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How To Buy Tennis Shoes

Links to Tennis Shoe Information
Shoe Style DifferencesAnatomy of a Tennis Shoe
Playing StyleFoot Type and Shoe Fit
Court Surface Type 

Introduction

A proper pair of tennis shoes will help you comfortably endure the rigors of quick stops and starts, short sprints, and frequent lateral movements. Taking into account your playing style, the type of court on which you typically play and your foot type are essential to buying the right pair of tennis shoes.

Shoe Style Differences:

It's important to distinguish the differences between tennis shoes and other footwear before making your purchase.

Tennis Shoes vs. Other Types of Footwear

  • Frequent stops and starts while moving around the court influence the way tennis shoes are designed.
  • Tennis shoes are typically more flat with specifically designed patterns on the sole, all depending on which type of court surface you generally play on.
  • Other types of shoes have thicker, softer heels that decrease weight and cushioning to lessen impact—tennis shoes are built sturdier.
  • Running or other athletic shoes are designed for forward motion that comes with walking or running.

Playing Style

Your style of play will have a large effect on which type of tennis shoes you ultimately buy. Different styles of play call for different types of movements, and to ensure safety and durability while playing, choosing the right pair of tennis shoes is important.

Baseline Player

  • A baseline player primarily plays along back line of the court.
  • The type of shoes needed for a baseline player require a lot of lateral support to handle constant sideways motion.
  • A highly durable sole is also necessary due to constant lateral motion.

Serve-and-Volley Player

  • A serve-and-volley player frequently charges the net.
  • This type of player often slides their back foot along the court during the serve, so a shoe with a durable toecap (also referred to as a reinforced toe) and medial inside the arch is essential.
  • Sometimes the entire outsole is "en-caged" in rubber for support and durability.

The important portion of the shoe to consider as a serve-and-volley player is the toecap. A toecap is an extra piece of rubber that is added to the inside of the outsole at the toe area of some tennis shoes to increase their durability.

Players will need to keep in mind while the shoe will have greater durability, the weight of the shoe can be increased. Knowing your own expectations and how you want to play is important in choosing the right pair of tennis shoes.

Court Surface Type:

The type of court surface you play on has an impact on the type of tennis shoes you purchase. A hard court surface like concrete requires shoes with more durability, while a soft court surface will need shoes with more traction on the sole.

Hard Court (Concrete)

  • Tennis shoes for hard courts are designed with higher durability in mind, offering a more resilient, outsole and more supportive upper.
  • Soles may wear out quicker playing on hard courts—be sure to check your pair of tennis shoes for wear and replace when necessary.
  • Upper and outsole materials are designed tougher, using leather or vinyl.

Soft Court (Grass/Clay)

  • Tennis shoes for soft courts are designed with non-damaging traction in mind.
  • Clay court shoes will still have ridges, but the ridges are closer together so the clay doesn't clog them and make the player slip while simultaneously preventing damage to the court.
  • Grass court shoes are constructed with the same ideas in mind—preventing slipping and damage to the court.

Anatomy of a Tennis Shoe:

Uppers

There are many materials that can make up the upper portion of the tennis shoe, the most common being: mesh, synthetic, and combination.

Mesh uppers stay the coolest and are the most breathable. Synthetic and leather uppers offer a moderate amount of support and stay drier in off-court environments. Combination uppers offer the best combination support and breathability—they resist the most external moisture and are the most durable. There are perforations for breathability in the uppers to ensure the user does not experience discomfort while playing.

In addition to understanding the optimal upper and support for your needs, choosing the correct type of sole for the type of court you typically play on is just as important. The sole of the tennis shoe is essential for performance and will generally wear out long before the upper.

Heel Counter and Collar

A heel counter is a small plastic insert used to reinforce the heel cup of a shoe, increasing support. It's located in the heel portion of the upper. A firm heel counter helps keep the foot in the shoe and provides durability when quickly moving from side-to-side.

The heel counter is also part of the collar of the shoe. Ensure the collar of the shoe doesn't rub too high on your foot and fits comfortably.

Cushioning

The two ways tennis shoes provide cushioning are through midsole materials and/or brand-specific cushioning systems. Many brands use foam cushioning that is specifically engineered to the brand type (e.g., Nike, adidas, New Balance, etc.). These cushioning systems are specifically developed for different types of tennis shoes—they enhance responsiveness and protect from impact.

For cushioning through the midsole, EVA is the most commonly used material. This type of cushioning is also specifically developed for different types of tennis shoes, being lightweight, flexible, and durable.

The differences in shock absorption of both men's and women's tennis shoes is important. You should look for shoes that provide good cushioning but aren't so soft that they give you improper support.

Soles and Traction

A major consideration in sole type is the court surface you typically play on. Different sole and traction types include: traditional herringbone patterns, smooth or non-marking, and clay court soles.

Herringbone Pattern

Uniform design on the sole allows for optimal lateral movements, ensuring the user does not slip when making quick side-to-side movements. This type of sole pattern provides more durability due to hard court surfaces being taxing on the sole—keep track of how worn the sole of your tennis shoes might be and determine whether a replacement may be necessary.

Indoor/Smooth/Non-Marking Sole

Shoes with a smooth sole won't "stick" or "grab" on the surface while making lateral movements. Non-marking soles ensure that you don't damage the court while playing.

Clay Court Soles

Clay court soles often feature the herringbone pattern—making sure the treads aren't too deep as to damage the playing surface is an important factor when choosing the right pair of tennis shoes. Clay court soles and shoes feature a lightweight design, but they don't require high durability due to the soft surface material.

Foot Type and Shoe Fit:

Before choosing a pair of tennis shoes, determining your foot type is important to help you determine how much lateral support and cushioning you will need. There are three basic foot types: overpronator, neutral and underpronator.

Foot Type

If you are unsure of your foot type, a simple "wet test" will help determine it. Simply, get your foot wet and step on a surface like a sidewalk or dark piece of construction paper. The characteristics of the imprint determine what type of foot you have.

Overpronator

  • Your feet are pronated if a complete impression of your foot can be seen.
  • Overpronators tend to roll their foot inward during every stride—those who pronate often need more stable tennis shoes.

Neutral

  • Your feet are neutral if a moderate space is visible in the arch area.
  • Users with a neutral foot type can typically have free reign between durability and flexibility when buying the proper pair of tennis shoes.

Underpronator/Supinated

  • Your feet are supinated if there is a large open area on the imprint where the arch of your foot didn't touch the ground.
  • Supinators tend to roll their foot outward during every stride—a more flexible type of shoe will alleviate any shock issues while making quick, lateral movements.