Even Roger Federer can’t get all the Nike sneakers he wants

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Roger Federer’s perception as a tennis player is very different from his personality off the court. He is a clinical player, dressed conservatively and a bit reserved. But the Swiss-born star with 17 Grand Slam tournaments to his credit has another side. He loves style, he’s having fun, and a new collection with NikeLab to show it off.

The line includes tennis-inspired shirts, socks and sneakers to wear when you’re not playing, and also offers a glimpse into Federer’s personal life.

He’s been one of the most dominant tennis players of all time, and his connection to the sneaker world is a modern take on greats like Andre Agassi, Stan Smith, and Rod Laver. His signature sneaker, the Zoom Vapor, was designed by Tinker Hatfield, and has been reworked in collaboration with Jordan Brand to resemble an Air Jordan III. What seemed like a weird couple at first was as natural as it could have been: he’s always been a huge fan of MJ.

And like Jordan, Federer has faced controversy when it comes to his sneakers. His white and orange sneakers were banned at Wimbledon in 2013 due to the brightly colored soles on the shoes. We had the chance to talk to Federer not only about his new outfit, but his love for shoes as well.

With the off-field collection, do you think you can show your personality more?
I have the opportunity to do 10 styles on the court, but off the court it’s different and streetwear is so big. I think it’s so cool that I can do this. We kept it very clean with the first collection, but there is more to come. As I get used to designing more clothes off the court, I’m like, “What do I like to wear off the court the most?” What are the details I like the most about clothes? Some people don’t know it, but I like to take risks. i would wear these shoes [“Yellow” Air Max Zeroes], I would wear prints. I love this kind of stuff. I don’t know if Nike wants to make it happen, but I like to do an off-court collection where I can be all about the style with crisp, clean details.

Roger Federer wearing a shirt from his new NikeLab collection, image via Nike

What are your favorite sneakers to wear off the court?
I love the Jordans, but I can’t tell you which is my favorite or which is my favorite Roshe or which is my favorite jogging shoe. For me, it is sometimes one of the most colorful. I change them all the time. Right now I’m crazy about these [the Nike Tennis Court Flyknit Ultra], not just because they are from the NikeLab collection, but because they are so comfortable for the summer. Socks, no socks, it works. Sometimes I go into my closet and say, ‘OK, these are high top basketball shoes’, and I wonder what my look will be and where I’m going to be, so I do it that way. I start from the bottom up. I’m also more into the sneaker thing. I follow all the websites and call the guys at Nike and say, ‘Do I have a chance to have this sneaker too? And they’ll say, “OOF, that’s really tough, but we’ll make that exception for you.” I’ve had them say ‘no’ in the past too, so it’s okay. I have the Neymar x Jordan collaboration, got them and was happy with them so I wore them the other week. I also like supporting other Nike athletes. When LeBron [James] and Kyrie [Irving] won the championship, I wore a Kyrie and a LeBron, left and right, for the day. Because I said, “We have to do something, it’s so cool that LeBron won with Cleveland.” I get a little crazy sometimes.

Did Nike ever push you to dress more daringly on the court?
I felt that Nike was pushing me to be clean on the tennis court very early in my career, and I hit back. I said ‘listen, I don’t want to just wear black or white. I want to wear colorful things, I’m ready to try on different shoes, clothes, different materials. Let’s go, let’s see what’s out there. You are so innovative. Don’t put me in the category of an “elegant tennis player”. I can be elegant, but I can be powerful, I can be quick. We can do so many cool things together. I am open to this, so don’t waste it. I told them, “I just don’t want to play with collared shirts. I want to have the button placket, I want to have a T-shirt, I have the V-neck. I am easy and open.

I talked to the right people and they said, “OK, let’s use this. Then the on-court collection just got nicer and nicer, and that’s where they were inspired to make an off-court collection too. It is exciting to say the least.

