when he abused the chair umpire by asking him, "Do you have ears? Do you have ears connected to your head? Use them. You can use them if you want!"
Later, he added, "You're an idiot! If you don't believe that, you're lying to yourself. Do you have to be like a second-grade drop out to be an umpire?" Roddick then turned towards the crowd and said, "Stay in school, kids, or you'll end up being an umpire!"
Roddick continues to be popular among American tennis fans even though his form has dipped over the years.
A-Rod, as he is popularly known, endorses brands such as Lacoste, Babolat, SAP and Lagardère.
Andy Murray is another player who enjoys fervent home-support.
Being Britain's only hope to win a Grand Slam since the retirement of Tim Henman, Murray has always been in the spotlight of the British media and continues to be hyped to the core.
As Murray's profile has risen over the years, he has secured millions in sponsorship deals.
The Scotsman used to wear Fred Perry clothing at the start of his career, but left the brand in 2009 to sign a $24.5 million deal with Adidas, lasting until 2014.
Murray is also endorsed by Head and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
Recently, RBS extended its seven-figure sponsorship of Murray which will see him team up with his brother Jamie and mother Judy to inspire more kids to take up the sport.
Murray has yet to win a Grand Slam title but has reached the final on three occasions and the semifinal four times.
Venus Williams is one of the richest and most popular female athletes in the world.
In a predominantly white sport, Venus and her sister Serena were the stalwarts in breaking the shackles of race in women's tennis and have racked up 20 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
Venus was the first African-American woman to be the world No. 1 since the computerized rankings system was introduced.
Venus is also respected for her involvement in the 2005 campaign for equal prize money for men and women at the French Open and Wimbledon. The All-England Club announced equalization in 2007 and the French Open followed suit soon.
Venus endorsed sports apparel maker Reebok between 2000 and 2005 in a deal which was rumored to be worth £27 million. Her history of apparel sponsors has included Puma, Nike and Reebok.
Venus then launched her own clothing line, called EleVen, in 2007.
Her brand recently announced a deal with Polo Ralph Lauren where the two will produce co-branded dresses for sale.
Venus has also made a name for herself as an entrepreneur, having set up an interior design firm, V Starr Interiors.
The Williams sisters are also part-owners of the Miami Dolphins NFL franchise.
Serena Williams may be the younger of the Williams sisters, but she's also the more successful of the two.
She has 27 Grand Slam titles to her name, including 13 singles titles.
Serena is the only current player, male or female, to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously and only the fifth woman to do so in the history of the game.
Serena has won over $32 million in prize money since she turned pro in 1995, thus making her the fourth-highest-earning tennis player.
Due to her popularity, she also rakes in a lot of moolah in sponsorship deals and endorsements.
Known for her outrageous on-court fashion, which includes everything from knee-high boots to trench coats in the hot summer sun, Serena set up her own clothing line titled Aneres (Serena spelled backwards) in 2004.
When she first started off, she had a special line with Puma. In 2004, she signed a deal with Nike worth $40 million.
Serena is also highly involved in charity work. She helped fund the construction of the Serena Williams Secondary School in Kenya and is deeply involved in the breast cancer campaign.
Due to her huge popularity, Serena has often appeared on TV shows such as The Simpsons, Punk'd, My Wife and Kids, ER, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Serena also posed for the 2003 and 2004 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
She continues to be adored by fans all around the world and will always be an American sweetheart.
Li Na has attracted a lot of sponsors due to her recent success.
Being the first Asian to ever win a Grand Slam, it was expected that money would soon start pouring in.
The 29-year-old recently signed a three-year deal with Mercedez-Benz, worth $1.5 million per year. This will see her sport a Mercedes badge on her right sleeve from now on.
The contract adds to her rapidly growing portfolio of endorsements, which already includes brands such as Nike, Rolex, Spider Tech and Häagen-Dazs.
Li Na is set to earn a projected $10 million in sponsorship deals over the year. This will see her become the world's second most endorsed female athlete, after Maria Sharapova.
Na has a lot of potential with regards to marketing and could be used to tap the Asian tennis market to the fullest.
Novak Djokovic's recent success should see him attract a lot of sponsors in the near future.
The Serbian has won over $27 million in career prize money and earns millions from sponsorship deals.
Djokovic recently signed a 10-year deal with Italian sportswear brand Sergio Tacchini. He switched over from Adidas to sport the brand worn by his childhood idols John McEnroe and Pete Sampras.
Djokovic is also sponsored by Head, Telekom Srbija and Fitline.
The Serbian has a lot of marketing potential due to his crowning as the new World No. 1. Djokovic is also very popular among the media and crowds due to his amicable nature and uncanny impersonations of fellow tennis players.
Djokovic is a huge hit back in Serbia and remains the country's most successful athlete. In 2009 and 2010, he won the Oscar of Popularity for the most popular male athlete in Serbia.
Djokovic has appeared in a music video for a song featuring Martin Solveig and Dragonette. In 2010, Serbian blues-rock band Zona B even recorded a song dedicated to him—aptly titled "The Joker."
