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The Future Is Now

With superior engineering, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a perfect blend of luxury and performance.

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The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has always been the pinnacle of luxurious motoring and the latest incarnation is no different. This car has leapt forward and completely redefined the future of motoring.

The S-Class is an engineering masterpiece loaded with technology that is so well infused into the design of the car that it seems completely natural. The beauty of great tech is that one doesn’t think it is necessary until it is presented to you.

Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse, 2013

The contours of the S-Class strike the perfect balance of elegance and subtle sportiness. It certainly looks like an S-Class but the 5.24-metre length is suitably disguised to make it seem like a smaller car from the outside. Step inside and you will be completely blown away.

The cabin is a state-of-the-art master class in interior design. There is nothing I have had the pleasure of driving that brings together top-quality metal, leather and wood in such a perfect blend of comfort, luxury and ease of use. Every function is performed by a button, switch or swivel that has been crafted to the highest level of quality. All driver information is displayed with two 31.2-inch TFT screens which present incredible graphic layouts.

From the pilot seat you will experience redefined refinement. It exudes comfort beyond what you thought possible through the car’s Magic Body Control. This system constantly scans the roads ahead and adjusts the damping systems to best deal with the road surfaces. The cabin has been impeccably insulated thanks to double glazed windows and enhanced door seals. It’s a cabin in which you could conduct business meetings without any interruptions from the outside world flashing by.

From the driver’s seat one can also experience the pleasures of being able to afford an S-Class: seat heating and cooling; seven massage functions, including hot-stone treatments; seat support that can be tailored to suit any shaped body, including active side support that hugs you when cornering; an impressive Burmester sound system; an easy to use COMAND online system that includes the operating manual in electronic form, something that is absolutely necessary in a car that is as complex as this.

At this level and price, safety need not be mentioned, but in the S-Class these features have shifted the paradigms of what I thought was possibly another 10 years away. The latest generation Mercedes Intelligent Drive system ensures the safest way to travel. The Distronic Plus cruise control reduces the need for driver inputs by braking and accelerating to maintain a pre-determined speed and distance from the car in front. It will even go as far stopping the vehicle if the car in front of you comes to a halt.

The Night View Assist system is another intelligent safety feature that alerts the driver of any animals or pedestrians before they can be seen with the naked eye. The beauty of this system is that it will automatically warn the driver of impending danger which could not always be said with some of the previous systems like this. An incredible array of parking assistance systems is also included. Part of this is the 360-degree camera that superimposes the car graphically into the surroundings by employing the views of the various cameras around the car. The result is an accurate bird’s eye view of the car as you manoeuvre in tight spaces.

The S-Class will be bought by distinguished gentleman, even presidents, and as such the rear passenger compartment is just as important, if not more important, than the front seats. In this area, the magic continues. The rear seats are soft, supple and comfortable, which have electrical adjustment to find the perfect position. As optional extras, rear passengers can also enjoy an electrically operated footrest as well as a business console that includes two AUX and USB ports, two 12V sockets and heated/cooled cup holders, folding tables as well as fridges and phones. You can also enjoy all forms of media on the screens. Thankfully, these screens can be operated from either the occupants themselves or by the driver, which when traveling with children can become a necessity.

The entry-level S-Class is the diesel powered S350 BlueTEC that is powered by a 190kW engine. The petrol powered cars are the S400 Hybrid, the S500 that is powered by a V8 4.7-liter bi-turbo motor, and the range-topping S63 AMG and S65 AMG derivatives. All these motors are amply suited to provide the thrust for this spectacular car and ultimately, the choice will most probably be swayed by a budget rather than a preference.

