How shoe designer Tinker Hatfield changed tennis sneakers

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As architect-turned-shoe designer Tinker Hatfield began creating some of the most famous Air Jordan silhouettes of all time in the late 1980s, he was also busy changing the design of tennis sneakers forever.

“Phil Knight walked into my office many years ago and said, ‘Do you know who Andre Agassi is? “And I said no,” Hatfield says. “He said, ‘Well, you’re going to do it. We are about to sign this young player and it will be your project. And then he just left.

The next day, Hatfield was on a plane to Las Vegas to meet Agassi, and the birth of the famous Air Tech Challenge line quickly followed. And he has not disappeared. The 1990 Air Tech Challenge 2, best known for its Hot Lava colourway, has survived. It became a popular retro offering, seen a LeBron 16 colourway and the sole was featured on the Nike Air Yeezy 2. But Hatfield was more than colourways, bringing technology to tennis.

Andre Agassi wearing the Nike Air Tech Challenge 2 at Roland Garros 1990. Image via Getty

“When I started this particular project that Mr. Knight gave me, of course I looked at all of our previous tennis products and felt it just didn’t live up to what we were doing with basketball back then or cross training and, of course, running, “he says.” Tennis players deserved the same kind of treatment and the best possible innovation. ”

Hatfield used discoveries from the athletic world to improve speed, stability, and concepts of movement on the basketball line court. for insight.

“I think a lot of times we can transfer something we’ve learned from one sport to another,” he says. “Especially on hard surfaces, [basketball and tennis] should work the same.

John McEnroe
John McEnroe wearing the Nike Air Trainer 1 in 1988. Image via Getty

One of the most popular models on the court for tennis players in the late 1980s was a Hatfield model which was not created for tennis or basketball, but intended to serve as the first elliptical trainer. in the world. The Air Trainer 1 released in 1987 was designed so that athletes can do multiple workouts with a single shoe, without the need for several different shoes. A pair was sent to John McEnroe in 1986 ahead of the shoe’s planned release and he has donned them at tournaments. When Agassi signed with the brand, he sported the Air Trainer 1 in 1988.

Although Hatfield had yet to design any specially designed tennis sneakers, he still owned one of the most popular models in the sport. Switching to the Air Tech Challenge and working with Agassi – a project he completed alongside meetings with Michael Jordan as the then-growing Air Jordan line was in full swing – allowed Hatfield to upgrade the shoes. tennis shoe with full-length Nike Air shoes, made visible to enhance aesthetics on the court, Durathane outsoles and a Durabuck leather upper.

The tech-driven concept developed in the 1990s, but also created powerful shoes that led to a Hatfield creation he calls the most underrated tennis sneaker: the Nike Zoom Vapor 9.

Debut in 2012 thanks to his work with another tennis legend at Roger Federer, Hatfield was then designing on his iPad and worked with the Swiss superstar to cut the excesses of design and create something more similar to a running shoe, but still with the strength and containment necessary for tennis.

The fabricated “fingers” on the upper worked with the laces and the inner system to mold the upper to each foot, allowing for stability and strength while the mesh further removed excess weight.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer wearing a pair of Nike Zoom Vapor at Wimbledon which was banned for its orange sole. Image via Getty

“It was the shoe we cracked the code with,” Hatfield says. “Roger is no longer a Nike athlete, but I’ve worked with him a lot and he always said he wanted a tennis shoe more like a running shoe: lighter, more breathable and a little more flexible.”

The 2012 version survived in the Vapor 9.5, the first of the models to receive a collaboration with Air Jordan 3, and finally in the Nike Air Zoom Vapor X of December 2017, a model still used in the field at the professional level.

“I’m not sure if this shoe has received the same publicity and attention as some of the older models,” Hatfield said of the 2012 release.

Through it all, Hatfield has worked with some of the biggest names in tennis, from McEnroe to Agassi and Pete Sampras to Federer. The first tennis player he spent time with was McEnroe, who took his non-tennis-related designs and made them popular on the court.

“He was arsonist, so you never knew if he was interested in arguing or not,” Hatfield said. “I found him really charming and engaging and enjoyed the few conversations I had with him.”

His first impressions of Agassi helped launch the irreverent nature of Nike’s tennis lines.

“I went to meet Andre at his home in Vegas and he was still just a young man,” Hatfield says. “We started the design process, which was really fun because he was different from the standard player, he played differently, he hit the ball so hard from the baseline, Nick Bollettieri style of hitting as hard as he can. I always thought it was an interesting approach, very different from that of John McEnroe and the other athletes Nike had signed before, so it was fun.

Mix up Agassi’s hair color at that first reunion in Vegas and how tennis equipment brands were starting to produce neon-colored tape for racquets, and Hatfield decided Nike should embrace everything neon-related. .

Michael Jordan Roger Feder
Roger Federer with his collaboration with Jordan Brand. Image via Nike

“People were like you had to be crazy and I said, exactly, crazy as a fox. Our approach to tennis was to be a little anti-tennis,” he said. new area and our products started to fly off the shelves. ”

“I see this era and the collection as the start of a beautiful thing,” Agassi told me last year. “It was, again, real and genuine, but it was also an exploration, one that felt like a continuation and a process that was only going to evolve and transform. People felt the freedom to do it. let it be what it should be.

Each athlete was a little different to work with. Hatfield remembers hitting balls with Agassi and Sampras and trying to figure out their mentality. And they couldn’t be more disparate in their styles.

“Pete Sampras came along and he was the antithesis of Andre,” Hatfield says. “He was more conservative, not just in his demeanor, but in his game. He was a lot more consistent and a little more conservative. There are two really cool things to work with.

From McEnroe bringing the Air Trainer 1 to life that eventually became a key piece of Bo Jackson’s marketing to the Air Tech Challenge line run by Agassi, the Sampras-specific Hatfield Air Oscillate debuted in 1997 through the sub – rated Zoom Vapor 9 from 2012, Hatfield’s mark on tennis sneakers is as deep as any other.


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