Time For A Contender: Meet Tomas Berdych, The Tennis Champion With A Passion For Watches
Just about every top tennis player can boast a significant watch sponsorship. Just about everyone that is, except for the one who knows the most about timepieces: world number six Tomas Berdych. The big Czech has been knocking at the door of a Grand Slam title for a while. When will his time come?
The French Open, second Grand Slam of the 2014 season, has just entered its second week at Stade Roland Garros in Paris with Longines as official timekeeper and a more than passing focus on players’ wrists. Never before has tennis been so tied to timepieces, with more and more players courting – and receiving – sponsorships and even sporting watches on their wrist while competing.
The Australian Open in January 2014 boasted the first Grand Slam final ever with two contestants wearing a watch on court: Rafael Nadal with his ultra-light Richard Mille 27-01 Tourbillon and Stanislas Wawrinka wearing an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver Ceramic.
More recently, the Mutua Madrid Open became the first Masters 1000 tournament with two finalists playing with a timepiece on their wrists: Kei Nishikori wearing a TAG Heuer Professional Sports Watch faced eventual tournament winner Rafael Nadal wearing his trusty Richard Mille. Read Rafael Nadal, The World’s No.1 Tennis Player; The Richard Mille RM 27-01, The World’s Most Expensive Sports Watch; And The Ion Tiriac Trophy, The World’s Most Complicated Tennis Trophy for more on that.
Yet, the greatest watch aficionado on the ATP tour doesn’t play with a watch and is still looking for a sponsorship: world number six Tomas Berdych, who faces Rolex ambassador Roger Federer’s conqueror Ernests Gulbis for a place in the semifinals.
A consistent top tenner since 2007, the 28-year old Czech regularly posts wrist shots of his timepieces on his Instagram account and is considered by his peers to be the biggest watch connoisseur on tour.
If there was any doubt in my mind, the fact that he gifted his father a Rolex Daytona customized by Brevet+ with a Zenith-like El Primero dial (!!!) definitely sealed it.
Berdych has been a step away from a Grand Slam title for a while, having reached at least the semifinals of each one of the four Majors and playing a final at Wimbledon.
The slow, slippery clay courts at Roland Garros do not favor his powerful style of play, but he remains one of the contenders attempting to deny eight-time winner Rafael Nadal’s supremacy.
World number one Nadal has never lost in Paris since “adopting” Richard Mille in 2010. World number two Novak Djokovic recently replaced Audemars Piguet with Seiko as his watch sponsor.
As a journalist specialized in both tennis and watches, I’ve often discussed Tomas’ off-court passion with him, and most recently we had a chat at the Portugal Open, where he was runner-up.
Berdych has been interested in watches since childhood – and the reason is slightly comical: his parents always gave him a hard time because he couldn’t read the time on analog watches.
“I liked watches almost since when I was a kid. And once I started to earn my own money on the tour, I thought of giving myself a present for a good result. I bought my first good timepiece – an Omega – some ten years ago, when I won a Challenger in Braunschweig. Then I started looking more into it, bought some more timepieces and also got a few as presents.
“I received three Ulysse Nardin pieces as a sponsorship for one year in 2010 – from Dusak, a shop in Prague for whom I did some promotion. Since 2012, I’ve gotten more and more into it, reading magazines and books. It’s an interesting subject, every single piece and brand are different from each other.”
How did Tomas’ taste in watches evolve?
“From early on in my career, my taste has leaned more towards sports watches – of course, back then it was also important how much the watch costs, whether it was affordable. I was always trying to go after different models and brands or limited editions, not just picking a single brand and sticking to it.
“I’d say the biggest difference in taste was when I was finally able to buy a gold watch, whereas in the beginning I didn’t think I would like to wear one. Rose gold is much classier than yellow gold. Of course, I like different types and complications – but I never forget that I have to wear them.
