“Never go full Ponte,” the old folks used to say; the thinking was, you couldn’t beat an original. Prodigal Brazilian son and recent abductee aboard the refurbished Sovereign Sect, Yaje Popson, tiptoed his magical feet right up to the edge this week aboard a burly and crimson hued 50-50 probably headed for his third or fourth video part in the last 52-week period. And yet in the great outfit sweepstakes that is this American experience in 2016, year of the aardvark, it was not even the most boisterous. That bouquet went to Australian baseball cap reverser Shane Oneill, who blew several minds via filming a backyard NBD while dressed as a tennis ball.
Far from an isolated case, Shane Oneill’s flourescent fit not only is safe for nighttime jogs, but also symptomatic of a broader industry infatuation with small, fuzzy balls and the raquets that brutalize them at high speeds, sometimes for cash prizes. Quietly applauded from the stands by multibillion dollar athletic gear manufacturers and occasionally lavendered monarchs, these power serves, double faults and love-loves seem to have displaced past and passing infatuations with hockey, soccer and skydiving.
Has skating reached peak tennis? Between Lucas Puig’s shorts and a recent resurgence in body varials, there are several signs. Gino Iannucci recruited Wimbledon-winning lefty John McEnroe Jr in serving up a line of Nike tennies, a volley later returned by Cory Kennedy, reviving the onetime Yugo of tennis sneakers for the rubber toecap set. Adidas has offered its own set and Alex Olson’s 917 is about to unveil a new line of tennis gear for skating.
Whereas the two disciplines have long occupied opposing orbits — so much so that Nike creatives mused 20 years ago on a societal role swap — there are rumors and clues that this now may be coming true. While skateboarding’s emerging coach class and trained image-cultivators groom once-useless wooden toypersons for Olympic podiums and endorsement photo ops, tennis seems intent on embracing a grittier, grimier persona more appealing to moneyed millennials raised on high-stakes, mixed-martial art bloodsports and aggressive dubstep mp3s. The Wall Street Journal wondered recently whether tennis could use more brawls to appeal to a fist-pumping, jello-shooting ‘Jersey Shore’ demographic, envisioning a pugilistic endpoint after tennis already has embraced the primal grunting, shouting and equipment-smashing that have been hallmarks of skating for generations. Tennis’ governing powers too seem intent on trying on rebellion’s black leather jacket and dangling cigarette, dabbling in scandal ranging from doping to match-fixing to the occasional off-colour comment.
As tennis’ stars age, will aping skateboarding provide an elixir of youthful advertising audiences or will tennis’ wealthy overlords catch onto the notion that a sizable bulk of pro shoes and contract dollars are tied up in veteran pros whose salad grinding days of filming feature length video parts may lie years in the past? Does the number of tennis pros who string their own racquets compare favorably or unfavorably with the number of pro skaters who grip their own boards? Will wooden decks one day apper as antiquated as wooden tennis racquets? Will a day ever arrive when skaters are not judged at least in part on their pants? Should it? Does anybody got a link for Chris Cole’s switch ollie over the tennis net that ran in a contents section around the ‘Dying to Live’ era?