Juan Martin del Potro gave Rafael Nadal the yellow jersey that he wore at the 2010 French Open

Before Juan Martin del Potro’s win over Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the Paris Masters the Argentine superstar owned the dream big white jersey of all top-flight male tennis players and is now…

Juan Martin del Potro gave Rafael Nadal the yellow jersey that he wore at the 2010 French Open

Before Juan Martin del Potro’s win over Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the Paris Masters the Argentine superstar owned the dream big white jersey of all top-flight male tennis players and is now synonymous with the yellow-striped second jersey currently at odds with his new Nike deal.

Del Potro, a three-time grand slam champion who has developed into one of the world’s top ten players, made a gift to Nadal that will turn up for Sunday’s finals against Roger Federer. The match will once again have local cheering sections behind Federer, but the Chilean gained respect in Paris.

“I didn’t forget, I remember what he did when I was there with the yellow jersey, one year he helped me. He did something for me that I never forget,” Nadal told reporters after his win over Del Potro. “I’m very happy that he came, in his time, to help me to lose the yellow jersey. I’m sure he will be back for the finals tomorrow.”

Still, Del Potro, who wore the jersey for the opening night matches of the tournament and in the semifinals against Nadal it wasn’t an unconnected event. The Argentine superstar could buy only five sets and chose them up front while the other 39 all were seated under a tent. The clause in his contract allowed the fast-talking, thirty year old to take the jersey for a few round of matches.

“He realized it in a very emotional moment. He stood on court and said he had these 15 sets already booked. All I knew was it could be signed after the final, the third, the fourth, fifth, sixth round but no one could pick it up until the final match,” Andre Agassi said.

A few days later Del Potro told the Argentine newspaper La Nacion that Nike had negotiated on his behalf that he could keep the jersey that showcased his dominance at the world’s most famous court.

“I have one of the biggest clubs in the sport in Nike and after the final I will wear my Nike jersey,” the 24-year-old told the paper. “The offer was so good I took it.”

Team Nike, led by Bob Knight, made it clear after the deal was announced this summer that it wasn’t sending a message to other top tennis players for un-original material that might eventually rub off on their young players. Nike vowed to produce uniforms that reflected the culture of the country. And while the delicate pricing and apparel of Nike in its approach with sponsors, this has been framed as a sponsorship deal with a giant global superstar.

But the history of sports companies is defined by “brand awareness” and Nike will have to pay handsomely to keep those images of Del Potro alive. The Argentine is a perennial grand slam winner but the market for tennis players doesn’t thrive like it does for baseball or soccer. Del Potro’s game is also durable at the world’s fastest court and worn tennis shoes tend to produce a faster return.

Critics say that the development of Del Potro and Federer won’t change anything for the sport’s ability to attract women’s players. If Del Potro doesn’t become the number one tennis player on the planet from his time on the court, Nike will simply fill his ears with whizzing golf balls or pro-athlete sneakers – all products far more popular with the young girls Del Potro courts. The world No. 1 position this year of Serena Williams is a whole different one from 12 years ago when Venus Williams won it.

“If he wears more clothing than other players like (Novak) Djokovic and (Andy) Murray, it’s not necessarily because it’s the most important player,” Seligman told Reuters. “It’s the most desirable guy in the world on the court that’s going to wear it. Del Potro can win five grand slams and wear it. So is Djokovic or Murray going to wear it because of him or because he’s the most incredible player in tennis?”

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