What Makes Me Tick: Tennis Champion Mr Matthew Ebden

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What Makes Me Tick: Tennis Champion Mr Matthew Ebden

Words by Mr Tim Vaux

3 April 2024

Watch brands have been present on the tennis court for generations, and with the likes of Mr Roger Federer, Mr Rafael Nadal and Ms Serena Williams, have found some of their most reliable celebrity partnerships. Recently, the sport has found itself the centre of renewed horological interest, with new brands piling in to sponsor up and coming talent. But for the Australian men’s doubles player and world number one Mr Matthew Ebden – quite possibly the biggest watch nerd ever to pick up a racket – horology and timekeeping have a much deeper and personal connection.

“Timing is everything on the court,” Ebden says. “They say doubles is like a marriage, so our tactics, strategies and reading of shots have to be incredibly in sync, otherwise we can quickly find ourselves exposed. Covering each other if one of us makes a mistake and being able to predict where the ball might go is so important; that all comes down to timing.”

You might assume that at 36, Ebden is starting to think about slowing down. In his 18th year of professional tennis, that couldn’t be further from the truth, having recently risen to number one in the world for men’s doubles. In 2022, Ebden lifted the men’s Wimbledon doubles trophy to a Centre Court crowd. In January 2024, alongside his doubles partner Mr Rohan Bopanna, he won the Australian Open to claim a first grand slam win on home soil.

“Championship point in Australia was a little bit surreal,” he says. “I remember seeing the ball hanging up in the air, giving Bobs a sitter. It’s a moment that is etched in my mind, where time seemed to stop for a second.”

It wasn’t our mutual love for the sport that Ebden and I bonded over; our paths crossed exclusively because of watches. And it wasn’t a superficial level of conversation, we were talking about geeky hot takes right from the off. Ebden speaks with the heart from a real place of passion, which he has had for most of his life.

“I got into watches from a really young age,” he says. “My earliest memory was as a young kid, maybe less than five years old, I remember my dad going on an international trip to the US with some of his friends, and he promised he’d bring me back a gift.

“It was a black and yellow Swatch with a dive bezel and a rubber strap – I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. That watch really got me hooked. I have so many fun memories with it as I always clicked that bezel as a young boy. I actually found the watch in the last few years in one of my old drawers. The bezel has since come off, and the strap is a bit broken, but like the memories, it’s all still there.

“When I was about 23, I found myself really getting into watches. One of my first mentors who taught and guided me is both a tennis commentator for Eurosport and a watch journalist, Miguel Seabra. We connected on Twitter back in the day over A. Lange & Söhne, and he started showing me things I hadn’t seen before.”

Recent friendships may have turbocharged his interest in watches, but his collector’s eye is strongly influenced by his upbringing.

“My mother was a commercial seamstress when I was young, and she would make colour-coordinated outfits for my sisters and me. As a result, proportions and designs are some of the most important things I look for in watches, and I definitely nerd out over unique dials. I’m all for something that brings a special colour or something really fresh and creative.

“I definitely nerd out over unique dials. I’m all for something that brings a special colour or something really fresh and creative”

“I’m also a sucker for an open caseback. I find the mechanical watch to be the closest physical resemblance to the inner workings of my brain, especially in tennis but also in life. Lots of little pieces all working together to create this one mechanism that runs smoothly. I’ve always been a pretty studious, analytical type, so I really resonated with mechanical watchmaking.”

Horological education is something Ebden still seeks out as much as possible, whether that’s via social media or at any opportunity throughout his busy schedule.

“Sometimes, I’ll be at the airport with my family, and my wife will look over her shoulder, and I won’t be there,” he says. “She’ll look back 100 metres and I’ll be in one of the watch shops browsing all the different watches. She now knows to come and find a watch shop, and I’ll be there.

“I don’t like to go get into too many things in life because I know once I’m interested, I go really hard. I often spend anywhere from one to three hours every night just reading about watches and getting lost down that rabbit hole. Being a professional sportsman can be all-consuming, and occasionally you need to switch off your mind and have fun with something else. Watches have provided that outlet for me and become my escape from the world of tennis.”

