Tennis Shoes for Different Types of Courts
In tennis, the three primary court surfaces are:
When buying a new pair of tennis shoes, the type of court surface you’re playing on most frequently will dictate the ideal shoe.
Each court surface exhibits different playing characteristics and presents unique challenges for players to achieve proper traction, which is necessary to compete safely and perform their best.
Luckily, tennis shoes have evolved, and we now have a greater variety available to choose from, which includes models that have outsoles designed to cater to the demands of each court surface.
Although the popularity of court surfaces varies in different countries around the world, hard courts are the most common because they’re easy to maintain, which also makes them affordable over the long haul.
If you spend most of your time on hard courts, then it’s important to make sure that your shoes offer design features to stand up to the harsh demands of this court surface.
Here are a few characteristics to look out for when playing on hard courts:
- Durable outsole with a prominent toe guard and reliable tread
- Added comfort and shock absorption
- Extra protection around the shoe’s upper
- Stability for quick starts and stops
Since most players play on hard courts, the vast majority of available tennis shoes feature outsoles that are ideal for hard courts. Typically, when a pair doesn’t have an explicit clay or grass court label, it’s safe to assume that it’s acceptable for hard court use.
The second most common court surface in tennis is clay, which also happens to play the slowest because the ball loses speed and bounces higher after hitting the ground.
Clay courts are slick, and players frequently slide on the court. Also, because clay is a loose surface, it regularly gets stuck within the tread of a tennis shoe’s outsole, which can cause a player to lose traction.
For the best performance on clay, here are few things to keep in mind:
- A herringbone style tread throughout the entire length of the shoe, which naturally releases clay when the shoe flexes or twists while also helping ensure consistent slides
- A tightly knit or woven upper to prevent dust and clay from entering the top of the shoe during play
- Stability for confident slides especially during lateral or side to side movements
Many of the top tennis shoes are also available in clay court models, but they’re less common than their hardcourt counterparts.
Tennis shoes intended for clay courts are not ideal for hard courts because they don’t offer the durability for them to last. If you buy a pair, you should reserve them for clay courts, but they’ll also work for grass courts.
Despite its prominence in men’s and women’s professional tennis, grass courts are the least common surface because it’s the most challenging and expensive to maintain.
Grass courts are slick, which also makes them the fastest of the three court surfaces – the ball frequently skids and bounces low. As you’d expect, grass courts are more forgiving, so durability is less of a priority. However, traction remains a top priority.
Here are a few design features standard in grass-court shoes:
- A flat outsole with pimples or subtle bumps throughout the entire length of the outsole for optimal traction
- Stability to help ensure confident footing on the slick surface
Most professional tennis players make use of specialized grass court tennis shoes with their distinct bumps on the outsole. However, you won’t find them readily available for purchase because the vast majority of players don’t play on the surface regularly.
That’s where all court tennis shoe’s come in handy.
These days most tennis players will frequent hard courts with occasional opportunities to hit on clay or grass.
Luckily, manufacturers of tennis shoe’s realize this, so they design most of their shoes first and foremost for hard courts while also being acceptable for occasional clay or grass courts.
For example, a common design feature of all court tennis shoes is a herringbone style tread, which, although won’t perform as well as an authentic herringbone tread on clay, is sufficient.
If your shoes don’t explicitly mention the fact that they’re “all-court,” then, for the most part, it’s safe to assume a pair of hard court shoes will work fine on other court surfaces too.
If you have the opportunity to play on grass courts, it’s worth checking ahead of time that your shoes will be acceptable. Some high-end clubs, such as Wimbledon, have more stringent requirements for shoes to protect the courts.