Opposites attract: The unusual pairing between Rafael Nadal and Richard Mille watches

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#LUXURY & LIFESTYLE, #luxury watches, Rafael Nadal, #Richard Mille watches, 21st Grand Slam title, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Nike, Santander, Tommy Hilfiger, KIA, Richard Mille, Wimbledon, French Open, F1, Felipe Massa, Australia

Rafael Nadal can be quite charming off the court. He has only recently started spending in line with his earnings and wealth of roughly $200 million. (Image: Reuters)

In the legend of Rafael Nadal, there is now one more glorious chapter – the pages stained with blood, sweat and, perhaps, bits of his favourite nourishments, like Iberian ham and Quely biscuits.

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On January 30 in Melbourne, the 35-year-old Spaniard won a record 21st Grand Slam title. He has now edged ahead of rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-important race for most majors in men’s tennis.

Apart from being a tennis colossus, Rafael Nadal has an endearing paradox in his personality. He is a raging bull on the court, but with disarming humility and charm off it. As he might say if he were vain, “Dislike me is the impossible, no?”

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This has resulted in Nadal building an impressive portfolio of endorsements. It includes Amstel beverages, Nike and Babolat gear, financial institutions Santander bank and Banco Sabadell, fashion label Tommy Hilfiger, automaker KIA and the traditional Spanish confectioner Quely, whose biscuits Nadal has loved since he was a child.

But Nadal’s most cutting edge current endorsement is with a swaggering outlier of a brand, Richard Mille (RM) watches.

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In some ways it is a case of opposites attracting. RMs are extravagantly priced. Some of their models cost hundreds of times more than a Rolex. Over the years, they have become the favourite brand of celebrities, oligarchs and politicians.

Nadal, on the other hand, is usually averse to flaunting his wealth, estimated to be around $200 million. He was brought up that way. One year, Nadal was offered a private plane to rush to London for Wimbledon preparations after winning the French Open in Paris. But his uncle Toni reminded him that Eurostar train tickets were already booked and they could not waste them.

Even Nadal’s choice of wheels when at home in Mallorca is often KIA, a vanilla label for someone of his means.

It’s only in the last few years that Nadal has allowed himself indulgences commensurate with his stature, perhaps finally realizing that he had earned that right. He has reportedly added luxury cars to his fleet and also has a huge yacht. Nadal lives around water and loves the ocean.

But the RM deal predated the later years of conspicuous consumption. In 2010, when they came together, Nadal still preferred to keep it below the radar. The brand was also just about eight years old at that time.

The appeal of the watches was not in doubt. The question was would they last, given their vertiginous price, and in a business dominated by an old boys club comprising the likes of Rolex and Omega. Nadal was, therefore, expected to sign on with a more recognized brand.

Nadal was not RM’s first courtship either. Mille, the person, is an auto and aviation lover. Many of the materials and designs used in their watches are inspired by cars and planes.

RM’s first sports signing, therefore, was the F1 driver Felipe Massa.

“Back then, we didn’t rush to sign with other partners; instead, we took our time to build and learn from Felipe’s experiences wearing the watch. We didn’t add Rafael Nadal until 2010,” Mille said in an interview with Hodinkee in January.

“We had to convince some of them, which meant explaining our concepts – materials, design, shock- and stress-resistance, and more. The partnerships we make are based not just on choosing a sport. It also depends on the person and their personality. I have to be inspired by them, too.”

RM did not fade away, as was feared by some and hoped by rivals. Likewise with RN (Rafa Nadal). And their association continues. As we saw in Australia, it’s difficult not to be inspired by Nadal.

#LUXURY & LIFESTYLE, #luxury watches, Rafael Nadal, #Richard Mille watches, 21st Grand Slam title, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Nike, Santander, Tommy Hilfiger, KIA, Richard Mille, Wimbledon, French Open, F1, Felipe Massa, Australia
Rafael Nadal sporting the RM 27-02 Tourbillon, made for him by Richard Mille of Switzerland, as he plays a shot to Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia during their men’s singles match at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, May 30, 2015. (Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes)

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