Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wimbledon 2013: How the mighty fell

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) are the regulatory body responsible for the overseeing the sport and currently recognize more than 160 different kinds of tennis courts, including surfaces made of carpet, clay, gravel, concrete, wood, asphalt, and fake grass. Wimbledon remains the only Grand Slam event played on grass courts all others are clay and of a wide variety. According to the 2013 Grand Slam Wimbledon green keepers the London courts have had the same expert care as previous years yet there has been a significant number of falls in the early stages of the competition. No one is quite sure yet why this has occurred and many theories have been proffered. One contributory factor may be the player’s choice of footwear and their preference for clay style tennis shoes is inappropriate.

The treads on modern tennis shoes originated in 1939 when Dunlop Volley introduced herringbone soles. Australian doubles tennis champion, Adrian Quist noticed when visiting America boating shoes had unusual sole patterns to prevent slippage on wet surfaces.

He recognised using similar tread patterns on tennis shoes for grass courts would be an advantage. Eventually on return to Australia he convinced Dunlop to put a herring bone tread sole onto a canvas tennis shoes. Herribone treads allow for optimal lateral movements, ensuring the user does not slip when making quick side-to-side movements. The function of ridged patterns on the sole of shoes is to increase traction which helps weightbearing stability. This is critical on soft and wet surfaces when a tennis player is weightbearing on one foot while turn their body. In a time before synthetic polymers, ridged patterns made of rubber would be the only means of performance enhancement. The Dunlop Volley was introduced in 1939 and sold more than 24-million pairs as the evergreen of tennis shoes. By the eighties the popular Dunlop Volley tennis shoes were replaced by footwear from the emerging sports companies like Nike and adidas. Outsole designs began to incorporate manufactures logos and or fashion dashes distinctive to the makers. As clay replaced grass manufacturers emphasised durability with tennis shoes more able to endure the rigors of quick stops and starts, short sprints, and frequent lateral movements on hard courts. The vast majority of social tennis is played on hard courts (concrete) where treads are still important but less critical than might be on lush grass surfaces. Modern tennis shoes for soft courts (clay and grass) are primarily designed with non-damaging traction in mind.

Clay court shoes still have herringbone style but the ridges sit closer to prevent damaging the court and stop clay clogging them up. Playing on a lush grass surface with small ridges would increase the risk of slippage. Many professional soccer player experience similar lack of control due to inappropriate boots for conditions. Many attribute this to the increase of signature boots and sponsored boot contracts which place greater commercial emphasis on being seen in the shoes as opposed to fit for purpose. Foot for thought.

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