Bad Hair Day

Roger Federer’s Hair Evolution

The tennis champion debuted a decidedly shorter haircut at the French Open last week. From frosted tips to the samurai pony, Sujay Kumar on what Federer's hair says about his game.

06.09.13 8:45 AM ET

Gone are the wavy curls, glistening with sweat and flopping a full second behind his every move. Hairline receded, the threat of winning decidedly muted, Roger Federer is almost 32.

And for the first time in his career, as he limped in and out of the French Open quarterfinal, he looked his age. Before Paris, a guillotine descended on Federer’s head, slicing off the last vestige of his life as a champion: his hair. Now, his locks are less Mad Men and more middle-aged man shopping for apples. It’s short and parted to the side, as if he fears a lock of hair may fall into his eyes.

It wasn’t always this way.

When he first made a splash on the junior circuit in the late ’90s, Federer, perhaps inspired by Saved by the Bell’s Zack Morris, had frosted blond hair. He rocked the middle part, listened to the Backstreet Boys, watched wrestling, and played videogames. “He had like two pairs of jeans in the closet,” an old coach told New York magazine.

It was in Federer’s grunge days that he mastered his rage and grew his mane. Ditching the bleach, he seeped manly confidence with what appears to be a samurai ponytail. As the ponytail tightened, so did his game. As a 21-year-old, hair slicked back like Steven Seagal, he won his first major at Wimbledon. (Full disclosure: when he let it out, it wasn’t great.) But his tennis was, winning three grand slams as the indisputable No. 1 player in the world. And then, snip. Just like that, at the end of 2004, his ponytail was gone.

What follows, after a brief flirtation with man bangs, was the ultimate Roger Federer hair—curly and flowing, wild but controlled, spilling over the top of his headband. With this crown, Federer won the bulk of his grand slams.

Brimming with confidence, his style evolved. Only Federer could wear a white sports windbreaker with gold accents, or a belt on his shorts, or even pink shoelaces. As his obsession for fashion snowballed, the tennis court became his runway. There’s a reason Anna Wintour is often in his player’s box. It’s not because of his “Feel the Touch” fragrance line.

So we return to Paris. It’s 2013 and in the last 12 grand slam tournaments, Federer has captured one. Only a year ago, he wore a stylish all black ensemble with hints of yellow. This year, it’s not nearly as sleek. Sprayed over the top of his signature headband, his hair looks thinner. The twilight of Federer’s career may be here.

But don’t expect this aging man to go gently into the night. The legendary ex-No.1, the best player ever, may still have some youthful spunk in him yet. After all, he just joined Twitter.

His first tweet? A selfie of his new haircut.