The First Cool Warm-Up SuitWhen it comes to worldwide reach and scope, few sports hold a candle to tennis. To celebrate all that makes tennis so rich and deep, Tennis Channel kicks off "TenniScope." Authored by Tennis Channel writer Joel Drucker, these short pieces describe many of the fabulous moments and places, people and products that have added sparkle and passion to our sport.
By Joel Drucker
Come winter a tennis player is only as good as his warm-up suit. In their various sizes and shapes, colors and patterns, we take them for granted now. But let me bring you back to another time and place.
It was February 1975, the zenith of the tennis boom. I was a 14-year-old boy, living in West Los Angeles. Warm-up suits then were largely primitive. True, the austere grey track suit of bygone days was history. But in its place had emerged an unseemly, mock-fluffy acrylic, a material that would bunch up and felt like a dorky bunny outfit. Alas, the warmup suits of the early ‘70s were hardly athletic or aesthetic.
But on this winter day, I entered The Summit, a store located on Los Angeles' San Vicente Boulevard. So cool was tennis during these days that The Summit's premise was that tennis gear and ski equipment could be merchandised under the same roof. Only recently had the word "lifestyle" entered the lexicon, and tennis was front and center.
Entering the store to buy a can of tennis balls that were on sale - even then, paying more than $2.50 a can was a sign of ignorance - I saw a rack with something I'd never seen.
Draped over a hanger was a slick, yellow adidas warmup suit. Slick was an understatement. The material was a satiny material I've since learned is called "Keyrolan" - as luscious as the sheets of a movie star's bed (Tuesday Weld?). The yellow was not understated as other warm-ups had been, but a burst of energy - perhaps, a burst of hope that tennis players were not merely athletes, but rock stars. And of course, coursing up the suit's side panels were the familiar three stripes that adorned the preeminent shoes of the day (Nike's swoosh was barely an infant).
The cost was off the charts -- $70, more than double that of any warm-up suit I'd ever owned. Aware that there was gold to be made among these fashion-deprived Americans, adidas had shipped the warm-up suit to our 199-year-old republic on a limited basis.
To the retailers it was called the "A15." To me, 14, in the thick of puberty, on the fringe of adolescence, it was an early taste of downright sensuality. Surely this was how it felt to be one of the beautiful people. A blonde with a page-boy haircut and that friendly ski bunny look asked if she could help me. Only if she would let me walk away with my yellow friend without paying.
The new warm-up suit rapidly became the signature piece of the true tennis sophisticate. A deal was struck with the ATP to make them the official tour warm-up suit. I swear, at a point when I was ready to risk a shoplifting charge to own one, I thought that sleek top tenner Raul Ramirez had 50 different versions. When I mentioned this to him recently, he recalled those days and those suits with the fondness some reserve for British and Italian roadsters.
Life moved on. A few years after the adidas warm-up suit was introduced into the U.S., an American version was manufactured. The look was the same, but the material was, invariably, heavier, stiffer. The colors lacked vibrancy.
I graduated college in 1982, by which time the tennis boom had ended and the sportswear market was flooded with warm-up suits galore. But adidas had come first. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said following John Kennedy's assassination, "We'll laugh again; we'll just never be young again."
Joel Drucker has been part of Tennis Channel since the network first hit the airwaves in 2003, most notably as co-producer and writer of "Center Court," as well as working for Tennis Channel at many tournaments as an analyst and writer and since 2006 authoring this website's "Roving Player" column.
Drucker is one of the world's preeminent tennis historians, having authored dozens of articles on every generation of the game's leading players - from past stars Don Budge and Jack Kramer to contemporary greats Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer. Along with Tennis Channel colleagues Bud Collins and Steve Flink, Drucker is one of three American writers on the International Tennis Hall of Fame Enshrinee Committee - the group that each year builds the ballot for the worldwide panel of voters. Drucker's first book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, is considered by Sports Illustrated to be one of five "must-read" tennis books.
Read all the Tenniscope columns:
Happy Birthday, Ken Rosewall | Davis Cup: How it all started | Mixing It Up In Mixed Doubles | Aussies Set The Tennis Code | The Royal Reign of Margaret Court | Reflections on Michael Chang | Let's Take it Inside | Warm-Up Suits | Death of a Player | A Tale of Two Backhands | Court Management | Movie Review | Racquet Racket | Sampras: Book Review