Nike’s decision to pick Roger Federer and pass on Novak Djokovic was purely a marketing one, according to Mike Nakajima, the company’s former long-term tennis director.
Federer was signed by Nike in 1994 and sported the company’s famous swoosh during all 20 of his Grand Slam triumphs. His most recent deal with the American sportswear and apparel giant saw him earn a reported $12 million a year for a decade.
In comparison, Djokovic has had a plethora of brand associations. He has been with Adidas, Head, Uniqlo and Lacoste.
Explaining why Djokovic, the ATP World No. 1, was never considered by Nike, Nakajima told Talking Tennis:
“Nothing against Novak — he’s a great player, speaks well, and can become the greatest player of all time. But from a marketing point of view, we felt that Serbia wasn’t a big market for us so we took that into consideration.
“Switzerland wasn’t all that big either, but when [Federer] became ‘The Roger Federer,’ he became a global athlete and that’s good enough for us. Nike thought Roger was a very promising young athlete, and we could see that the game was moving in Europe.