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Surprise retirement leaves Prince searching for tennis royalty as U.S. Open unfolds

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Mike Ballardie thought he had hit the branding jackpot.

A few months after taking over as CEO of Bordentown-based Prince Global Tennis in February, product endorser Marion Bartoli surprised the tennis world by winning Wimbledon, becoming — at No. 15 — one of the highest seeds in the sport's history to win a major.

The victory seemingly guaranteed a slew of media coverage for Bartoli — and, thus, the Prince brand — for the rest of the summer, including the ever-important U.S. Open, which began Monday in New York.

But five weeks later, Bartoli shocked the sports world again — this time by retiring.

Ballardie said the announcement changed some of the company's marketing strategy before the U.S. Open, including the opening of its New York store.

"We had to adjust," he said. "One major marketing opportunity centered on this showroom, which is right in heart of the city. We still have all of the imagery of her — now we have to use it as more of an ambassador."

Ballardie said he was surprised by the decision, but also understood how the 28-year-old star — who won just eight WTA titles — reached it. The company remains in her corner, and Ballardie holds out a slight hope she may eventually return to the game.

"She's such a great person and a great ambassador for our brand," he said. "Whatever she decides to do, we'll support her."

But Bartoli's departure doesn't mean Prince won't be the racquet of a U.S. Open champ.

No. 4 David Ferrer, who won Monday, and No. 13 John Isner — the top-ranked American, who plays today — use the racquet. That's also true of the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, who will look to complete a grand slam in doubles.

And while Ballardie said Prince would like to have more of the sport's top players under contract, he said the company has not made that a top priority. Prince, Ballardie said, is putting the focus on getting the next generation of stars.

"We're heavily invested in the juniors," he said.

Ballardie points to Prince's partnership with 17-year-old Taylor Townsend, who won the Australian Open junior title in 2012 and reached the Wimbledon junior final this summer.

"She's ready to break through into the big game," Ballardie said. "We think she could be the next Serena Williams."

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