If looking at an executive, luxurious grand saloon, then you also have the option of the recently face-lifted Audi A8. Having spent some time in this car as well, I can vouch for the fact that it is superbly built, very comfortable and amply spaced in its long wheelbase guise. The 4.2-liter TDI Quattro is the pick of the bunch in my opinion but at the end of the day, it is still an older car with cosmetic and aesthetic revisions. The most talked about new feature of the Audi A8 is the introduction of Matrix LED headlights. Composed of 50 individual LEDs, the lighting system sets new standards in night time driving. The system works automatically and dims the light that shines on oncoming vehicles, while still keeping a full beam on the areas next to the car. So, as a driver you are able to see more of the road without fellow drivers being blinded. This fascinating technology extends to the indicator lights by allowing them to flash in the direction you are turning.

That said, the Audi A8 L 4.2 TDI Quattro is the same price as the Mercedes-Benz S500. Although the Audi is a good car, it is nowhere near the S-Class in terms of safety, comfort, innovation, technology and most importantly desirability. At this price, the S-Class is, dare I say it, fantastic value for money.

The Mercedes Benz S-Class has not just redefined its segment, it has redefined the future. Nothing else comes close.

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Roger Federer Tops World’s Highest-Paid Athletes: Tennis Ace Scores First No. 1 Payday With $106 Million

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Roger Federer has landed the top spot on the annual Forbes list of the highest-paid athletes for the first time this year with $106.3 million in pre-tax earnings. The Swiss ace is the first tennis player to take the No. 1 rank since the list debuted in 1990.

Federer’s haul includes $6.3 million in prize money and $100 million from endorsements and appearance fees, lifting him from the No. 5 spot he held in 2019 and beating his previous high of second place in 2013.

“His brand is pristine,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, “which is why those that can afford to align with him clamor to do so.”

Federer’s endorsement portfolio is unmatched among active athletes, with 13 brands including Barilla, Moet & Chandon and Rimowa paying between $3 million and $30 million to associate themselves with the 20-time Grand Slam champ. The 38-year-old and golfer Tiger Woods are the only two active athletes to have hit $100 million in a single year from sponsorships alone.

Federer’s on-court résumé is the stuff of legend, with the men’s records for most Slam titles and most weeks ranked No. 1 (310). The consistency is staggering. He ranked in the top three for 750 straight weeks—almost 15 years—and qualified for 18 out of 19 Slam finals between 2005 and 2010.

Call it the Jordan playbook, the blueprint for global domination chronicled in ESPN’s ten-part documentary on the basketball great, The Last Dance: command a sport with a global audience for years; appeal to both men and women; stay out of trouble; add in a dose of swagger and a dash of charisma. It made Michael Jordan the richest athlete on the planet and the first billionaire athlete. Even in retirement, he continues to collect endorsement checks rivaling those of Federer and Woods thanks to his massive cut of Nike Jordan Brand sneaker sales.

The three breathe a rarefied air, reserved for the most elite competitors. Jordan had the No. 1 spot on the Forbes list six times during his 13-year career with the Chicago Bulls, eventually giving up the mantle to Woods after he retired from the Bulls in 1998. (Formula One’s Michael Schumacher held the crown for two years between Woods and Jordan.) Woods went on to collect more than $100 million annually off the course at his peak, landing at the top of Forbes’ highest-paid athlete ranking a record 12 times until he broke stride, landing in hot water over an infidelity scandal while injuries contributed to a decade-long majors title drought on the links.

Federer, while seizing the top spot late in his career, is showing no signs of slowing down. His latest partnership is with Swiss startup running shoe On, whose headquarters sit close to the new home the tennis star is building on Lake Zurich. A renowned sneakerhead, Federer will endorse the brand, whose sales have been doubling annually since its 2010 launch, and also invested in the company in return for an equity stake that one source called “significant,” a partnership that could have serious upside for Federer.

Another sign of his command of the off-court side hustle: Once companies align themselves with him, they almost never leave. Rolex, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and Wilson have all been on Team Fed for more than a decade. The exception? Jordan’s Nike.

Federer stunned the tennis world in 2018 when he split from the sneaker giant after 20 years and joined with apparel brand Uniqlo. The chain, part of Fast Retailing, made an offer he couldn’t turn down, promising $300 million over ten years whether he was playing tennis or not and leaving open a slot for a shoe deal like the one with On since the Japanese giant doesn’t make sneakers.