“I could buy any kind of watch just because I like it, but then again many wouldn’t feel right on my wrist. It’s easy to choose one, but not so easy for me to wear any watch – I have to feel comfortable, to feel that the watch fits in my lifestyle.”
Time as a reward
I also asked Tomas if there was specific reasoning behind his buys, remembering that former Swedish top 5 player Robin Söderling used to reward good results or a tournament win by buying a watch.
“I don’t have a strict rule. I remember Robin with a new Hublot after beating me to qualify for the 2010 French Open final and asked him about it, and he said it was because he had beaten me in the semifinals! Rewarding myself with a watch depends on the result, whether I am really satisfied.”
Losing in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament doesn’t seem like a good result anymore. Knowing the Czech is a huge aficionado; a reporter used an analogy to ask him whether his performance at the 2014 Australian Open deserved a reward after being defeated by Stanislas Wawrinka.
“You used to buy watches every time you had a big result here. Is this a watch-worthy tournament, making the semifinals?” Tomas didn’t like the question.
“This is really not part of a press conference right after the match,” he grumbled. “I have other feelings going through my mind and you come with a question like that?”
Berdych is not an impulsive buyer and hopes his thorough choices have some kind of mystical positive effect. “I spend a lot of time before buying a watch. And when I get one I really try to enjoy it, giving it a lot of time on my wrist and trying to view it as a lucky charm. When I have a new watch and go to a tournament, if I play well, I think it’s a lucky charm.
“For instance, when I when got my first Panerai Bronzo I liked it so much I wanted to wear it all the time. I went to Indian Wells and I didn’t do well there, then I didn’t do well in the next tournament in Miami and I was telling myself that I had to give it one more chance because I would be so sad if I had to put it aside.
“Then I got to the semifinals in Monte Carlo and it was a relief: it didn’t give me bad luck, after all! Then I got a gold Hublot Big Bang chronograph in New York after getting to the semis of the U.S. Open in 2012 and took it to Argentina for a very difficult Davis Cup semifinal and I thought it would be really hard to win there. But we actually won, so it was a lucky charm.”
Afterward, Berdych led the Czech team in winning the Davis Cup trophy in the final versus Spain. His reward was a rose gold Rolex Daytona customized with the national flag.
I asked Tomas about his most recent purchases. “I managed to find the second edition of the Panerai Bronzo with power reserve and I’m still waiting for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore in gold and ceramic that I ordered. I asked them to personalize the rotor with my initials – I don’t know why it’s taking so long to deliver it!”
Tomas doesn’t just like prestigious sports watches, he actually understands every mechanical complication and knows every single niche brand out there. He’s been eyeing the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire but, candidly, admits he is not ready yet to wear such a classic timepiece on a daily basis.
“I’m still not there, maybe when [the time comes for me to] dress in a suit more often!”
The sportier Hublot, a brand he likes and owns (the Manchester United Red Devil edition and a Classic Fusion with Indian numerals in addition to the gold Big Bang), seems like it would be an ideal match in terms of sponsorship.
For any brand, really, Berdych would be an ideal partner as his dedication and knowledge would provide a lot of exposure were he to play with a timepiece on. Even though he has the looks and great fashion sense, he is from a country whose haute horlogerie market doesn’t seem to be too appealing.
Maybe Big Berd’s time will come soon; for right now, I leave you with the official watch sponsorships distributed among the men’s top 10 in professional tennis rankings.
- 1. Rafael Nadal (Richard Mille)
- 2. Novak Djokovic (Seiko)
- 3. Stanislas Wawrinka (former Audemars Piguet friend of the brand)
- 4. Roger Federer (Rolex)
- 5. David Ferrer (Bovet Fleurier)
- 6. Tomas Berdych (no sponsor)
- 7. Juan Martin del Potro (Rolex)
- 8. Andy Murray (Rado)
- 9. Milos Raonic (Rolex)
- 10. Kei Nishikori (TAG Heuer)