It’s called the U.S. Open, and the crowd is definitely from New York, but the clothing on the court is decidedly Japanese.
Stan Wawrinka, wearing Yonex, thrilled fans with a four-set victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, sponsored by Uniqlo. The semifinals featured another Uniqlo athlete, Kei Nishikori, and Gael Monfils, who is backed by Asics.
As the 2016 Grand Slam draws to a close, Japanese brands have far outpaced their Western competition. Led by Djokovic and Uniqlo, Japan’s apparel makers have turned up in seven men’s Grand Slam semifinal this year — more than Nike, Adidas and New Balance combined.
The marketing is part of a broader push to strengthen international sales and offset the effects of Japan’s aging, shrinking population and stagnant economy. Uniqlo now has more stores outside of Japan, and Yonex Co., the racket and clothing maker backing Switzerland’s Wawrinka, earned more than half its profit overseas last year for the first time.
The exposure won by Japanese brands on the tour this year comes at Nike’s expense. Until this year, Nike stars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominated men’s tennis, bringing the swoosh to all but eight of the 40 Grand Slam finals since 2005. Neither is invincible anymore: Federer, 35, canceled the remainder of his season after losing in a Wimbledon semifinal, and Nadal, 30, was upset in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
Tennis players tend to rise and fade in cohorts, and the ascension of Djokovic and, more recently, Nishikori has been a boon for Uniqlo. The company signed a five-year deal with world Djokovic in 2012, after taking on Nishikori in the previous year.