The length and terms of the deal raised eyebrows given that Federer was about to turn 37 when he signed it. At that age, almost all tennis players have long since retired—a detail that meant little to the long game the retailer is eyeing.

“We feel the greatest impact of Roger Federer is yet to come,” says Uniqlo’s head of global creative John Jay. “Of course, it will be fueled by his status as the greatest of all time, but Roger’s ability to bring positive change to the world is his future and ours.”

The company hopes Federer can hold the same kind of appeal Jordan still has long after he launched his last jump shot. Already, tennis clubs in Europe are flooded with kids wearing “RF” hats, the logo that Nike controlled for two years after the split but is back in Federer’s hands and is the foundation for future licensing deals.

It wasn’t his only shrewd move. Federer took more control of his brand when he left the IMG sports firm with longtime agent Tony Godsick to launch their own operation in 2013, dubbed TEAM8. Current clients include male tennis pros Juan Martin del Potro and Alexander Zverev, 16-year-old rising star Coco Gauff and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. TEAM8 also found success with the creation of a new annual event, the Laver Cup, which matches a team from Europe versus the rest of the world in a competition that is comparable to golf’s Ryder Cup.

Federer has other levers in the sport that even Jordan doesn’t have. He is a hot commodity for organizers of smaller tournaments that pay appearance fees for top players to show up; a men’s event without one of the Big Three—Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—is a tough sell. Federer commands the top rate of more than $1 million per stop. Then there are the exhibition tours—a mix of tennis and show business—in places that have no major event to offer. He did a five-stop swing through Latin America in November that added more than $15 million to his bank account, including a match versus Zverev in a bullfighting stadium in Mexico City that attracted 42,517 fans, a record to watch a tennis match.

Federer has used his platform and cash to focus on educating children in Africa, with his namesake foundation spending $52 million to aid 1.5 million kids. He’s teamed with Bill Gates in charity matches three times; the latest “Match for Africa” featured Gates and Federer versus Nadal and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah in South Africa, where Federer’s mother was born. The February event raised $3.7 million.

Federer is the GOAT, both on and off the court.

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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Making South Africa Proud And His Inspiration Outside The Pool

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Chad le Clos; image by Gian Mattia D'Alberto LaPresse

Swimming sensation Chad le Clos had planned on returning from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with gold but with the games postponed, he’s for now focusing on family, fitness and his foundation.

For many athletes, the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 has meant stalled training regimes. South Africa’s 28-year-old Olympic gold medalist swimmer Chad le Clos, at home in the coastal town of Durban while in lockdown in South Africa, says this year, he had hoped to return from the Olympics with another gold medal.

“I planned on hopefully winning a gold medal and coming back home and celebrating with the country. I was planning on doing a lot of great things this year. It is quite sad but I am looking at the bigger picture. There are a lot of things I want to achieve inside and outside of the pool. The Olympics is the biggest goal I will ever have. And hopefully, I can make South Africa proud next year.”

Posing in front of his haul of medals at home in Durban, in a Zoom interview with FORBES AFRICA, Le Clos, who was also one of FORBES AFRICA’s 30 Under 30 list-makers in 2019, says he is waiting to get back into the pool.

“Before the lockdown in South Africa, I was away in Europe training. For the last five weeks, I have not been able to train but I was very lucky to spend time with a family friend on his farm on 36 acres of land with horses and dogs, so I was mostly training outdoors.”

The sports star, who is also recovering from two recent surgeries, says swimming is different from any other sport.

“As a runner or athlete, you can run, but as a swimmer, you need to have that feel of the water. It’s a very different fitness. I am a terrible runner, I can’t run at all. But when I am in the pool, I can be as fit as I can… So focus is important, once you lose that feel, it will take weeks to get back to that fitness.”

Le Clos, who has been swimming competitively from the age of 10 and is a 17-time Commonwealth Games medalist, speaks about the Chad le Clos Foundation and the special projects coming up in the townships also serving underprivileged communities.

