Watchmakers capitalise on rising popularity of tennis
Julien Tornare, chief executive of the luxury watchmaker Zenith, wanted to do more than spectate at the Wimbledon Championships in 2019. His aim was to find a rising tennis player to promote his brand.
Tornare, however, ended up signing a deal with Patrick Mouratoglou, the French coach. He felt his choice ticked all the boxes for a company whose motto is “time to reach your star”.
Mouratoglou, 52, came to prominence in 2012 when he solved the problem of the flagging form of Serena Williams. He helped the US star to win 10 more Grand Slam titles, taking her tally to 23.
Nicknamed “The Coach”, Mouratoglou was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris. He hoped to be a top player and practised hard from the age of seven but his ambition was thwarted by his parents who saw tennis as a “risky career”.
“Tennis was my entire life,” he says. “I believed that my destiny was to be a professional player on the tour. But, when the time came to go fully into it, my parents refused.”
Almost as big a problem to Mouratoglou’s ambition was his shyness. He was terrified of interacting with people, even though today he is relaxed, even an extrovert. “I went through 10 years of therapy, for the first year of which I was unable to say a single word to my psychologist,” he says.
By the late 1990s, Mouratoglou had come to terms with his parents’ decision and conquered his fears. He began to offer piecemeal tennis lessons on rented courts in Paris.
Today, he runs the Mouratoglou Academy in Biot, Nice, a tennis mecca with 33 courts that trains 200 students. He also coaches Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world number six. The complex is a resort for tennis fans, with a four-star hotel, restaurant, spa and swimming pools — one of which is racket-shaped.
Asked how he came to choose Mouratoglou, Tornare says a survey of Zenith owners had pointed to golf and tennis as being their favourite sports. Being a tennis player himself, Tornare decided to focus on that.
Mouratoglou’s partnership with Zenith has led to the 50-piece Defy 21 Patrick Mouratoglou Edition chronograph with the coach’s mantra, “little details make big differences”, engraved on the bezel. He receives royalties on each sale of the £16,000 watch, which go towards running the academy.
Each buyer has a one-to-one session with Mouratoglou, as well as a tour of the Zenith factory. At the annual Mouratoglou charity gala last month, one of the Defy 21 packages attracted a winning bid of €35,000.
But Zenith is far from the first watchmaker to associate itself with tennis, a sport played by 87mn people.
Rolex is the biggest hitter, having been timekeeper at Wimbledon for 44 years. It is the main backer of the US, Australian and French Opens. Roger Federer — who was ranked number one in the world for 310 weeks — has been one of the highest profile players associated with Rolex since signing with the brand in 2006.
Tag Heuer is timekeeper for the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Germany and it sponsors young talents including Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitová and Denis Shapovalov.
Such associations can be short, though. Rado lost the benefit of sponsoring Ashleigh Barty of Australia when she retired this year at the age of 26. The brand, owned by Swatch Group, continues to back other players including Ugo Humbert of France, and Jay Clarke and Cameron Norrie of Britain.
Perhaps the most talked about watch/player pairing is that between Richard Mille, the ultra high-end Swiss maker, and Rafael Nadal, the 22-time Grand Slam winner.
Nadal has had a series of ultralight Richard Mille watches designed especially for him and has worn them in every match he has played since 2008.
However, Zenith’s different approach in backing Mouratoglou could prove a smart way to attract younger customers, not least since the brand supports Ultimate Tennis Showdown — Mouratoglou’s maverick tournament, which encourages showmanship by eschewing the conventional code of conduct.
“There is definitely a great deal more we can do together,” says Tornare. “As well as further Mouratoglou watches, we are considering partnering with Patrick to create different types of tournament, increasing the Zenith branding presence at the academy and generally trying to help one another.
“I’m very happy that any financial help we can give to Patrick will be used to help young players,” he adds, citing Mouratoglou students such as Mael Gerinie, a 10-year-old prodigy from New Caledonia in the South Pacific, and rising stars Ksenia Efremova, 13, and Clervie Magloire Ngounoue, 15.
“When I came on board as CEO, in 2017, the average age of a Zenith buyer was 44. Now it’s 36 and falling — the fact that Patrick’s brand helps hopefuls in a dynamic sport that is attracting more and more young people can only be good for us. It is a partnership that’s working both ways.”