very once in a while a tennis shoe comes along and becomes an instant, timeless classic.
It resonates with tennis players and fans alike capturing the true essence of style, culture and that moment of sport history in the making.
This year, we have seen the launch of one the Greatest of All Time’s very own signature shoe hitting the streets (or tennis courts). Roger Federer has got it on with On and created ‘THE ROGER Pro’. The label’s first ever high-performance tennis-specific footwear.
So, what’s so special about this? And why does it deserve a place in the tennis shoe Hall of Fame?
Well, they have been developed by the man himself with the brand who, until now, have specialized in running.
On the technology front, a 100 per cent carbon fiber ‘speedboard’ is engineered into the midsole to absorb shock upon ground impact and give a boost of energy return to prepare you quickly for your next move and shot.
The thin channeled cross hatch grip on the outsole has been designed to limit squeaking on hard courts.
Aesthetically, in true Federer style the finished product has super smart no nonsense clean lines (as you would expect) to complete the whole package and make this hotshot a sure fire winner.
Even though Roger Federer will unfortunately be absent from Wimbledon this summer, we see no reason why these ground breaking tennis shoes will not become a sought after and beloved collectors item, earning themselves a place in the history books.
I’ve snapped up two pairs. One to enjoy a game or two and the others to store away somewhere safe and well protected for 30 years.
The evolution of tennis footwear
Starting with the humble canvas clad Dunlop Green Flash plimsole in the mid 1930s, these shoes were worn by Great Britain’s Grand Slam Champion Fred Perry who won Wimbledon three times in the iconic footwear. This original trailblazer has since snowballed and can now been seen as part of today’s Gen Z street style.
Skipping forward a good few decades Adidas signed up Stan Smith in 1978 to endorse its first ever leather tennis trainers (which were originally created in the mid 60s and named after Robert Haillet, a French tennis player who retired from the sport). The shoes have remained a stalwart in the brand’s collection and evolved into the fashion footwear they are today.
On the cusp of the late 70s and early 80s, Nike entered the arena with its ‘Wimbledon’ shoe sporting the label’s iconic Swoosh sign. John McEnroe wore these in the famous 1980 final on the hallowed turf of SW19. You may remember that famous tie-breaker against Bjorn Borg, who incidentally had his signature Diadora Elite sneakers on show. In turn, these quickly become casual classics.
Then the game changer arrived. Andre Agassi stole the headlines in the 90s with his colorful hot pink lava kit, long flowing highlights locks and neon blitzing Air Tech Challenge II pumps from Nike – duly setting a trend for years to come. Technological advances in the marketplace and competition was hot on its heels, which included Reebok and Michael Chang’s Victory Court Pumps.
When ‘Pistol’ Pete Sampras smashed onto the center court scene (circa 2000), nobody could stop him and Nike’s Air Ocillate sneakers which he wore for the best part of his career – adding several grand slams to his CV.
This paved the way for Adidas to muscle its way back into the action in 2004 with arguably its most iconic and indestructible ‘Barricade’ pair to kick of the modern era. Champions including Ana Ivanovic, Justine Henin, Marat Safin, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray contributed to their popularity and success.
In 2010, during Rafa Nadal’s fifth Roland Garros title campaign of clay court dominance (as well as sweeping up all three Masters 1000 tournaments in the same year) and following on from his pirate gear phase, we could only marvel at his Nike Air Max Court Ballistec 2.3s, which catapulted these tennis shoes into the limelight.
Roger Federer then turned up the heat during the opening round of Wimbledon in 2013 with his orange sole Nike Vapor 9s. Officials told him to stop wearing them, as they did not adhere to their strict all white dress code. The following year Nike Air Jordan landed as well as Serena Williams’s NikeCourt Flare. Williams’s shoe included a unique ankle support collar and the inspiration for this came from Kobe Bryant’s basketball sneakers.
Nowdays, top level professionals such as Dimitrov, Nadal and Murray have had their footwear specially tailored and customized for their own specific needs. Some sneakers you currently see being worn by your fav player on tour are actually from a good few seasons back and cosmetically updated to look like a new incarnation. Others, might be a hybrid or even bespoke made and not for sale.