How about becoming an entrepreneur at some point, we ask in this interview.

“I don’t want to close any doors. I want to dive into everything head on. Right now, my big focus is the Olympics. I am in a great mental head space. My family is the most important thing and they are safe. Once swimming has firmly shut, I will focus on the next chapter and it will be some sort of business. I have a lot of passion projects like I have said with my foundation…”

Le Clos says he has looked up to swimmer Michael Phelps his whole life (and even beat him at the age of 20 by 0.05 seconds at the 2012 Olympics in London in the men’s 200meters butterfly), but the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali is his “ultimate idol”.

“For what he stood for, the greatest boxer of all time, he was the people’s champion. I am not as outspoken as he was, but I have always seen myself too as a people’s champion, I have seen myself swimming for my family, my people and my country. Muhammad Ali is my hero and icon. And my big inspiration outside of the pool.”

During the lockdown, besides “playing a lot of poker with my family and losing”, it has also been a good time to reflect.

“I like to visualize positive things. As a kid, I always visualized success, the Olympics, the gold medal, you create that moment, and let that percolate. The more positives you put out are the positives you will get back. Focus on the positives. During this time, make yourself stronger mentally. You can come out of this stronger, and it will help you going forward.”

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Naomi Osaka Is The Highest-Paid Athlete Ever, Topping Serena Williams

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The 22-year-old Japanese tennis player racked up $37 million in earnings in the past year, more than any other female athlete in history.

Naomi Osaka was only a year old when Serena Williams won her first grand slam title in 1999. Nineteen years later, Osaka beat Williams at the U.S. Open finals to win her first grand slam. It was one of the most controversial matches in Open history involving three code violations called against Williams. Now the 22-year-old ace has beaten her legendary rival once again, this time for bragging rights as the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

Osaka earned $37.4 million the last 12 months from prize money and endorsements, $1.4 million more than Serena, setting an all-time earnings record for any female athlete in a single year; Maria Sharapova held the prior record with $29.7 million in 2015.

Osaka ranks No. 29 among the 100 highest-paid athletes, while Williams is No. 33. It’s the first time since 2016 that two women have made the ranks of the top 100 highest paid athletes, with the full 2020 list set for release next week.

“To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business. “Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon.”

The ascension puts an end to a decisive winning streak for Williams, who has been the world’s highest-paid female athlete each of the past four years, with annual pre-tax income ranging from $18 million to $29 million. The 23-time grand slam champion has collected almost $300 million during her career from endorsers who have swarmed the 38-year-old star.

Osaka’s rise to the head of the charts was a perfect  convergence of several factors. She first proved herself on the court, with back-to-back grand slam titles at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open. That plus her heritage—a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father—helped separate her from the pack; at only 20 when she won her Open title, she had a cool factor and engaging personality.

Osaka’s roots are crucial to her endorsement stardom. She was born in Japan. When she was three, she and her family moved to the U.S., settling on Long Island and then heading to Florida; older sister, Mari, also plays on the pro circuit.

She turned pro in 2014, a month before her 16th birthday. She cracked the WTA’s top 40 in 2016 and won her first title in March 2018 at Indian Wells. In the 12 months that followed, she became the first Japanese player to win a slam, and first Asian tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

Osaka maintains dual citizenship but made the wise choice to represent Japan ahead of the since-postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision made her an even hotter commodity for Olympic sponsors, like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, who signed endorsement deals with Osaka to use her around marketing for the Games, now scheduled for summer 2021. She is expected to be one of the faces of the Olympics that had triggered unprecedented levels of excitement among the Japanese public before the coronavirus.

A Decade Of Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Tennis has been a winning strategy for highest-paid female athletes. Before Naomi Osaka arrived on the scene, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the top earning women of the decade, holding the top spot for five and four years, respectively.