Roger Federer x NikeLab Tennis Classic
The Roger Federer x NikeLab Tennis Classic Ultra Flyknit, image via Nike

You had your shoes banned at Wimbledon for having orange soles. Was it frustrating?
No, it’s okay, the rules are the rules. Especially at Wimbledon, I’m not going to mess around with the rules too much. They told me I needed a second pair without the orange sole on it. I checked and we got a second pair with the orange sole on it. Still, the story was great, and I wish we could do more color at Wimbledon, I won’t deny that. I think it’s a shame that we can’t be a little more innovative at Wimbledon, but it’s okay, because we’re doing all white. You can’t even do an inch of color there. I did it all black at the US Open at night, the whole thing with Darth Vader. I think it was important to push the boundaries a bit because we’ve seen so many cool things coming out with [Andre] Agassi in jeans, Rafa[el Nadal] wearing capri pants and sleeveless shirts. They wanted to put me that way at the time. I remember I went to train with it and they were like, “What’s that look? And I said, “Uh, I’m just testing something.” Then I realized there was no way I could do it. I was happy that Rafa looked as cool as he was in this look, and I still regret the fact that he stepped away from it. But, of course with age, I understand that he couldn’t wear it forever.

What was it like meeting Michael Jordan and collaborating with Jordan Brand on your sneaker?
It was awesome. It was unbelievable. What’s cool is that I had never met Michael before. For me, having the opportunity to collaborate with him was crazy. I had a poster of him in my room when I was a kid. Every Sunday they had recaps on German NBA TV, and Jordan has always been a big part of that. For me to finally meet him, to do this collaboration, it was so cool. It resonated big in the world. Him and I got together and had this cool sneaker and the sneakerheads were going crazy so I think that was really cool for me. Who knows, maybe we can do something again. But now when I see him I can call him Michael.

Michael Jordan and Roger Federer
Michael Jordan and Roger Federer showing the collaboration between the two, image via Nike

You started working with Tinker Hatfield on the Zoom Vapor sneakers. How was it ?
He’s super inspiring, he’s the one who made “RF” take off. He said, “I don’t care what was sold to stores, we’re making you go all black at the US Open.” No one can buy it because unfortunately we can’t get it to stores. You’re going to be the only guy wearing it, and the stores are going to go crazy because nobody can buy it. I’m sorry, it’s more important: your style, your heritage, your records, we have to celebrate it. We have to start telling your story, ”and Tinker was a big part of it. Phil Knight was also very influential in this regard. He loves tennis, and I can call him a friend of mine. It was cool to be able to work with such important people at Nike. Mark Parker is also at the origin of all this NikeLab collaboration with RF. It’s very important to have the best guys involved. The time I spent with Tinker at first was like being in a candy store with him going on his iPad, designing the shoes, and then all of a sudden it’s real. All of a sudden I’m testing it, all of a sudden I’m breaking it, no one can buy it, I’m the only guy with it. Then after a while, after a year and a half, it finally hit the stores and everyone wanted it. The demand was created and it was a great story, but that was almost 10 years ago now.

There is a lot of talk today about the horror of certain athlete logos, but yours is not one of them. What input did you have to make sure it was the right one for you?
I’ve had a lot, actually. I had some sort of “RF” logo before, but Nike said, “We can’t use it because it has to be a Nike design.” I said, “That’s cool.” So they came to me and had 25 different “RF” logos and emblems. I looked around and said, “I like the floating ‘RF’, I think it’s the best. This is the one we used today, and that’s how it started. I thought the one they made was even better than the one I had before because it’s Nike. After all these years for the NikeLab collection, we were like, “OK, let’s do a little circle around this. “Let’s make sure it doesn’t float anymore. Let’s catch it and reduce it. I’m happy with it and find it quite beautiful. I’m happy that this logo resonates as well as it does and that people can connect with it and that it’s highly recognizable.

Roger Federer Nike Logo
Roger Federer’s Nike logo, image via Nike

Your sneakers have been transformed into Flyknit. How do you like the change?
Flyknit is very new so I only changed to the Vapor Flyknits at Wimbledon so it was new. It took a lot of testing. I need to trust the Flyknit and know its stability. I won’t change in it if I’m not sure. For me, I am very particular: the shoes are like the racket. This is what you feel the most. Of course, the material and the way it absorbs are also very important, but I feel that the shoes and the racket are very close to that of a tennis player. Now I have the sensations off the pitch and I also love how I feel on the pitch. I think what you can do with the Flyknit is cool too. Right now it’s all blue, but we’ve seen all the colors and I think it’s a different type of shoe than we’ve seen in the past.


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