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By Blair Henley | Wednesday, March 19, 2014

 
Rafael Nadal Hair Style

World-renowned hair stylist Julien Farel treats tennis players to salon services at two of the game's biggest events. Hear what he has to say about working with Rafael Nadal, Victoria Azarenka and more.

Grammatical issues aside, we can only imagine that the mantra “look good, feel good, play good” is one to which many professional tennis players subscribe. But, unlike the average celebrity who can carefully craft the perfect look for a red carpet appearance or even a grocery store visit, tennis pros – superstars in their own right -- are most commonly displayed to the public in the sweaty, unflattering heat of battle. And with clothing determined by apparel sponsors, hair can help set a player apart from the pack.  

Stylist to the stars, Julien Farel, has been helping tennis players “look good” on the court for years, crafting fashion-forward, low-maintenance hair styles for the game’s top names. The 46-year-old Frenchman honed his tennis hair chops at the French Open’s on-site salon before founding his own pop-up salon at the U.S. Open in 2007. When he opened his fourth eponymous salon location in Miami, Florida, in 2012, he wasted no time setting up shop at the nearby Sony Open. Even with an ever-expanding business, working with athletes offers a welcome change of pace for Farel.

“They are wonderful competitions, and I also feel like those younger players are all good looking and fit,” he said, his French accent as thick as his age-defying head of hair. “It’s also where we can shine because on the tennis court, there’s not much with the clothes. It’s all about how they are going to look and how the hair is going to move.”

Star Clients

Farel has worked with Rafael Nadal, Victoria Azarenka, Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and many more, often booking over 20 appointments a day at his on-site pop-up salons. While most cuts are relatively straightforward, he vividly remembers one (unnamed) player several years ago at the U.S. Open who asked to trade his flowing mane for a shorter ‘do. When he lost his match the next day, Farel drew parallels to Samson of the Bible.

“I felt like we had cut his strength away,” he said, laughing. “I thought it was so odd that he came to us for a crew cut. He had this great long hair. I was like, ‘Are you sure? Are you crazy? Do you want to scare away the women?’”

The highest profile players will skip the on-site setup and visit one of Farel’s full-service salons, located near the players’ hotels in both New York and Miami.

“Usually when they come by, we close the salon,” Farel explained. “Sometimes Nadal comes in the middle of clients, giving kisses and hugging and giving pictures to everyone. I thought that was really wonderful that he was so humble.”
 
As particular as Nadal is on the court with everything from his meticulously placed water bottles to those unruly wisps he tucks behind his ears before a serve, he’s come to trust Farel to create a no-nonsense hairstyle.

“His hair helps with his performance, and it’s very important to him for sure,” he said. “It’s a power weapon. When he comes to my chair, I do what I want. I usually give him a look where it’s framing his face properly. We also try to make sure when he takes off his bandana, his hair falls into place.”

Farel is involved in Nadal’s hair care regimen even when he’s not cutting his hair. The Spaniard uses Farel’s patented anti-aging hair care product Restore, which promises to clean, condition and moisturize.

“The grass needs water and the grass needs great dirt,” said Farel, a landscaper of the scalp. “You really need to properly hydrate the dirt, the dermis, to make sure the hair is performing.”


The Holy Grail of Tennis Hair

Even with celebrity clients like Gwyneth Paltrow, Richard Gere, Kate Moss and Michael J. Fox in his Rolodex, there is one more name Farel would like to add to his portfolio: Roger Federer. And he knows just what he would do if he got to run his hands through the holy grail of tennis hair.

“I don’t see him with a ponytail looking like a Samurai as he looked many years back, and I don’t see him with short hair either,” he said. “I’m friends with the face of Ralph Lauren men. He has this South American Latino look, and this is the way I could cut Roger because he has the same textured hair.”

Other than an ill-advised crew cut in early 2013, Federer’s impeccably tamed chocolate brown locks have long stolen the spotlight. Andy Murray, on the other hand, has made hair headlines for the wrong reasons. Criticism of his unruly mop prompted the 26-year-old to clean up his cut. Farel thinks it was a good move.

“The British guy, Murray, I think he’s a really talented player. [His hair] is really good, but at some time, you need shape it a little bit to make sure it doesn’t look like a bush from the 70s,” Farel said with a chuckle.
 
Beyond Farel’s vision for the notable tennis names that sit down in his chair, he hopes his salon is an anticipated retreat for players. Some come multiple times throughout a tournament, one day for a haircut, the next for a manicure or pedicure.




“The tennis player goes from the gym to training to go to play the match, so they need to have some down time where they can come and chill out,” Farel said. “They know we’re not going to harass them. Some take their iPod and listen to music. At the end of the day, it is their time, and they have to focus.”

Farel, a tennis fan and recreational player himself, will work to provide a quality product during his second year on the grounds of the Sony Open, though he won’t be asking for any pointers.

“I think the best tip they would tell me at my level is just to practice!”


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Follow Blair Henley on Twitter: @blairhenley

 

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