Perfection at his feet
From someone who revealed wearing a ‘human upgrade device’ at Roland-Garros, you would expect perfectionism at every level—from his chest to his feet. Over the course of three years (2019 to late 2022), Novak Djokovic collaborated with ASICS to develop what is arguably the highest technology ever seen in a tennis shoe, fine-tuned at a Gattaca-level of futuristic precision.
Best of Both Worlds
For years, ASICS had two types of tennis shoes, one for each common playing style: Baseline (think: Nadal) and All-court (think: Federer). Channelling his own history with the Big 3, Djokovic pioneered a third path—a ‘Best of Both Worlds’ approach, allowing him to switch seamlessly from the former playing style to the latter. Code name: COURT FF 3 NOVAK.
When talking to Rene Zandenbergen, Senior Manager of Footwear and Innovation at ASICS, you get the impression that Djokovic met his match. Roughly his age and best described as a ‘shoe dog’—the title of Nike Founder Phil Knight’s biography— Rene is obsessed with providing the world’s best players with the crowning piece to their shining armour.
He recalls a challenging period during COVID lockdown—like every other player, Djokovic had to slow down tennis practice, and they had to go back and forth over Zoom meetings rather than in person—but says the world No 1 was extremely assiduous in delivering precise feedback from the few times he could actually practise. Albeit hampered, the project was always moving, much like a free-flowing Djokovic on a hard court.
“At this point in my career, it’s essential that the shoes I choose to wear give me confidence on court and suit my playing style. And that’s exactly what I get from ASICS. They understand me and are committed to improving even the smallest detail, which I value and respect, Djokovic said.”
They received help from the ASICS Institute of Sports Science in Kobe, Japan, too. Fuelled by the Japanese principle of Kaizen or making sure that ‘every shoe needs to be better than the previous model,’ a team of experts re-ran every Djokovic match in recent memory—there were a fair lot to choose from a renaissance era that had seen the Serb clinch five of the latest seven Grand Slams—to analyse his every shoe bend. Inspired by Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, the COURT FF 3 NOVAK’s motto became: Stable, Supportive, Flexible, Fast.
“At this point in my career, it’s essential that the shoes I choose to wear give me confidence on court and suit my playing style. And that’s exactly what I get from ASICS. They understand me and are committed to improving even the smallest detail, which I value and respect.”
Eight prototypes to the test, one Chosen Shoe
Cue another year of tests, practices and intricate feedback. In January 2022, ASICS presented Djokovic with eight different prototypes, which would then be cut down to three by the time of Monte-Carlo Masters. The final prototype eventually came to life in November, and Djokovic spent the week practising in it on his way to a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title. Made of two parts that move independently—the rear part of the three-piece outsole is made of two parts creating stability at an earlier stage— the COURT FF 3 NOVAK is a work of technological art.
‘The COURT FF 3 boasts an industry-first three-piece outsole to provide more flexibility and comfort than ever before. Results of biomechanical testing at the ASICS Institute of Sport Science resulted in a 7% lower impact on the body at the point of ground contact compared to the previous model, ultimately reducing stress on the body and enabling a quicker recovery.’
The Chosen Shoe needed a final test, though: Djokovic’s much-anticipated return to Melbourne to conquer his 10th Australian Open. It passed with flying colours, both figuratively and literally. Coming in an elegant cornflower blue, the shoe’s design was submitted to Lacoste to make sure it smoothly integrated into the full outfit’s colour palette. Even augmented humans need to look good, right?
When a teary-eyed Djokovic left the Rod Laver Arena with the trophy under his arm for the tenth time of his blistering career, with the clock having just struck midnight, the shoe certainly looked as magic as ever.
Story published in Courts no. 4, Summer 2023.