Running in Federer’s shoes
Originally published on: 13/01/12 00:00
Days ahead of his tilt for a sixth Australian Open title, tennishead was delighted to have an exclusive meeting with Roger Federer to talk about a crucial factor in his chances of success at this year’s tournament – you guessed it, his shoes. The sublime Swiss, it turns out, takes control of all aspects of his game, not least the design of his footwear.
On Thursday, in a discreet corner of an unassuming building in Federation Square just minutes from Melbourne Park, Roger Federer and the team at Nike were busy showing off the new Nike Zoom Vapor 9 Tour. We at tennishead love a good shoe story and we certainly weren’t disappointed.
First off, we can reveal that if you want to fill Federer’s shoes you’ll need to be a size 12, although the 30-year-old admits he wears his tennis footwear one size too big.
“They’ve got to be a little bit bigger than the regular shoes I wear because I wear two pairs of socks and tape and so forth,” he explains.
The new Nike Vapor’s have been planned for a while and Federer has long since collaborated with Nike, his footwear and apparel sponsor, in the conception and production stage of his previous footwear models.
“For over six or seven years now I’ve been very involved with whatever shoe has been coming my way. I’ve been giving [Nike] input, from fit to shoelaces and colouring, to the sole underneath, to the wrapping, the adapted fit and so forth,” he reveals.
His input into the Nike Vapor 9 has been particularly intense; such is the importance of creating a shoe perfectly tailored to his needs.
“It’s hard for players to change shoes sometimes, especially when you are comfortable with one for two years,” he admits. “We don’t change shoes like we change our shirts. It’s a big deal to change shoes and that’s why this is a big launch for Nike and for me as well.”
Uniquely designed to offer the comfort and lightweight feel of a running shoe, the Vapor 9 also has the incredible strength and lockdown fit required for the demands of tennis.
Now, we didn’t get to try the shoe ourselves but what the world No. 3 told us about its key properties is plenty good enough for us.
“Running shoes are always so, so comfortable – not that tennis shoes are not – but they are softer, have the mesh [material], and that’s why we say ‘let’s try to integrate that into the forefoot, but we need to have the stability on the side’,” he says.
“For that, it has to fit tight around the foot when it’s tied up. I spend a lot of time just walking around with them – it has to be comfortable because we don’t want any blisters or anything like that.”
The time Federer has invested in the development of the Vapor 9 has paid dividends, it seems.
“There were a lot of different questions they had to answer and they really came up with a good, good shoe right now,” he says.
“I’m really happy and excited actually because they’ve tried to cut more and more weight out of it, which is also difficult, so you’re also making sacrifices and compromises but I think they did well. In the end it all came together nicely.”
The shoe’s technical blurb explains that ‘an innovative fit system uses “fingers” on the outside and a loop system on the inside’. When the laces get clinched tight, the fingers mold to the shape of the individual foot, resulting in a customised fit that continues to adapt as the foot moves during a match.
Wrapping the laces all the way to the bottom of the arch further enhances the glove-like feel and a synthetic-leather quarter panel overlay adds to the firm fit.
Added to that a lightweight mesh throughout the shoe helps keep the foot cool. And the TPU foot-frame from the mid-foot to the heel delivers stability and protection during the quick slides and directional changes of a competitive match. Rubber overlays in high-wear areas improve durability. Soft and springy Lunar cushioning and a Nike Zoom unit in the heel work together for exceptional comfort and impact protection.
Cut through all that jargon and the 16-time Grand Slam champion can sum up the benefits of the Vapor 9 succinctly.
“It’s a light shoe, it’s better than the other shoes that are out there and it should offer a competitive advantage, potentially,” he smiles.
Federer’s acute understanding and involvement in the equipment he takes to court is another indicator of why the great Swiss is so, well, great.
“I like to be involved myself so that I’m also the one to blame if something’s not right,” he says. “I can’t stand wanting to point fingers at someone else. I always feel it should come from the player’s side.”
So if you want to be a great player you must take responsibility for yourself, Federer intimates. And if you want to tread in the steps of a great player in the Nike Zoom Vapor 9 Tour, coming to the blue plexi-cushion courts of Melbourne Park this week, you better hot foot it to a good shoe retailer now.