Mr. Sampras had to stick to white shorts to conform to Wimbledon's traditions, one of which was bruised when defending champion Steffi Graf was knocked out in the first round. But the new Nike line is the latest marketing ploy to infiltrate Wimbledon, despite the tournament's attempts to avoid what a spokeswoman called "any overt, commercial anything."
Presented by the All England Lawn & Tennis Club, the tournament has no sponsors, and no leaflets, signage or point-of-purchase items are allowed. But marketers have found ways to slip through the cracks: This year, ball boys and girls are outfitted in Adidas footwear.
In recent years, Wimbledon has expanded its "select and prestigious" range of licensed merchandise. The tournament in the past year began selling wicker garden furniture in the U.S. and jewelry, silverware and Wedgwood china in Europe.
And Wimbledon is serving as the initial platform for the six-month rollout of Nike's Swoosh line, hitting stores in August. It also marks the beginning of Nike's new, wide-ranging endorsement deal with Mr. Sampras, the sport's best but blandest player.
A spot from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., that hit last weekend shows the serious and lighter sides of Mr. Sampras: working seriously on his tennis game but also having fun on the grassy court.
The commercial features a song by crooner Tony Bennett, who has become popular with Generation X.
Nike, which also has Americans Andre Agassi and Jim Courier under contract, hopes to give tennis a shot in the arm, particularly in the U.S.
The Swoosh apparel boasts a new variation of the Nike logo-a red and green tennis court with Nike's trademark swoosh.
Mr. Sampras was lured to Nike not only with money-some say $15 million over three years-but with the enticement of new playing gear. He initially just wanted baggy shorts based on his beach-style practicewear, but Nike designers locked onto the beach style as the basis for a whole new line.
Nike is sparing the staid Wimbledon its radical plans for Mr. Agassi. Come January, tennis' bad boy is expected to don clashing knee-length baggy shorts, inspired by skateboard fashion, and shirts, marketed under Nike's Challenge Court line. And not only that, he'll be wearing black tennis shoes.
Stephen Downer contributed to this story.