With brands such as Bulgari, De Bethune, Zenith, and Gerald Charles entering the world of tennis, word is spreading that Ebden is the go-to man on the tour for all horological quizzing.

“Everyone in the tennis world understands that I know about watches,” he says. “I would say in the past five to 10 years, up to 100 players have come and asked me to tell them all about certain watches or brands or even to ask what I’m wearing. I’m happy to be that guy and play that role. It’s like I’m the unofficial watch worker for the tennis tour. It’s fun for me.”

“Occasionally you need to switch off your mind and have fun with something else. Watches have provided that outlet for me and become my escape from the world of tennis”

One of the first special watches Ebden acquired was a Rolex Datejust 16233, a steel and yellow-gold 36mm reference with a white dial and Roman numerals. He tells me how that watch and its proportions are “the most archetypal for a wristwatch that has ever existed”, and it’s hard to disagree with that statement. However, the first few days of ownership didn’t quite go to plan.

“I was in Melbourne for the Australian Open, and a friend of mine was able to fly it over to me from Perth. Once I had the watch, I left it in my bedside drawer of our hotel room, and the next morning, I went to training. When I came back, my wife had moved us to a different room and didn’t know my new watch was in the drawer. We quickly called reception and returned to the first room – the watch wasn’t there. Suddenly my grail, which I had for less than 24 hours, was lost or stolen.”

After suggesting he would have to involve the police, Ebden says that “miraculously, we got a phone call a few days later saying someone had found the watch and kept it in a safe place. I didn’t really care how, what or where, I just wanted it back. When I was reunited with it three or four days later, it was still running perfectly on time.”

A more recent crush of his has been a young Swiss brand, Norqain. Mr Jean-Claude Biver, the man behind Blancpain, Hublot, Omega, and TAG Heuer’s success stories, sits on the advisory board of this young manufacturer, known for daring pieces that reflect a penchant for adventure. Eagle-eyed viewers would have spotted Ebden wearing one of their watches right after recently winning the Australian Open, the Wild One Skeleton in Turquoise.

“This is an incredible watch, one that I’ve been very surprised by and enamoured with,” he says. “I’m really enthusiastic about titanium and carbon fibre in watchmaking, and this new brand is doing exciting things with many really experienced guys behind it. It’s a carbon-fibre case weighing just 78g. It fits like a glove and is incredibly snug, cosy and light – it just makes you want to have it on all the time. I’m also a big fan of the trend for smaller watches. Seeing reduced case sizes in favour of a refined fit really speaks to me.”

With a flying start to the year under their belt, Ebden and Bopanna are determined to keep the momentum of their success going as a huge 2024 awaits the dream team.

“Being world number one and a multiple slam winner, we’re really chasing as many major titles as possible. We’ve been fortunate to knock off quite a few goals, but obviously, we’d like to complete the set and try to have a golden slam in 2024, winning all four majors and the Olympics.

“In the world of watches, there are many exciting things in the pipeline, but for me, it’s more than just the watch. I want to know what a brand represents, who are the people behind it and what is their story. I’ve learnt interesting lessons from [the world of] watches, such as discretion, privacy, understated luxury and even humility. Watches really are something I’m interested in during and maybe even in life after tennis, too.”

01. The one to wear the hell out of

Bamford Watch Department B347 Automatic Chronograph

“This is just a beast,” Ebden says. “I know the Bamford guys well, and what they’re doing is really exciting. I’m a huge fan of beautiful symmetry bi-compax chronographs, and the date window centralised at the bottom is perfect. Lately, I’ve been into light watches that are rugged for sport or adventure. I’d definitely wear the hell out of this B347.”

02. The one for special occasions

Vacheron Constatin Overseas Automatic Tourbillon

“I am a huge fan of the Overseas, and this reference in all gold with that midnight blue dial and the tourbillon is just incredible. For special occasions, this is a very striking piece.”

03. The one to keep for life

Cartier Tank Louis Cartier 18-Karat Gold

“I’m a pretty classic guy when it comes to watch taste, so this Cartier Tank has to be the one for life. It’s a bit understated, but it’s in gold, and the model has such an incredible history with many famous owners. It feels like one of the most iconic and original watches from the last century, so for me, that one is definitely a winner. There are not many other watches out there that can compete.”

Ones to watch