Tennis Tourney Features Battle of Brands

To a tennis fan, the 2004 French Open looks like a prestigious international championship — one of the four tournaments that constitute the Grand Slam — where more than 300 men and women athletes compete for six singles and doubles titles and $16 million in prizes and expenses.

But there is a parallel reality: Dozens of corporations compete for supremacy and hundreds of millions of dollars in sports apparel revenue.

Adidas, the German-based international company, positioned itself last week to reach tens of thousands of tennis fans arriving by subway near the front gates of Stade Roland Garros.

Workers plastered dozens of giant photos of Justine Henin-Hardenne, the world's top women's player, along the tracks and passages inside the Porte d'Auteil station. Each photo carried a discreet three-line Adidas pyramid logo.

The diminutive Belgian, top-seeded at this year's Open, appears transfixed, her mouth open in a shout, her trademark blond ponytail flying a yard behind her. Above her six-foot-tall head, Adidas inscribed the words: "Impossible Is Nothing."

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Accepting its challenge, Nike officials took up positions in a house just outside a back gate of the 19.5-acre Roland Garros complex.

Tucked discreetly onto Rue Gambetta, its address is known to about 170 key visitors. Each is under contract to Nike or on a list of favored tennis players from across the world. Each arrives with a printed invitation.

On Friday, dark-haired Anastasia Myskina of Russia, the world's fifth-ranked women's player, sat in a well-appointed parlor on the second floor as Nike workers presented her with choices of free clothing.

Carrying six boxes of tennis shoes, Monica Kolstad of Nike's Portland office entered the room and knelt at a coffee table.

"What was your size?" she asked.

"Did you get what you needed?" Nike consultant Richard Roundtree of Honolulu asked a young man.

In each case, the player was allowed to choose the size, color, and type of garment he or she preferred.

An American competitor, Jeff Salzenstein of Florida, ranked 102nd in the world, took off his warm-up jacket, tried on several Nike shirts, then placed a black Nike cap on his head, its visor pointed backward.

‘They Loaded Me Up’

Across from him, Alexander Waske of Germany, ranked 172nd, laced a pair of white Nike grass court shoes and examined the fabric of a pair of red Nike shorts.

"They loaded me up," Waske said, struggling to balance two giant bags as he crossed the street on his way back to Roland Garros.

Inside his bags, Waske carried six pairs of shoes, and an uncounted treasure trove of shorts, shirts, socks and wristbands worth more than $1,000. The quantity was enough to carry him for several months of competition on the tour — and give Nike added exposure to thousands of tennis fans across Europe.

But those numbers are only a small part of a bigger pool of potential customers. Like its competitors, Nike, which reported third quarter revenues of $2.9 billion, is hunting for bigger audiences.

As the players compete for glory in the coming weeks on the red clay of Paris and the green grass of Wimbledon, their sponsors hope their logos — captured by cameras — will reach the eyes of tens of millions of television viewers watching from around the world.

The competition has begun.