During the 1988 US Open in Queens, New York an 18-year-old Andre Agassi got the world talking. Not necessarily about his tennis chops, but about the acid washed, tiny denim Nike shorts he wore to play on court.
The shorts and mullet combo have gone on to become the look that everyone recalls of Agassi from his heyday. Very few would, however, remember that Agassi was possibly one of the first — if not the first — in the professional tennis circuit to wear a watch during game play.
Thanks to our friend Nick Gould (better known to you and I by his Instagram handle @niccoloy) we’re able to say that the watch on Agassi’s wrist was an Ebel timepiece. Nick even found the pertaining ad material to confirm this.
Although, the watchmaker who most commonly makes on-court appearances these days, has to be the one and only Richard Mille, on the wrist of the Spanish phenom, Rafael “Rafa” Nadal.
The first time Rafa wore a Richard Mille on court was during the 2010 French Open. That year he played against Robin Söderling during the finals and won straight sets to secure his fifth French Open and seventh Grand Slam title. The watch on his wrist during the entirety of the French Open that year was the 20-gram RM 027.
More than Rafa’s title win that year, the talk of the town that day was the RM 027 on his wrist. The story goes that former tennis star, John McEnroe who was commentating during the game, even remarked saying that Rafa was playing the game wearing a “half-million-dollar watch”.
Nine years since that day, Rafa has never played a game without a Richard Mille timepiece strapped to his right wrist. Richard Mille in the meantime has also gone on to create ever more extreme watches with Rafa in mind. These watches include the RM 035, RM 35-01 and evolutions of the RM 027, the RM 27-01, 27-02 and, most recently, the RM 27-03.
September 8th, 2019, on the occasion of winning his 19th Grand Slam and 4th US Open title, Rafa had the RM 27-03 on his wrist. But make no mistake, tennis was not the domain where Richard Mille established “game play wrist game”. That legacy belongs to Felipe Massa and the mythical RM 006 that he first wore in 2004.
Since then Richard Mille watches have been seen on the wrist of extreme athletes from a multitude of fields, the ranks of which include Bubba Watson from the world of golf; Mark Cavendish from the world of cycling; Pablo Mac Donough from the world of polo; Yohan Blake, Wayde Van Niekerk, Mutaz Essa Barshim and Maria Vicente from the world of track and field, just to name a few.
Putting considerations for chronometry aside, in light of the conditions that these timepieces must endure during game play, you could say that the only other concern would be a question of personal performance. There is a reason why the common practice among high performance athletes is to not wear any unnecessary accessories while competing. It’s because they don’t want anything on their person that presents a remote possibility of affecting their performance.
Richard Mille gets past this concern by creating ever more lightweight wristwatches for athletes. Take for instance the RM 67-02, which weighs in at a mere 32 g. The other thing to consider is that most of the athletes who wear Richard Mille watches are all of the solo variety. Therein a watch on their person doesn’t exactly pose an issue to anyone else on the playing field. The only exception, in this regard, is perhaps Pablo Mac Donough — but polo, too isn’t exactly a contact sport. The game of American Football, however, is very much a contact sport and it’s where Richard Mille has made its latest — no pun intended — impact.
Over the past weekend, as NFL kicked off its 2019 season, the Cleveland Browns versus Tennessee Titans games saw the Titans obliterate the Browns 43 to 13. Yet if you Google the game today, you’re bound to spot a fair number of Browns-related headlines for a very different reason.
During said game, Browns wide receiver, 27-year old Odell Beckham Jr. was on the field the entire time with an RM 11-03 McLaren Flyback Chronograph on his left wrist. Immediately questions arise: can an RM 11-03 survive a high impact sport like American Football? Given Richard Mille’s track record, we can safely say, yes it can. However, can Odell Beckham Jr.’s teammates and opposing players survive being hit with an RM 11-03 in the midst of a skull crushing tackle? Looks like we’re going to have to pay close attention to the NFL 2019 season in order to answer this question.
Update, September 10, 2019:
The Associated Press has reported that the NFL has advised Odell Beckham Jr. to not wear his RM 11-03 McLaren Flyback Chronograph during game play.
The report states that on Monday, “league spokesman Michael Signora said while there are no rules prohibiting jewelry, there is a policy ‘prohibiting hard objects.'”
Browns coach Freddie Kitchens in turn responded saying that while he was unaware that Beckham had worn the watch to field, he will ensure that the team abides by league rules, “as long as they’re going to enforce that with everyone”.