Getting the basics right is very important in tennis. That applies to your technique but also for your gear. When you take a look at getting the basics right for your technique, you can focus best on training your footwork. When you apply that to your gear, you’ll understand that you can best invest some time and money in getting the right shoes for your feet.
That’s why I put together this tennis shoes buyer guide where I’ll, well, guide you through the buying process when you’re on the search for your next pair of shoes. I’ve bought a lot of them and a lot of them weren’t a great succes, however, a couple were and now you can learn from my mistakes. Not such a deal, right?
One of the first things we need to focus on when buying shoes is getting the basics right. Where did we hear that before? What I mean by that is the fact that when you’re looking for tennis shoes you’ll know your basic foot size and the main surface you’ll be playing on.
Your basic shoe size is easily determined by the shoe size you most often select for your normal pair of shoes or sneakers + 1. If you don’t know or are uncertain, you can also visit a shop where they can size your feet. Be aware that there might be differences between your left and right foot and while that might be an extra challenge while searching, you still want to pay attention to it. Your feet a very important element in tennis and there is a saying that tennis players have the ugliest feet on the planet. That’s for a reason and you don’t want to make this worse by neglecting your feet.
So, in my case, my basic shoe size is 43 so normally I am on the lookout for tennis shoe size 44. The reason we calculate a shoe size bigger is because of the space we need extra for accounting for a (thick) tennis sock and the space we need for our feet to ‘breathe’. This means we want the feet to be able to expand a bit and maybe nudge just a little bit within the shoe, but not to much, because otherwise we would get our toe nails black and blue. So, rule of thumb, is to check if you have half a thumbnail space left, which would be perfect.
Determining your main shoe size would be rather easy if you only have clay courts around the area you live and play and likewise, if you only have seen a hard court your whole life. Of course, nowadays we see a lot of different courts which makes the choice for the shoe sole a bit more complex. Logically, when you play on a lot of different surfaces you would probably look for an ‘all court’ tennis shoe sole but this makes sense when we look at the aspect of durability. A ‘all court’ shoe sole normally means it is suited for use on hard courts and has added cushioning. That makes it a good all round shoe (sole), but does not add anything special when playing on clay for example. Furthermore, while testing all court shoes in comparison to specific clay courts soles, I was surprised by the difference in starting and stopping power the clay court soles bring to the table. So, let’s just say you play 60 percent of the times on clay court… or even a bit more complicated; let’s say you play most of your tournament matches on clay court. In that case, my advice would be, rather to choose one all court shoe to accommodate all of your playing session, to choose a specific shoe for your clay courts matches and another one for your all court sessions or, if you are on a limited budget, choose the clay court over the all courts and calculate that they will last a bit shorter.
Another point to look out for of course is the overall durability of the shoe, which normally has a lot to do with the resistance of the exterior of the shoe. There are shoes fabricated with artificial leather (this used to be called ‘sky’ when I was younger, I believe…) or synthetic plastics that are designed to withstand the heat and friction of hard courts and clay courts. Believe me, if you have found the shoe that fits you best only to find that you can throw it away after one round of play because you teared a hole into the sides, you will get disappointed many times… You have to match the exterior of the shoe with the interior and shoe sole in order to pick a winner.
The one time I’ll recommend playing with shoes of artificial leather is when I advise them to beginners, who will look for some basic shoes and who are on a tight budget. Other than that, try to avoid them as much as possible unless you are playing on natural grass (but in that case you’ll need another sole…)
So we’re definitely getting there but I want to add a thing about space and room to breathe. Imagine a hot, humid summer day and a nice, cushioned start to your food work because you are playing with all court shoes that fit cushioning fabrics all around you foot. While that’s great starting outside in January or February, you’ll cook your feet in July or August. You’ll lose the match for sure, because you’re feet won’t be able to move without pain and you won’t like the smell of them after the match neither (well, to be honest… I’ve never actually liked the smell of my feet after any tennis match I’ve ever played). But trust me on this, that’s why breathing room for your feet is so important but breathing materials on your shoe are too. Know these running shoes with the small holes in the exterior? It’s called mesh and it allows your feet to breathe optimally and release heat while running.