Losing one’s footing on tennis courts has always been a problem, especially on grass. On one occasion at Wimbledon, leading Australian player Alfred Dunlop was forced to take drastic action;
Evening Star, Wednesday 24 June 1914;
Dunlop lost the first set owing to the slippery ground and finally he discarded his shoes. He won the match in his socks.
Now it’s a strange coincidence that a company with the same name should eventually design a tennis shoe that would have solved Mr Dunlop’s problem.
In 1939, Dunlop Australia came up with a cotton/canvas upper attached to a unique, anti-slip herringbone tread sole. The idea came from the famous tennis player Adrian Quist, an employee of the company. He had been playing Davis Cup in the US and while there he wore a pair of boating shoes with a similar sole.
They became universally popular in the sport. The following newspaper piece appeared at the conclusion of the Wimbledon championship in 1954.
Over the years they were worn by Aussie stars such as Margaret Court, Rod Laver and Evonne Cawley.
The shoes eventually fell out of favour with professional players, but there was one diehard exception.
At Wimbledon in 1991, Perth born Liz Smylie considered her $20 Dunlop Volleys a secret weapon. She said she wouldn’t swap them for the $150 designer label shoes the superstars were wearing. ‘They can say what they like, I don’t care, because you can’t get a better grass court shoe. Most people just laugh at me and say they can’t remember the last time they saw anyone wearing them. They give the best grip on grass. Everyone else has to keep hitting their shoes with their rackets to get the grass out of the ripples on their soles, but I don’t have to do that with the Volleys.’ She only had one concern. ‘I just hope I don’t damage them. I’ve only got the one pair and I want them to last.’
STAYING ON TOP
Inexpensive Volleys are still the choice of tilers and amateur roof repairers all over Australia. So many men, including my darling husband, swear that if you are wearing your Volleys on a roof, nothing can dislodge you. Oh dear, if only that were true. Rob says his current pair will probably outlast him. I must say they are looking a bit ‘tired’, but there are no holes in the uppers yet.
Pushing the envelope, but at least he’s holding on!
It occurs to me that such light, non-slip footwear would be the natural choice of the cat burglar. 😎
In 2017 the company tried to make their shoes ‘trendy’ with a controversial series of adds.
It all fell a bit flat. Not so much because Christian lobby groups were outraged by depictions of nudity and same sex kissing, but because the public love their Volleys being a bit, well…. daggy, and don’t appreciate the image being mucked about with.
As far as tennis is concerned, we are just happy to remember that when Mark Edmondson became the last Aussie to win the Australian Open he was wearing Dunlop Volleys. Of course he did beat fellow Aussie John Newcombe, but never mind.
FOOTNOTE – I love the following anecdote from a reader, Sabrina, who played tennis as a youngster in her Dunlop Volleys. Now in her sixties, she drives a courtesy car at Melbourne’s Australian Open;