We haven't seen a contemporary tennis shoe explode in popularity beyond the courts in a long time
— we've seen some contenders, but the more powerful players seem to demand shoes so heavy and rugged that they feel like Timbs on the feet. Obviously players come first, but there's something about tennis shoes and summer — think Tech Challenges in eye-bleeding neons, the grown-up elegance of the Rod Laver Super, Lendl's signature shoes or the Air Trainer 1 (a shoe made for more than tennis, but Mac made it his own). It's one of the great hot weather wears, but lately nobody's been making the effort — when the superb Zoom Trainer 1 (one of the greatest shoe designs of the last decade) entered the Nike Tennis category a few years ago, minus carbon fibre, we thought it might blow up, but it just hit the reduced racks.
The days when we broke out Agassi signature shoes with accompanying stone wash shorts with the longer lycra lining, or the characters who understood greatness snapped necks with the near-indestructible Air Resistance (not a light shoe at all, but when it looked that good, exceptions had to be made) are over, but with the popularity of LunarLon and FlyKnit, plus an escalating tech obsession, Roger Federer's Zoom Vapor 9 Tour is the great hope for some racket sport hype at street level.
We pleaded with Nike
for the first variation of this shoe with the perfect union of pop colour, mesh and supportive fit and after wearing them out, we were taken aback by the comfort (those strange grasping "fingers" really do hold the foot in place without constricting it), faint resemblance to the legendary Zoom Haven (which always felt like the blueprint for Dynamic Support) model in terms of low profile and toe down view and the fact that folks whose opinion we trust were giving them the all-important "nod." Everyone else was getting themselves hot under the collar over Foamposites, but if you grew up lusting after Mac Attacks, we know the oddball Tinker Hatfield helmed looks of the Vapor 9 will at least capture a little of your interest. Crucially this isn't a dilution of prior triumphs — Roger's shoe has its own aesthetic identity after the tennis shoe became a byword for white and navy blandness twinned with chinos and worn by faintly overweight middle-aged men on internal US flights.
This clay court version ups the resilience against the dusty red terrain by replacing the mesh with leather, but the looks are still there. Does anybody else remember the clay court AT1s and Tech Challenges (minus visible air) that got limited release in specialist sports shops? These are a little closer to their source material than those collector's favourites, but Nike Tennis informing the Running and Basketball divisions goes some way in bringing the art of tennis shoes you can pose in back to its rightful place. An amazing shoe — the mesh variation takes precedence in our affections, but these are still significant. These should be arriving at NikeTowns right now.