What Makes a Great Tennis Shoe
Regardless of how much you spend, it’s crucial to purchase a pair of tennis shoes that protect your feet and support longevity on the court.
Luckily, you don’t need to spend much, but there are a few key features to consider when buying a cheap pair of tennis shoes.
All of the shoes we’ve selected to share in this guide meet these criteria, but let’s take a look at each and why they’re essential.
One of the most critical features of a tennis shoe is stability, which is necessary because of the multi-directional movements that are common.
As a tennis player, you’ll find yourself moving forward, backward, side to side, and diagonally – frequently with quick starts and abrupt stops.
As a result, the shoe you’re wearing must be stable to support your feet and ankles to prevent injury.
Right behind stability, traction is another essential ingredient for a great pair of tennis shoes.
Like stability, traction helps ensure solid footing as you move around the court, especially as a player makes quick or sharp movements.
Two components help give a tennis shoe proper traction.
First, the rubber material of the outsole contributes to traction. If it’s too soft, it will lack durability and wear quickly. However, if it’s too stiff, it will be slick and dangerous, so manufacturers have to strike a balance.
Second, the tread pattern also plays a role in how well the shoe grips the court and can differ somewhat depending on the surface.
- Hard Courts: You’ll find the most variety in the tread with shoes for hard courts. However, more often than not, a herringbone pattern or a variation on the herringbone pattern is put to use. Not only does this pattern work well for hard courts, but it also transitions nicely to clay and grass for players that periodically mix up their court surfaces.
- Clay Courts: Some tennis shoe models offer clay court versions that come with a true herringbone pattern throughout the entire length of the shoe’s bottom. This pattern provides the best traction on clay, but it also helps ensure consistent and confident slides while naturally releasing debris as a player moves around the court.
- Grass Courts: Although grass courts are the least common, there are some hard to find tennis shoes that offer small studs or pimples that provide a unique variety of traction ideal for grass. As you might imagine, the tread has to be somewhat subtle to avoid causing excessive wear to the courts.
Virtually all less expensive tennis shoes will feature outsoles and tread patterns ideal for hard courts, which also cross-over to clay and grass when a player has the opportunity.
However, players should not use clay and grass court shoes on hard courts because the soles are usually softer and not durable or supportive enough to handle the abrasive surface.
Hard courts are the most common surface in tennis, and overtime, they can be unforgiving and hard on a player’s body. With this in mind, one of the top features many players seek when purchasing a new pair of tennis shoes is sufficient cushion.
When you buy a new pair of tennis shoes, you’ll want to find a pair that offers sufficient comfort while keeping in mind that tennis shoes tend to be stiffer than your average shoe for stability. With that in mind, don’t expect the same level of cushion that you find in a running shoe.
The majority of a shoe’s comfort will come from the midsole. However, the portion that wraps your foot called the upper is also essential for an overall comfortable experience.
Durability most frequently comes into play on hard courts, which are abrasive and can cause the sole of a shoe to wear quickly.
Much of a tennis shoe’s durability will come from the shoe’s outsole or bottom layer because it’s in constant contact with the court.
However, you’ll also want to look for a shoe that provides sufficient protection at the forefoot of the shoe (especially around your toes), which often come in contact or drag on the court as well.
Depending on the climate or season when you spend most of your time on the court, ventilation may be more or less important. However, since many players take advantage of the warm summer months to play tennis outside, it’s worth mentioning.
A well-ventilated shoe will often feature a breathable mesh upper that lets cooler air in and allows hot air to escape. However, the shoe lining can also contribute to how hot a shoe feels on a player’s foot.
If you find yourself limited in the selection or availability of a shoe, consider the color when you make your purchase. Darker colors will absorb heat, and lighter colors will reflect it.
By default, a shoe designed for playing tennis will offer a non-marking outsole to prevent leaving scuff marks on the court. The only exception would be clay and grass court shoes, which you won’t want to use on a hard court.
Assuming your sticking to the most popular tennis shoe brands, you shouldn’t have any issues with this, but if venture outside them, make sure to confirm they won’t mark a court. It’s good etiquette, and most clubs and public courts require them.