By Steve Gorten

KEY BISCAYNE – Everywhere you walk inside Crandon Park Tennis Center these days, you’re sure to spot a crocodile sewn on shirts, shorts and ballcaps.

Lacoste, the high-end French clothing company founded in 1933 by champion tennis player Rene Lacoste, is the new official outfitter for the 2015 Miami Open, and will be so for the next five years.

“We’re excited. This is our first major American tournament,” said Austin Smedstad, director of public relations at Lacoste. “We’ve sponsored the French Open, as well as the Australian Open, for a while – two of the four Grand Slams as well as Dubai Open and ATP Tour Finals. So it’s nice to have something stateside to celebrate.”

With its hashtag of #beautifultennis, and slogans of “Life Is A Beautiful Sport” and “Elegance is Victory,” Lacoste is “more involved than ever with tennis,” Smedstad noted. And it makes sense that it teams with the Miami Open since 25 percent of its sales in the U.S. stem from Florida.

To commemorate the partnership, Lacoste launched a new tennis racket this week – the limited edition LT12, comprised of 70 percent wood and 30 percent graphite. It costs $750, and only 650 rackets were produced globally. Two are on display, and for sale, inside Lacoste’s 4,000-square foot stadium store at the Miami Open.

“It’s definitely a comfort racket so anyone can play with it,” Smedstad said. “But it’s also a collector’s item.”

Lacoste’s stadium store, which includes retired world No. 1 men’s tennis player Gustavo Kuerten’s collection, also features a collection “co-branded” for the Miami Open. A separate booth on tournament grounds sells Lacoste footwear exclusively. In addition, every polo shirt purchased in the stadium store during the tournament is eligible for free monogramming.

Smedstad said Kuerten and John Isner, the world’s No. 24 ranked player and the most prolific current player representing the company, have been “great ambassadors” for the Lacoste brand.

Of the company’s association with tennis, Smedstad noted, “we’re trying to bring a freshness to tennis – a fashion element that you can wear year-round, for every generation. It’s elegant. It’s sheik. It definitely has a French savoir faire.”

On Wednesday, Pablo Andujar signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans at the Lacoste store. Thursday, it was world No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut’s turn. Kuerten will make an appearance on Saturday, Smedstad said.

“It’s been amazing. It’s exceeding our expectations. People are flooding in,” he said. “They love the 2015 memento of the co-branded collection and they love seeing our athletes come by for signings and photos.”

Lacoste’s founder, Rene Lacoste, was known as one of The Four Musketeers, along with fellow French stars Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet. The group dominated tennis in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Lacoste was the world’s No. 1 player in 1926 and 1927, earning the nickname “the Crocodile” from fans because of his tenacity on the court.