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 I’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 common multi-directional movements a player will move through when hitting.
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, so manufacturers have to strike a balance when aiming for the optimal rubber compound. If it’s too soft, it will lack durability and wear quickly. Conversely, it will be slick and dangerous if it’s too stiff.
Second, the tread pattern also plays a role in how well the shoe grips the court and can differ depending on the surface.
- Hard Courts: You’ll find the most variety in the tread patterns with shoes for hard courts. However, manufacturers use a herringbone pattern or a variation on the herringbone pattern more often than not. 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, you can still find them in certain areas where the environment is ideal. Grass court tennis shoes include small studs or pimples on the outsole, providing superior traction for the surface. As you might imagine, the tread has to be somewhat subtle to avoid causing excessive wear to the courts.
Most 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.
Despite that, it’s worth noting that players should not use clay and grass court shoes on hard courts because the soles are usually softer and less durable, so they’re insufficient to handle the abrasive surface.
Of course, you could use clay or grass court shoes on hard courts, but you’re going to wear through the outsole much quicker, so you’ll end up having to replace them more often. If you do, make sure the soles of the shoes are non-marking to prevent trashing the court.
Hard courts are the most common surface in tennis, and over time, they can be unforgiving and demanding on a player’s body. As a result, one of the top features many players seek when purchasing a new pair of tennis shoes is sufficient cushion.
When you buy new tennis shoes, you’ll want to find a pair that offers adequate 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.
Regarding comfort, the majority will come from the shoe’s midsole. However, the portion that wraps your foot, called the upper, also contributes significantly to a shoe’s overall comfort.
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 its 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 critical. 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, a shoe’s 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 shoes that highlight ventilation as a key feature and it’s important to you, consider the color when making a purchase. Darker colors will absorb heat and be hotter on your feet, while lighter colors 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 you’re sticking to the most popular tennis shoe brands, you shouldn’t have any issues with this, but if you 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.