Great things get build on solid foundations. It’s just the way it is. In racket sports, having solid legs and footwork is a major part of the game. You can have the best forehand, but what if you can’t reach it?
I consider myself to be definitely part of that group of players who still need to do a lot of work on footwork. But, knowing this, what has always surprised in my retail and club experience, is how much the feet, truly the basis of any footwork, get neglected. Seriously, it seems that we have adopted the theory that we all should be able to play on just about any shoe because… well, how much could there be to a shoe, right?
Well, enter my new article. In this article I want to dive deeper in the science behind the shoe. Not to just point you towards more expensive shoes, but to demystify marketing terms and just get an honest check list that you, unfortunately, can’t deny.
What is considered a tennis shoe?
So, let’s start with the anatomy of a tennis shoe. What makes a tennis shoe even different from any other shoe?
Well, to understand the tennis shoe is to understand the game of tennis. Tennis is a very dynamic game that demands a lot from players. Tennis players make a lot of very quick movements, not only from left to right, but also to the front and back, even diagonally. It are those exact moments that demand a lot from our stamina and endurance, but also from our feet. Tennis shoes, logically, are designed to support you as good as possible during those repetitive movements. The difficulty however, is that tennis is being played at so many different levels of intensity, that there are so many ways to design a tennis shoe and price them accordingly. So, basically, you are always looking to match a tennis shoe to your level of play and intensity.
What is special about tennis shoes and what is the difference between tennis shoes and regular sneakers?
Regular sneakers become more and more athletic or are at least designed through the lens of athletes, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean sneakers can be used to practice a lot of different athletic activities. Furthermore, it can even be harmful to your feet to exercise a longer period of time on regular sneakers. The main reason for this danger, is the lack of good foot arch support. Ever noticed that modern day sneakers look very flat? Well, that’s because they are. That means that a regular sneaker will not support your feet in any way when playing tennis for example, probably causing a lot of strain and pain during a regular training session. Tennis shoes are specifically designed to support your feet at your arch, heel and upper sides to help you withstand the forces of sprinting and sliding.
What is the difference between tennis shoes and running shoes?
I’m being asked this question a lot in the store and I think I know where it is coming from. Of course, a lot of people try to run regularly in addition to the exercise of their main sport or maybe running is their main sport. Many people use running as a form of training to increase aerobic endurance, which can benefit them while playing other sports. Running shoes tend to be comfortable, lightweight and grippy. This combination however, makes one of the worst choices for playing tennis. Tennisshoes are supposed to be comfortable enough, but not have so much cushoning that they will suffocate your feet. They need to be relatively lightweight too, but not so much that they don’t provide enough support (which will make it heavier of course). Grippy soles will benefit any (clay court) tennis player, but having the grip of a running shoe could potentially seriously injure your leg.
As you can see, while the question above is understandable, the differences between tennis and running shoes are just to big. My advice is to keep running, just leave your running shoes at home while playing tennis.
What are the best shoes for tennis players?
Like I said before, the best shoes for a tennis player are those shoes that match your level of play and intensity. Of course, these will develop during your tennis career. But there are definitely things to consider before buying your next pair of shoes. I will briefly discuss them here.
More and more do sport shops get stocked with all court tennis shoes. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it does bring up the following question: does everybody benefit from playing with an all court tennis shoe? No, of course not! Especially not so if you are playing on one specific surface, clay for example. Of course, more and more courts are being converted to artificial clay (at least here in the Netherlands) and there is even a greater choice of courts to choose from, but in my experience it comes down to just one basic question: what’s the surface you most often play on? For me, that’s clay, for sure. So I definitely want the best sole for getting as much grip as I can on gravel. During my work for a big international retailer I got the chance to do intensive product testing on different courts (and surfaces) in Madrid, Spain and I was surprised by the results of testing. Having a dedicated sole for clay does actually matter (depending on your level of course). You’ll notice it especially with starting and stopping and this will result in making it to get a ball at the net or not for example.
The second thing you want to pay attention to is the shape of your feet. Do you happen to have wider or narrower foot beds? Different brands and models are known for being better suited to one or the other group. So, for example, traditionally, Nike and Asics are more suitable for people with narrower feet and Adidas and K-Swiss more suitable for people with wider feet. Then, of course, there are some brands who fall in between: Lotto, Babolat, Wilson, Head, Diadora, Artengo to name a few.
You’ll also find that this might even vary among shoe types themselves. So one type of shoe from Nike might suit wider feet better than another type from Nike. This really develops continuously as brands push new products to the market.
Long story short, my advice would be just to take the time to put those shoes on your feet and start testing. The general rule is that you start with taking you normal shoe size and then plus it with one size extra. This will give you room enough to wear good tennis socks and leave enough room for ventilating and also a bit of movement in your shoe, but not so much that you will start to slide and slip in your shoe (and possibly start to collect some blue toe nails).
One thing that gets the least amount of attention might be the durability of the shoe exterior. Understandably so, because at the glance of it, all tennis shoes look more or less the same. But if you take a closer look, you’ll notice some significant differences. Tennis shoes at cheaper prices points might even be perfect tennis shoes to play with, in regard to fitting form and arch support. And while not everybody might need to most durable tennis shoe out there on the market, what purpose does a tennis shoe serve you when it provides great support on your ankle but does so with the sides torn open?
I actually did a play test on the Decathlon Artengo TS 500, which I really liked starting out. They’re classy, comfortable shoes with good enough grip and reasonably priced too. I played my majority of training sessions and matches on clay but during a summer tournament my match was moved towards a smash court. I could not believe my eyes to find that just after one match of play the shoe was ripped on the side by the impact of the smash court. Now this of course relates to play intensity, but although I am a fierce runner on court, my level of play is nowhere out of the ordinary. Luckily, Decathlon has a proper return policy and I switched them for a level up and bought the Artengo TS 990 in all black and found they had similar foot support but way better durability on the sides.
So take that durability factor into account when buying shoes. When in doubt, my advice is always to go for a more durable shoe exterior, even if that might mean spending a bit more on your next tennis shoe.
So what’s your experience with buying tennis shoes? Do you have any tips for other readers? Please let us know and share your thoughts and comments down below.