5 Forgotten Tennis Sneakers from the 1980s and 1990s
Retro basketball shoes and old-school runners may make up the bulk of the contemporary sneaker style moodboard, but real OGs remember tennis had first serve for street steez. Thanks to recent celebrity sightings of LeBron James and Travis Scott in OG examples of the Nike Mac Attack, the spotlight is once again shining on the prolific tennis shoes from the 1980s and 1990s. Beyond iconic models like the Nike Air Tech Challenge series, Reebok Club C, and Gucci Tennis that transcended this prolific era, there are plenty of forgotten grand slamming gems. Here are just five relics from that bygone time – which all definitely deserve a retro.
Nike Air Alarm (1995)
Andre Agassi might be best associated with his mullet, bleached denim shorts, and Air Tech Challenge line, but his footwear choices underwent another Renaissance period in the mid 1990s. Nike released the Air Alarm in 1995, and it was touted as ‘the most supportive lightweight tennis shoe we’ve ever made’. It is such a niche model that probably only about a dozen people on the planet care about it. And it seems none of those 12 or so people work for Nike, so it’ll be a while yet before they decide to retro it. It’s only been 25 years...
Converse Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert (1983)
Converse have the Chuck Taylor All Star that went on to be the company’s signature shoe, and they also signed up badminton legend Jack Purcell with his own eponymous sneaker. But what may not be as well-documented is the fact that two of tennis’ most winningest players ever, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, repped the star and chevron. Like the Chuck Taylor and Jack Purcell, Connors’ sneaker was called the Converse Jimmy Connors, and you can probably guess what Chris Evert’s was called. Like many tennis shoes from the era, Converse claimed their designs were more durable, lighter and comfortable. If it was good enough for Connors and Evert, then it was good enough for you.
adidas Lendl Competition (1984)
Ivan Lendl was one of the most influential tennis players of his generation, and the new generation of sneakerheads should acknowledge his signature line with adidas too. While adi were throwing down three-digit RRPs with the Forum on the hardwood, the Lendl Competition used that classic, classic white and blue colourway as a launching pad for the world No. 1 to terrorise the competition. It’s also a dope design, with technical features like dual-density rubber tread, ghillie style speed loops, and plenty of mesh.
Wilson Pro Staff (1986)
The Wilson Pro Staff is a long-running series of tennis racquets that’s favoured by pros past and present – including Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. It also happened to be the name of the brand’s clean tennis sneaker that debuted circa 1986. It actually stayed in circulation for quite some time, but fell out of sneakerhead consciousness in recent years. In 2020, Wilson actually revived the Pro Staff shoe using modern tennis tech, namely a new midsole. It just wasn’t the same – but good on Wilson for referencing their heritage.
PUMA Martina (1984–87)
Martina Navratilova may have only been contracted with PUMA between 1984 and 1987, but she won all four major titles – multiple times – during her brief stint with the Big Cat. Which means her signature sneakers from that era are particularly obscure, despite being the world’s best female tennis player at the time. The limited intel that exists on the Internet appears to suggest Navratilova had multiple signature models, each likely optimised for the surface she was playing on. Most are low-cut, but on eBay there is currently a pair of West German–made high-tops bearing her name.
Want another serve of tennis sneakers? Check out five of the best tennis signature sneakers here.