Four Decades of Smashing Ads

Nike is currently the largest sports equipment supplier in the world. They entered the tennis scene officially in 1973. Few remember this, but Nike’s first professional athlete endorser was a Romanian tennis player, Ilie Năstase (now more remembered for an Adidas shoe that wears his name). The company soon broke ground with bold and distinctive design, textile innovation, and iconic shoe models. It’s almost impossible to compile a complete list of all top tennis players they endorsed during the years, but we can name a few who had climbed to the top of the rankings: John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova…

Nike is a combination of the American spirit, iconic products, and bold personalities – a mix of all-time champions and charismatic young talents with attitude such as Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov, and Emma Raducanu.

What’s the winning recipe of Nike’s advertising history? Strong and high quality photos and powerful, inspiring words – all served with striking simplicity, a brutally honest and motivating tone with, sometimes, a twist of irreverence. And above all, the highly recognisable swoosh emblem with memorable, right-to-the-point, and simple slogan that everyone remembers: Just do it. Quite possibly the best known tagline in the world, from the beginning, it fit the brand’s every message.t

Nike’s creative advertising history is also full of memorable, high budget films (with such superstars as Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, and Serena Williams) and groundbreaking events (famously playing tennis on the streets of New York or creating a tennis court in an abandoned swimming pool in Paris), but as this is a magazine, I am privileged to showcase some of the graphic prints and projects. For your eyes only…


1985 - Inside John Mc Enroe’s head


Rebel with a cause. At that time Nike produced a lot of great posters for teenage tennis fans to pin in their rooms. This one became an instant classic.


Air Ace showing the famous denim tennis shorts. Promising young American star, Andre Agassi, signed with Nike in 1986.


Air Play shoe with a spectacular angle. You can imagine someone jumping with both feet in the air. Air is coming to tennis shoes and it is a revolutionary innovation from Nike at that time.


Air Trainer. One of the iconic Nike shoes suitable for several sports, including tennis.


1990 - Agassi « Rock’n Roll Tennis camp »

1992 - Agassi breaks the TV - Air Tech Challenge

1995 Guerrilla Tennis with Agassi & Pete Sampras

1993 - Jim Courier "really intense young man"

1992 - Agassi breaks the TV - Air Tech Challenge

1990 - Tennis Lesson

1996 - Sampras / Agassi "Epic Point"

1997 - Virtual André Agassi


Challenge Court Collection. Uncommon fluorescent apparel, with crazy patterns, stripes, and denim bright Lycra under regular shorts. Never seen before!


Ace of Hearts with Andre Agassi. He was so well-known at that time that there was no need to put his name on the poster!


Air Tech challenge. Probably one of the most iconic and uncommon tennis shoes of all times. It looked almost like a
basketball shoe.


Air Tech Challenge II. An irreverent comparison with the classic ‘all white’ tennis of the last century.


Carlos Moya tattoo. The almighty forehand protects me. 


Challenge Court with a rock’n’roll graphic design. A collection that spread throughout the entire world (except at Wimbledon).


Andre Agassi and Mary Pierce on a wall near Roland Garros in Paris. Simple graphic approach with no words needed. The swoosh is enough. Nike didn’t even need to write down their name – a privilege few brands can afford.


Air Assailant Shoe. Andre Agassi was so fast at that time, it’s like he was at the 4 corners of the court at the same time and this very graphic ad expresses it very well. 


Advantage Sampras. This poster echoes the Big Mac and the flaming ball from more than ten years earlier. Pistol Pete in full action. He joined the Nike team in 1993.


2000 - Urban Training

2005 - Tennis Instructor

2006 - Sharapova "I feel pretty"

2008 - Federer


No excuses. Playful drawings that make fun of the excuses that players find to justify their losses.


Air Zoom. Andre Agassi is hitting the ball so hard that he’s sending his opponent directly to the hospital. 


Playing with John McEnroe’s imaginary quotes for a reissue of his famous shoes.


V is for Victory. Rafael Nadal smeared with red clay.


Amélie Mauresmo, French player (and future world number one) in action on a giant wall near Roland Garros.


Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya. No friends on the court. 


Maria Sharapova. 65 thousand serves ago I was a beginner.


Nike Women. Stars a provocative Serena Williams who joined Nike in 2004.


2010 - Roger Federer & Wayne Rooney

2012 - Rafael Nadal vs Cristiano Ronaldo

2013 - Fly Swatter with Roger Federer

2020 - You can’t stop sisters


Where I play. Print and social campaign inviting people to showcase their own tennis court.


Serena Williams becomes the oldest female world number one, breaking a record set in 1985.


Homage to John Isner and the longest match in the history of the sport that he played against Nicolas Mahut. A match compared to a marathon.


Be the bird that sticks out. Nike pay tribute to Li Na through the icon of a phoenix spreading its wings. She is the first Asian woman to win a Slam title. Nike launched a China-exclusive collection.


Eugénie Bouchard. One of the few examples of athletes sponsored by Nike who have not fulfilled their expectations.


Get off my lawn. Irreverent and funny commemoration for Roger Federer’s 8th Wimbledon title.


Nick Kyrgios, the Canberra-born ‘bad boy’, and the new, irreverent, and controversial face of Nike tennis. 


Serena Williams Greatest female athlete ever. The claim seems to be a reference to a Wimbledon press conference in which a reporter asked Serena how it felt to be “one of the greatest female athletes of all time”. “I prefer the word ‘one of the greatest athletes of all time,'” she replied.


Posters that are part of a campaign to celebrate the 30 years of the Just do it slogan.



Emma Raducanu. Arrive Unknown. Leave Unforgettable. This ad was produced and shown on British walls just a few hours after her epic US Open win.


Story published in Courts no. 2, autumn 2021.