When Roger Federer made his long-awaited comeback at the Qatar Open in March, he stepped on the court wearing a pair of never seen before tennis shoes.
The shoes were made by On Running; a firm Federer holds an equity stake in and with whom he has collaborated to produce several pairs of lifestyle trainers.
Tennis, however, was uncharted territory for the Swiss-based company who specialise primarily in running shoes, so what did they come up with, and will it go on general sale?
Meet The Roger Pro Tennis Shoe
The Roger Pro is the first-ever On tennis shoe and, for now, is a one-off model designed solely for Federer’s own foot shape.
The design started with 3D images of Federer's foot, and the shoe was created from the ground up with Roger's input alongside On's Science Lead, Kévin Dellion and the On design team.
The result is a sleek looking tennis shoe that carries some similar traits from Federer's Nike Vapor shoe that served him for well over a decade and On's own touches such as the speed board and midfoot cage for stability.
Notably missing, however, is On's synonymous CloudTec soles that feature on every shoe they've made to date. The reason for that omissions is that the sole's open style doesn't lend itself well to lateral movement and sharp pivots.
My Take on the Roger Pro
The first thing to note is that I think the shoe aesthetics are top-notch, and I really like the design elements.
The blue and white works great; the mesh is well designed and transitions nicely into the less-meshy midfoot and more solid heel area.
If someone showed me a standalone picture of this shoe, I wouldn't know it was a tennis shoe; they look like a general training shoe and, from some angles, even pass as an everyday lifestyle shoe.
So while I think they absolutely nailed the design angle, will it be a good tennis shoe? More on that below.
Will On Sell The Roger Pro?
Update April 2022: After making some tweaks, The Roger Pro is now on general sale for $299 / £170.
You'd think, given the in-depth webpage, high-quality product photography and a dedicated on-court photoshoot, then selling this shoe was clearly part of the plan.
However, On's current stance on whether this will go on general sale is the following:
Right now, this one-of-a-kind model is made to work for Roger’s feet and game so is not available for purchase. But we never say never. On Running on whether the Roger Pro will go on general sale
So maybe all the marketing materials produced were designed to create brand awareness and drive traffic to their well-established products rather than to sell tennis shoes.
However, I personally think that they might sell the Roger Pro as a one-off limited edition item like their first collaboration, ‘The Roger'.
This had a limited run of 1000. Well, it was a kind of limited edition, it's since been tweaked slightly and released en masse without having a number on it 😁 , but I can see the same being done here with Fed fan's snapping them up as memorabilia rather than to play in.
But as a mass-market tennis shoe? I'm not sure it will work.
If you look at the Roger Pro design, there's no way it will stand up to the rigours that most tennis players put their shoes through with all the sliding and toe dragging involved.
My experience of trying all manner of tennis shoes tells me that they'll be extremely comfy and lightweight but won't last long enough.
There is no real toe guard, a lack of rubber, and they do not have much bulk compared to most of the best sellers out there, like the Gel Resolution 8.
You also have brands like Asics and Mizuno offering six-month outsole guarantees, and looking at this lightweight, thin blue sole, I don't think they can offer that.
Considering that most players' biggest criticism of Federer's Nike Vapors was their lack of durability and that they look even more minimalist, I don't think that's a recipe for customer satisfaction.
While that's not a problem for Federer as he can replace them whenever he wishes, given On's typical high price tag, you're going to quickly build a long list of disgruntled customers who won't want to shell out
~$200 every two months to replace them.
What's the Alternative?
The alternative for On, should they want to try to capture some of the tennis shoe market will be to design a bulkier, more durable version of the Roger Pro that is more suitable for recreational and club level play. Or even for aspiring pros on the Futures circuit not lucky enough to have a shoe deal.
Will they do it? Maybe but I'm not sure it's really worth it for them. They've nailed the running/mixed training side of things and are making headway in the lifestyle market, so do they need tennis shoes to dilute the range?
Given that Federer's on-court visibility is declining of late and unfortunately will soon draw to a permanent close, will they be able to shift that many tennis shoes anyway? The Wilson RF97 Autograph isn't the top seller it was a couple of years ago for that very reason.
Perhaps if they can start kitting out some young Swiss players like Dominic Stricker in their gear, it will be a viable market for them, but who knows if that's a consideration on their roadmap.
Anyway, if they do go on general sale, I'll be picking up a pair to test on the court to see how they handle and will post it here 🙂
What do you guys think? Would you buy a pair of the Roger Pro tennis shoes to play in? Or would they be more a collector's piece? Let me know in the comments.