fashion focus: rafa, after a hiccup, finally grows up

The hem of Rafa Nadal‘s sleeves have finally dropped — from his sinewy shoulders to somewhere midway down his sinewy biceps — and we’re liking what we’re seeing.

The calculated change planned by Nike and the Rafa camp was first scheduled to launch at 2008 U.S. Open (even hyped up with a presser that roped in Don King). With a new silhouette came a opportunity to reshape the 22-year-old’s image, moving away from the swashbuckling jock to that of a paragon: professional, classy, and with a place at the top of the sport. Gone were trendy prints (tribal tattoos, fireworks) and his bicep-baring top, making way for a modern take on the sport’s traditional uniform — the polo.

But in the end this New York makeover was quickly shelved, likely due to cold feet. Not that we’re complaining; that orange and blue clearly paled in comparison to what they had in store for 2009.

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And in their second attempt they got everything right. For the pre-Aussie warmups (Doha, Abu Dhabi), Rafa’s outfit revolved around a Bold Stripe Polo in white/yellow/concord, topped off with a neon turquoise swoosh.

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In Melbourne, the Spaniard’s kit includes the Spring Trend Crew in white/charcoal/turqouise — he wore a different colorway for practice — complemented by Volt (lime) headbands and wristbands, and similar colors in his shoes, the Air Max Breathe Cage II.

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It’s worth noting on that Nike is hawking the similarly colored Courtballistec 1.3 Men’s Tennis Shoe as Rafa’s shoe of choice, even though that’s not what he’s wearing. The ‘ballistec shoe is made to have the same turquoise/volt/black colorway as his Cages.

So what’s Rafa’s take on this new image? He talked about it in his post-match presser: “I feel good. Well, in this moment we gonna play like this. You never know in the future. But right now I am fine like this.”

I hope you find success in this cleaner image. Wearing sleeves isn’t so bad, no?

Scoreline: In his quest for a maiden Australian Open title, Rafa beat Belgian munchkin Christophe Rochus 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 in the first round.

Buy: Nike Courtballistec 1.3, $120, TW; Spring Trend Crew, $55, TW; Bold Stripe Polo, $60, nike.com.

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