From the Williams sisters’ razor sharp neon nails to Maria Sharipova’s designer on-court ensembles and Rafael Nadal’s mop top, there’s no denying that professional tennis has turned into a bit of a vanity sport. The players have got spunk, that’s for sure, and if anyone saw this phenomenon coming it was French hairstylist Julien Farel.
More than seven years ago he opened his first pop-up salon at the French Open, catering to players who wanted to look their best before big matches. After befriending players like Nadal, Farel took his successful concept to Wimbledon and eventually the U.S. Open, though it took him four years to actually convince them to let him open up shop outside the locker rooms.
Now, players can visit the small, one-room salon to get coiffed before they serve. Men and women head to Julian for fresh cuts and tight braids, some even requesting a streak or two of bright color to set them apart. It’s an odd concept to get done up before you sweat, but one that’s certainly piqued the interest of the U.S. Open and its high-profile athletes. Farel opens up about taming the tresses of some of tennis’ most eye-catching players.
How did this tradition of styling the players for matches come about?
In Europe this has been done for a long time and is not such a novel concept there, but we were the first to really do the pop-up salon outside of the locker rooms. But now with such stylish athletes playing in the U.S. Open, it was only fitting to bring the concept over. It’s a great perk for the players—a nice time for them to relax and focus before a match.
Why is it important to the athletes personally—and to their game—to get their hair or nails done before they play?
The bottom line is, if you look good, you feel good and you play better. They say that 92% of a sport is in our head, so it’s also very important to feel great before a match and feel confident. I think that tennis players, like many other athletes, have become very fashionable; they are into their own aesthetic and their look is very important. Often it’s a look that is really defined by their hair.
Who have been some of your favorite players to style?
My best supporter throughout the last seven years has been Nadal because I met him as soon as we started, and we became fast friends. Novak Djokovic has also been a client of ours for a long time, and we just did the purple color in Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ hair. People have been bias against her because of her bold look, but she can really play. I thought her color was a bit bossy myself but after watching her, she can carry it off. I think she is like the Jim Morrison of tennis.
Have you coiffed any other athletes before games or matches in other sports besides tennis? Why is vanity so important to the sport of tennis in general?
I have styled some golfers and some soccer players in the salon, but they don’t come to get their hair done before games or matches. I think tennis makes sense because the sport has a history with hair: Tracy Austen with her strawberry blonde pigtails comes to my mind. Today I don’t know any tennis player, man or woman, who isn’t interested in looking good or styling their hair before a match. They care, they use product and want to take care of themselves aside from just staying in shape.
What are some techniques you use or advice you give to the players when you are giving them a fresh cut or new look?
It’s important for me to educate these players about their hair and give them products like our anti-aging line so that when they’re in the heat and humidity all day playing, they can come off the court and moisturize and refine their strands. I want to keep their follicles alive, of course, so that they want to keep coming back to see me in between games.