An Expert Guide on How to Buy Tennis Shoes

Tennis expert Brandon Maki overviews everything you need to know to select the best shoes to get you on the court and playing your best game.

Photo by Grinvalds

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Selecting Tennis Shoes

Tennis seems like a relatively simple game to pick up in the eyes of the general public—a racquet, a ball, a court, an opponent, and you are good to go. What many don’t realize is that there is one last piece of equipment that can make a world of difference for both beginners and advanced tennis players: proper tennis shoes. Tennis is a game where you need to move on your feet nearly constantly to do well and shoes are an important part of making that movement easier, more effective, and more comfortable. This guide will help you determine the best type of tennis shoe for you.

Tennis Shoes vs. Athletic Shoes

When most people pick up the game of tennis, they first reach for a pair of running shoes or other athletic footwear and think they are all set to play. While it is possible to play tennis in running shoes, you are missing out on some of the key benefits of tennis shoes that help make the game easier, safer, and more fun. Running or athletic shoes are made to move in a forward motion and are generally softer cushioned, especially in the heel for that motion. Tennis shoes, on the other hand, are built with a much more durable sole to handle the wear from the court surface and also are constructed to have better lateral stability for moving around for the ball on the court. Additionally, their tread pattern is specifically designed to give traction on different court surfaces and allow for the highest performance and traction.

A woman in a tennis dress stands on a hard court in Nike tennis shoes.

Photo by Julia Kuzenkov

Court Surface

One of the first things you should consider when choosing a new pair of shoes is the type of surface you play on. Manufacturers have specialized models with unique tread patterns and other characteristics designed for the three types of tennis court surfaces: hard court, clay court, and grass court. Choosing the pair that best suits where you play is going to make a major difference in the performance of the shoe, especially the traction that you have while playing.

Hard Court/All-Court Shoes

These are the most common type of tennis shoes. They are designed to stand up to the wear and tear of playing on asphalt hard courts and provide shock absorption so your body doesn’t take as much of a beating. They have added cushioning in the heels and the forefoot for extra comfort on the less forgiving hard court surface. In addition to the cushioning, these shoes have harder rubber in the outsoles so that they don’t wear out as fast and most have a durable toecap for players that drag their toes. Many shoes in this category have a 6-month wear guarantee on the outsoles so if you wear them out, the manufacturer will replace them for free. Another crucial characteristic of the outsoles on hardcourt shoes is that they are non-marking. The rubber is designed to not scuff the court which many non-tennis-specific shoes may do. Hard court tennis shoes are also considered all-court shoes because they perform well on all three surfaces. If you don’t play extensively on clay or grass courts, where you would benefit from a specialized shoe, these will be your best option for their versatility.

Image of a man's legs and ASICS tennis shoes as he completes a swing on a clay court.

Photo by Gonzalo Facello

Clay Court Shoes

Clay court shoes are specialized for the softer green, red, or blue clay courts such as those at the French Open, Madrid, and Charleston. Since these shoes are meant to play on this looser surface, they have outsoles with a full herringbone tread pattern that prevents the clay from sticking to it so that they can provide traction while sliding into shots, as is common on clay. Clay courts are not as hard on shoes as hard courts and therefore don’t need the reinforced outsoles found on hard court shoes. This allows them to be lighter which helps with the longer points and matches we typically see on clay courts.

Grass Court Shoes

Grass court shoes also have a special tread pattern for traction on the court surface. They have rounded nubs on the outsole which helps to grip the short grass, especially when it is wet. One additional unique feature about grass court shoes is that the upper color is almost always white because of the unique dress code at Wimbledon, the most famous grass court in the world.

Foot Type

After thinking about what type of court surface you will be playing on, the next most important aspect to consider is your foot type. The three major foot types are neutral/balanced, pronator, and supinator. There are two easy ways to determine your foot type at home. First, you can look at the soles of your current shoes, noting where they are most worn. Secondly, you can get your feet wet and stand on a piece of cardboard, step off, and look at the impression of your foot, noting the arch height specifically.

Neutral/Balanced

A neutral/balanced foot is one that has even wear and a balanced look on the wet cardboard with nice arches. These are the ideal feet that shoes are designed are and will work in almost every shoe on the market.

Pronator

The majority of people in the U.S. have a pronated foot type with arches that drop and feet that roll inwards. The wear on their shoes tends to be on the inside of the foot and the ball of the foot. On the wet cardboard, there is very little arch visible. Players with pronated feet need more lateral support in order to protect their knee and ankle from injury due to their impaired biomechanics.

Supinator

These players have high arches and flexible feet. The wear on their shoes tends to be on the outside of the heel and on wet cardboard there is a large space for their arch. These players do well with shoes with more flexibility and extra cushioning.

Width

If you have a wider foot than normal, it may be helpful to choose a shoe from a brand that offers multiple widths or is known for having extra room in the toe box. A couple of notable brands with shoes that work well for wider feet are New Balance and Asics.

Product image of white New Balance tennis shoes.

Playing Style

Understanding how you play the game of tennis can also influence which type of shoe is best for you. A baseline player is going to want a more stable shoe to protect their ankles on all the side-to-side movement they do, and also a durable sole for the extra mileage. A serve and volley player may gravitate towards a flexible shoe with a larger toe cap for dragging their feet as they come to the net.

Brand

The final piece of the puzzle when picking out a shoe is the brand and model. Each brand has multiple models to choose from to fit the type you need. From the major players like Nike and Adidas with their Vapor, Cage, and Barricade seen on hundreds of top touring professionals, to lesser-known brands such as Head, Wilson, and Fila, the choices are nearly endless. There are colors to fit anyone’s style from classic Wimbledon white to the neon colors generally debuted at the Australian Open. A new pair of tennis shoes is a great way to show your personal style on the court while improving your performance as well.

Product image of pink and yellow ASICS tennis shoes.

Still confused on what new pair of tennis shoes you should purchase? Chat with me or one of my fellow Tennis experts here on Curated for free, personalized recommendations on the best tennis shoes and other tennis gear to help take your game to the next level.

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Grew up in a tennis shop, played competitively, taught for 6 years, lover of the game and the gear.

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