Tennis shoes evolved from sneakers, which have been in fashion for a very long time. It has gone through different improvements throughout the years, but they have always put comfort and functionality in mind.
Tennis is a dynamic game that requires vigorous activities, wherein players have to make swift movements. These movements will need support from shoes that are comfortable and offers extra support to the foot. Tennis shoes offer lateral support for quick movements in all four directions and are designed to prevent ankle injuries. It has to be combined with tennis socks to offer the best support for the joints. Tennis shoes also absorb shock to avoid excessive friction to the joints, offering stability, power, and traction to the player.
Did you ever wonder how they came to be? Just keep reading.
The First Tennis Shoes Ever Made
The first types of tennis shoes had rubber soles and canvas uppers that are designed and manufactured during the early 18th century. It was first designed for the British Navy so that sailors can have shoes they can wear on their slippery decks to prevent slipping and sliding. Later on, the shoes became popular with rich aristocrats who started wearing them while playing a popular sport of the day – tennis – hence the name tennis shoes.
The plimsoll shoe, which is a rubber outsole with a canvas upper, has graced tennis courts ever since the 1800s. These rubber-soled shoes have no left or right foot and were later named sneakers because it is a silent type of shoe. When they walk with sneakers, they won’t make a peep, unlike when they were wearing shoes of the day that had solid hard soles and made quite a noise when walking.
In 1839, Charles Goodyear started to develop vulcanized rubber, a chemically-altered version of rubber that’s more stable and heat-resistant. Other companies followed suit, and soon, vulcanized rubber was being combined with canvas to create the first foray to athletic shoes.
Different options for athletic shoes started to take off in the early 1900s. In 1916, the United States Rubber Company (which later became Uniroyal) introduced Keds, a brand of rubber-soled canvas shoes. In 1917, the Converse Rubber Company came out with their version of tennis shoes – the All-Star Shoe.
A signature style started to take form in 1935 when badminton player Jack Purcell created shoes for the B.F. Goodrich Company of Canada, which made its way to the tennis courts.
Most tennis players in the 1960s are wearing either Converse or Jack Purcells. People are not thinking about shoes too much, as long as they wear something usable and comfortable.
The canvas and rubber combo remained as the norm well into the 1960s and beyond. Many companies started creating shoes, which later on became popular in the world of tennis and other sports, such as the Dunlop Green Flash and the Dunlop Volley. Nike was born in the mid-1960s, thanks to the University of Oregon Coach Bill Bowerman and businessman Phil Knight. Though the first shoes that Nike has created was a running shoe, they went on to improve the styles of tennis shoes.
The Leather Era
Leather was a massive change during the late 1960s to early 1970s, which spawned a new way of thinking about tennis shoes. Adidas added leather in the 1960s and got Frenchman Robert Haillet to endorse the shoes in 1964. But after a few years, the French star retired, and Adidas needed to find a new endorser and turned to American Stan Smith, a former world no. 1 American tennis player and a two-time Grand Slam singles champion, to be the new face of the Haillet shoe.
Before being approached by Adidas, Smith was wearing shoes made by Uniroyal and tried the Dunlop Volley in Australia. However, he can’t pass up the endorsement opportunity and switched to the leather Haillet. Back then, a leather shoe was unique in tennis, and he took a little bit of time to get used to it, but the shoes were pretty comfortable.
Smith wore the shoe when he won his two Grand Slam singles titles, and eventually, Haillet’s name evolved off the shoe, and Smith started to take over completely.
Stan Smith helped usher a new wave of high-tech shoes when he suggested a shoe with more protection around the Achilles, hence the addition of the green padding on the back and a tongue that did not shift. Back then, leather tennis shoes were considered an upgrade from other shoes.
In the 1970s, the Stan Smith was launched, along with the Rod Laver and the IlieNastase shoes. According to Smith, the three stripes on Adidas products were designed for extra support. The Smith and Laver Shoes did not have the three stripes as we know it today.
While the Stan Smith shoes introduced leather, other companies followed suit. The evolution of tennis shoe material was on.
The Modern Tennis Shoes
From the change in materials since the Adidas Stan Smith shoes, other brands also made their switch. K Swiss Classic also added leather, and Puma Match and Nike Wimbledon followed suit in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
As more companies used leather, other materials also entered the fray. In 1970, Adidas launched a Rod Laver signature shoe with a polyurethane outsole, suede on the toe part, and a mesh upper, which is a major shift into new materials. The construction of the shoes kept changing in the 1980s, and McEnroe was partially credited for the shift.
Nike inevitably grew in popularity, and shoe designer Tinker Hatfield designed the Nike Air Trainer 1 with lateral support, a heel lift higher than a typical court shoe, and a foot-securing strap for side-to-side movement. This trainer shoe hit tennis before it hit the workout rooms. In 1986, before it launched in the market in 1987, McEnroe asked Nike for a more modern shoe upon his return to tennis.
Nike sent a Hatfield-designed shoe to McEnroe and asked him not to wear it in tournaments. But once McEnroe wore the shoe, he apologized for he had to wear it. He started winning while wearing the shoes, and Nike gave in and sent him outsole versions for both grass and clay. It gave him the support he needed, for he had some difficulty with ankle sprains. It gave him the jump he needed for the court.
By the mid-1990s, Nike branched out their tennis shoe offerings, outfitting Andre Agassi in the Air Tech Challenge III and Pete Sampras in the Air Oscillate. Hatfield designs both shoes.
Nike wasn’t the only company going high tech in tennis shoes by the ‘90s. Puma, New Balance, Reebok, Converse, Adidas, K Swiss, Wilson, Diadora, Fila, and Lotto also entered the tennis shoe market by mixing up materials and construction.
Today we have many kinds of tennis shoes made. Some are for style, some are for all kinds of work environments and more. We even have specialty shoes such as Tennis Shoes for Plantar Fasciitis and more.
Since then, footwear designers and manufacturers have been improving the tennis shoe. No matter how comfy sneakers can be, we can rely on tennis shoe to be a supportive footwear we can rely on.