The last top-earning female athlete, outside of Williams and Sharapova, was Serena’s sister Venus in 2003. Tennis remains the only route for women to rank among the top-paid male sports stars. Sharapova, Li Na, Serena, and now Osaka are the only females to rank among the 100 top earners in sports since 2012. The highest-paid female athlete every year since Forbes started tracking the data in 1990 has been a tennis player, with Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis the top earners most of the 1990s. 

Tennis players are walking billboards in the only major global sport where men and women have some level of equality in their paychecks, thanks to similarly sized audiences tuning in to watch tournaments. Prize money at the four grand slam events has been even since 2007, although men still earn more at lower level tourneys.

The demographics of the tennis fan make sponsoring top players attractive for brands. At the U.S. Open last year, attendance skewed in favor of women by a ratio of 56 to 44, a rarity at big time sporting events; 78% held at least a bachelor’s degree versus 35% for the U.S. overall; the average household income was $216,000. This is a group with significant disposable income, ready to buy apparel, sporting equipment, cars, watches and financial services.

Steering Osaka’s brand is tennis powerhouse agency IMG, which leaned on its history with breakout female tennis stars when Osaka started blowing up, having represented Maria Sharapova and Li. Stuart Duguid is her lead agent at IMG.

The apparel deal is almost always the biggest endorsement for tennis stars, and Osaka’s timing was perfect there as well, as she hit the open market just after winning two grand slams. It triggered a free agency bidding war between Nike and Adidas—her previous apparel sponsor. The Swoosh emerged on top and paid her more than $10 million last year in an agreement that runs through 2025.

Osaka secured an extremely rare but lucrative provision in her Nike contract. The sportswear giant always requires its tennis players to be clad in Nike gear from head to toe, without any other logos on their shirts or hats. This is lucrative real estate for marketers, as cameras focus closely on the player as they serve or get set to return serve.

Nike never made an exemption for Serena, Sharapova, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi or any of the other marketable tennis stars in their stable. The only exception until last year was China’s Li Na; Osaka was the second, thanks to massive leverage with Sharapova headed for retirement and Williams turning 39 this year. Her “patch” deals are with All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and ramen noodle maker Nissin Foods.

Nike plans to launch an Osaka streetwear line in Japan in the fourth quarter, featuring hoodies, leggings and shirts, as well as a new collection each season. There will not be any tennis apparel.

Osaka now has 15 endorsement partners, including global brands like Nissan Motor, Shiseido and Yonex, whose tennis racquets she has used for more than a decade; almost all are worth seven-figures annually. 

Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon crown. IMG quickly mobilized to lock up lucrative long-term deals for the Russian, who ranked as the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years before injuries and a suspension for taking a banned substance dented her earnings.

IMG got an education on marketing a female Asian tennis star with China’s Li. She was the first grand slam singles champion from Asia, man or woman, when she captured the 2011 French Open at age 29. IMG quickly secured seven multi-million deals, pushing her off-court earnings from $2 million to $20 million. She challenged Sharapova as the sport’s top earner until her retirement in 2014.

IMG used its expertise in Japan with Kei Nishikori, who has never won a grand slam but is the most successful Japanese male player ever, resulting in an endorsement portfolio worth $30 million a year.

Sharapova, Li and Nishikori paved the way for Osaka’s marketing breakthrough. “We were fortunate to have a very sophisticated office in Tokyo that already had the experience with Kei,” IMG’s head of tennis Max Eisenbud told Forbes last year. “The relationships in that region are important.”

With plenty of endorsement cash, Osaka partnered with several brands last year, with significant equity components, including emerging sports drink BodyArmor and Hyperice, which makes recovery and movement products.

BodyArmor marketing exec Mike Fedele says Osaka was one of inspirations for its “Only You” ad campaign launched this week. “Naomi is fiercely dedicated to perfecting her game on the court and a huge part of that is what she does off the court with her training, nutrition and hydration,”he says.

“I’m really interested in seeing a young business grow and adding value to that process,” Osaka told Forbes last year. “I tasked my team with finding brands that align with my personality and my interests.”

Brands are lining up to get into the Naomi Osaka business.

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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