How Novak Djokovic stepped to the next level by building his perfect tennis shoe

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic on the secrets of his mental approach
Novak Djokovic revealed his mentality secrets at an ASICS event (Albin Durand)

Novak Djokovic has hailed Rene Zandbergen as a key figure in his off-court team and now the man who ensures the world No 1 has the shoes he needs to propel him to glory on court has given us the inside story on how the story comes together.

Djokovic saluted ASICS innovator Zandbergen at a pre-Wimbledon event attended by Tennis365 last summer, as he admitted his demanding drive for perfection has made life tough for his shoemakers.

“I have my own shoe that we worked on for the last three years,” confirmed Djokovic. “Rene worked tirelessly with me for this signature shoe to happen with all the ASICS tech team back in Japan.

“We went back and forward and I know I was not easy on the ASICS guys because there was more than a few times that I came up with different models and I didn’t like the small details.

“Everything matters about how you feel on a tennis court. Rackets and shoes are the two most important things we have on a tennis court and I’m really pleased with what we have come up with.

“Speaking to other players who are also using this shoe, they say it is the best they have played in so I am grateful to Rene and the team for being patient and getting us to this point.”

It was quite a tribute from Djokovic and now the man in question has spoken to Tennis365 about how he worked closely with the 24-time Grand Slam champion to create the perfect tennis shoe.

How much input did Novak Djokovic have in the shoes he wears on court?

A lot. Novak has been very involved since the moment he signed with ASICS. The challenge with tennis players is finding space in their schedule to get with them to move from one shoe to the next and convince them it might be better.

When he signed with us, he started with the Resolution shoe and we thought it would be better for him to be in the Court FF. From that moment four years ago we started working closer together.

Then during Covid we had more time to speak with Novak online and especially for me, that helped to build our relationship.

Do you get to spend much time with Novak?

We had a couple of days with him in Germany and I explained about the prototype shoes we have and what he can expect from them.

Then he started doing some exercises with the shoes and he would tell us what he wanted. He might say he wants more stability in the shoe and we would try something a little different. He would then ask if we could get more flexibility in the shoe and we started talking more and more that day about getting it just perfect for him.

His practice sessions were long. Maybe we started at 10am that day and he finished around 3pm, with some lunch in between.

I would sit with him on the bench during the session and get some feedback on what he liked from the shoes we had given him and what we could change to make it better.

It is all about trial and error. Making a small improvement and looking for a big impact and Novak is very proactive in telling us what he wants.

Novak Djokovic with ASICS shoe guru Rene Zandbergen
Novak Djokovic with ASICS shoe guru Rene Zandbergen (left)

Djokovic is a very flexible player who likes to slide on all court surfaces. Do you need to make shoes to adapt to that style?

Sliding on a hard court is an interesting discussion. We are looking more and more into this now as the current generation of players coming through all do it.

Novak was one of the first players to slide on a hard court and now it is becoming the norm. Modern players are so strong in their legs and that allows them to push so hard into their shoe that it allows them to slide on a hard court and we have to make a product that allows them to do this and help to ensure they don’t twist their ankle.

READ MORE: Cameron Norrie exclusive on Novak Djokovic’s improvement, a pizza problem and his worst moment on court

Some readers may be surprised by the level of input Djokovic has in his shoes. Is this normal for tennis players?

Normally in sports promotion, it is all about getting a big-name and they will help you sell the shoe. Everyone would want to play in Novak’s shoes right?

Yet in tennis, it is more than that. This is about getting the shoe that the athlete wants and then allowing the public to benefit from their expertise and putting it on sale.

We have a similar process with Borna Coric or Matteo Berrettini when we help to give them the perfect shoe. It is an important piece of equipment for a tennis player, so it is vital they have the right feel under their feet when they are on court.

Alex De Minaur in SOLUTION SPEED FF 3 shoes
Alex De Minaur in SOLUTION SPEED FF 3 shoes

Tell us about the new ASOCS SOLUTION SPEED FF 3 tennis shoe?

They are coming out in January and will be used by Alex de Minaur and Belinda Bencic. Alex is an all-court player, so he would have different requirements compared to a player like Djokovic. He wants a lightweight and flexible shoe, which is what this new Solution Speed is.

Compare that to someone like Novak, he wants more support for his specific type of movement on court. Hopefully the Solution Speed FF 3 is a great step up for players of all levels.