Serena Williams signs deal with Nike

Serena Williams can start putting a swoosh on the tennis outfits she designs. Williams agreed to terms on a sponsorship contract with Nike, a deal that could be worth close to US$40 million over five years, a tennis source told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The deal could be the richest for a female athlete in history.

The agreement has an option for a three-year extension, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The contract includes royalties and performance bonuses for winning Grand Slam tournaments and reaching No. 1 in the rankings.

Nike announced it reached a multiyear deal with Williams but did not reveal the length or financial terms. Her lawyer did not return a phone message for comment.

"Serena Williams is more than a world-class tennis player she is a world-class athlete," Nike marketing director Riccardo Colombini said. "Working with Serena will give Nike valuable insights."

Williams, 21, has won five of the last seven Grand Slam tournaments, beating older sister Venus in the final each time.

She held the No. 1 ranking for a year until being sidelined because of knee surgery on Aug. 1. Williams pulled out of every tournament the rest of the year and finished 2003 at No. 3.

She expects to return to action by the Australian Open.

Venus Williams has a deal with Reebok that could be worth up to $40 million over five years. She signed that in December 2000 after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open for the first time.

Serena Williams' contract with Puma expired early this year.

Nike figures to benefit from non-tennis interests that have made her more visible, including clothing designs and acting. She drew a lot of attention for the black "cat suit" and pink zippered outfit she wore while winning the 2002 U.S. Open.

With help from the William Morris agency, she landed roles in a movie called "Beauty Shop" and the Showtime drama "Street Time."

A 2002 survey of the public relations industry deemed Williams and Tiger Woods the most attractive spokespersons among athletes.

"We'll work very closely with Serena, not only as a tennis player and an athlete, but also as an athlete to develop products that will support her tennis performance and help grow the game," Nike spokesman Dave Mingey said.

"We're all very excited about the opportunity to see her input in the development of products, both for on the court and off."

Source: agencies

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