Thus, Djokovic has a lot of marketing potential and if he can sustain his current form long enough, it could see him become one of the highest-earning athletes in the world.
World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki enjoyed a surge to the top ever since she made her professional debut in 2005.
She improved her year-end ranking each year before finally landing on top in October last year.
Wozniacki has now held the position for 40 weeks, which is even more spectacular considering that she's never won a Grand Slam.
However, she has won 17 WTA titles in her career, including five just this year.
Being just 21 years of age, the Dane has a lot of marketing potential.
Wozniacki's good looks have seen her become the face of Adidas' Stella McCartney range of tennis attire, which she sports on-court.
Despite her defensive style on-court, the Dane is pretty offensive off of it. She has secured endorsement deals with Yonex, Oriflame, Turkish Airlines and Compeed worth millions of dollars.
Having achieved all of this without winning a Grand Slam, one can only imagine the paranoia she would cause if she ever won one.
Rafael Nadal's jovial nature and rapid rise to success have seen him become an idol for millions of kids across the world.
Rafa has one of the most robust fanbases among sportsmen, which has seen him become an instant hit with sponsors.
Nadal pulled in $21 million last year, with $5.6 million in prize money and the rest from endorsements and appearance fees.
After winning the 2005 French Open, Nadal signed an endorsement deal with Nike for an undisclosed figure.
In 2008, Rafa was confirmed as Kia Motors' global ambassador.
The Spaniard also signed a deal with Swiss watch maker Richard Mille, which made a specially designed watch, valued at $525,000, for Rafa.
Nadal also recently replaced Cristiano Ronaldo as the face of Emporio Armani Underwear and Armani Jeans. He is the first tennis player to endorse the brand after David Beckham and Ronaldo.
Other than this, Nadal is sponsored by Babolat and several Spanish companies.
Surprisingly, his marketing potential doesn't seem to have been fully tapped. Nadal can do much better with his endorsements than he currently does.
But being the humble and down-to-earth guy that he is, perhaps it's a personal choice.
Maria Sharapova has had sponsors lining up outside her door ever since she won the 2004 Wimbledon title as a 17-year-old.
The Russian has got everything. The game, the hotness, the personality, the hotness, the success... oh and did I mention the hotness?
Maria Sharapova is the highest-paid female athlete on this planet. She has an annual sponsorship income of around $25 million, and when you add to that her career prize money of $16 million, she looks set for even the afterlife!
Last year, Sharapova inked an eight-year deal with Nike worth $70 million. This is the most lucrative deal ever signed by a sportswoman.
She also has her own line of bags with Nike's subsidiary Cole Haan.
Other than these two, Sharapova endorses brands such as Sony Ericsson, Tag Heuer, Tiffany & Co., Head, Evian and Clear.
Sharapova was the most searched for female athlete on Yahoo! in 2005 and 2008.
In 2006, Maxim ranked Sharapova the hottest athlete in the world for the fourth consecutive year.
Sharapova is one of the most popular pin-up girls in the world and has appeared in a six-page bikini photoshoot for the Sports illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2006 (can anyone lend me a copy, please?).
However, the Russian has a give-and-take relationship with her moolah. She has been actively involved in charity work and donated $50,000 towards the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund.
She was also appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2007 for the United Nations Development Programme through which she donated $210,000 towards the Chernobyl recovery projects.
Thus, Sharapova is the perfect combination of style and substance. Even though she does not see herself playing tennis five years down the line, she will continue to be one of the most popular athletes in the world for years to come.
Roger Federer, like Maria Sharapova, is one of the most popular athletes in the world and is widely regarded as the greatest tennis player of all time.
The man from Basel has won a record 16 Grand Slams since turning pro in 1998 and has been ranked world No. 1 for 285 weeks, second only to Pete Sampras who held it for 286 weeks. This included a record stretch of 237 consecutive weeks at the top for the Swiss.
Thus, Federer has a lot of attracting power in terms of sponsorships and endorsements. Other than his success, Roger scores big points on his charming personality, his good command over English and his strikingly good looks.
The Swiss Maestro has pocketed over $63 million in prize money over the years and according to Sports Illustrated, he raked in $62 million last year itself—two-thirds of which came from sponsorship deals.
Federer has a horde of sponsors in his pocket—including Nike, Gillette, Mercedes-Benz, Lindt, Rolex, Wilson and Credit Suisse.
One of the main reasons Federer has hit the marketing jackpot is because he's a global athlete. He transcends all barriers of his sport and nationality due to his charismatic personality and multilingualism (he speaks fluent English, French and German).
There is nothing Roger can't do.
He can inspire the world's biggest shave, he can inspire a speed artist to paint his portrait in four minutes and he can also knock a bottle off the top of a man's head with a serve.
Roger Federer is, thus, unparalleled in the tennis world when it comes to marketing and seems to have a Midas touch wherever he goes. He is a global icon.
He is one of most loved athletes in the world and will continue to be so long after he retires.