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 this moment in the sport’s history in the making.
This year, we saw the launch of the signature shoe of one of the greatest of all time on the streets (or on the tennis courts). Roger Federer got to work with On and created “THE ROGER Pro”. The brand’s first high-performance tennis shoes.
So what’s so special about it? And why does it deserve a place in the Tennis Shoe Hall of Fame?
Well, they were developed by the man himself with the brand that until now has specialized in running.
Technologically, a 100% carbon fiber “speedboard” is integrated into the midsole to absorb shock on impact with the ground and give extra energy return to quickly prepare you for your next move and shot.
The thin cross-hatched grip on the outsole was designed to limit squeaking on hard courts.
Aesthetically, in true Federer style, the finished product has super smart clean lines (as you would expect) to complete the package and make this hotshot a surefire winner.
Even though Roger Federer will be sadly absent from Wimbledon this summer, we see no reason why these groundbreaking tennis shoes won’t become a sought-after and beloved collector’s item, earning their place in the history books.
I picked up two pairs. One to enjoy a game or two and the others to store in a safe and well-protected place for 30 years.
The evolution of tennis shoes
Beginning with the humble canvas-covered Dunlop Green Flash sole in the mid-1930s, these shoes were worn by British Grand Slam champion Fred Perry who won Wimbledon three times in the iconic shoe. This original trailblazer has since snowballed and can now be considered part of today’s Gen Z street style.
Moving forward a few decades, Adidas signed Stan Smith in 1978 to endorse its very first leather tennis sneakers (which were originally created in the mid-1960s and named after Robert Haillet, a tennis player French who retired from the sport). The shoes have remained a mainstay of the brand’s collection and have evolved into the fashion shoes they are today.
At the dawn of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Nike entered the fray with their “Wimbledon” shoe sporting the brand’s signature Swoosh sign. John McEnroe wore them in the famous 1980 final on the hallowed turf of SW19. You may remember that infamous tiebreaker against Bjorn Borg, who incidentally showed off his signature Diadora Elite sneakers. In turn, these are quickly becoming casual classics.
Then the game changer arrived. Andre Agassi made headlines in the 90s with his colorful hot pink lava kit, long flowing locks and neon Nike Air Tech Challenge II pumps – setting a trend for years to come. Technological advancements in the market and competition were hot on his heels, including the Victory Court pumps from Reebok and Michael Chang.
When ‘Pistol’ Pete Sampras burst onto the center court scene (circa 2000), no one could stop him and the Nike Air Ocillate sneakers he wore for most of his career – adding multiple tournaments of the Grand Slam to his CV.
This paved the way for Adidas to return to action in 2004 with arguably their most iconic and indestructible ‘Barricade’ pair to kickstart the modern era. Champions like 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 on clay (as well as sweeping all three Masters 1000 tournaments in the same year) and following his pirate gear phase, we could only marvel in front of his Nike Air Max Court Ballistec 2.3s, which catapulted these tennis shoes into the spotlight.
Roger Federer then turned up the heat in the first round of Wimbledon in 2013 with his orange Nike Vapor 9 sole. Officials told him to stop wearing them because they were not respecting their strict white dress code. The following year, the Nike Air Jordan and the NikeCourt Flare by Serena Williams arrived. Williams’ shoe included a unique ankle support collar and the inspiration for it came from Kobe Bryant’s basketball sneakers.
These days, top professionals such as Dimitrov, Nadal and Murray have their shoes specially designed and customized for their own specific needs. Some sneakers you currently see worn by your favorite player on tour are actually a few seasons old and have been cosmetically updated to look like a new incarnation. Others could be a hybrid or even custom made and not for sale.