While many casual players play tennis in running shoes, the right tennis shoes are essential to improving your game and protecting your health. Tennis has more sudden stops and starts, side-to-side movement, and big hard steps than other sports, and tennis shoes are designed accordingly. Furthermore, the court surface has a big impact on what shoes are worn and how the game is played. It's important to invest in the right pair of shoes for your tennis game.
Before you shop for tennis shoes, here are a few things to consider
What's your court surface?
Hard court shoes offer more durability in the outsole and cushioning in the midsole, to protect from the greater impact of hard court games. Clay court shoes offer additional traction without damaging the court surface. Grass court shoes offer extra grip against slippery grass. The court surface also affects how the ball bounces, and therefore your body motion during game play. If you regularly play on multiple surfaces, consider an all-court shoe, but if your game is focused on a particular surface, it's better to wear specialized shoes.
What's your game?
If you are a baseline player, you need extra structure in the shoe for lots of lateral motion. If you are a serve-and-volley player, heel and toe fit are crucial for the sudden lunges and charges of the net. Frequent sliding of the back foot during serve-and-volley play also calls for a reinforced toecap in the tennis shoe.
How are your feet?
Tennis shoes are typically flatter than those designed for other sports, due to the need to grip the court surface for stability. Your arches may need additional support for comfort and injury prevention. If you habitually rotate your feet so that the pressure is on the outside of your feet (supinated) or toward the inside of your feet (pronated), you will want a shoe to accommodate your habitual stride.
To test your feet, get them slightly wet and step on a piece of paper to leave a footprint. Examine your footprint. If you see the entire outline of your foot with almost no narrowing at the arch, you probably pronate your feet, and will need a tennis shoe with extra stability. If your footprint has a very large arch area, with only a small amount of the outside of your foot making contact with the ground, you probably have supinated feet and will need tennis shoes with additional shock support.
If your footprint looks average, with a clear outline and a normal narrowing at the arch, you probably have normal feet and can wear a range of tennis shoes. With this information, you are ready to start trying out shoes.
How should tennis shoes fit?
When trying on tennis shoes, here are a few things to be aware of.
Upon first trying them on, they should fit like a glove. Do not get shoes that are too tight under the assumption that they will loosen up when broken in. They should hold your feet firmly without gripping or constricting.
Be attentive to any slipping in the heel. Heel slipping will impact your game during sudden starts and stops. The shoe should firmly hold your heel without binding.
Have a thumbs-width of room at the toe. You should be able to move your toes within the toe box, and have room beyond the tip of your big toe for forward movement. Room in the toe box protects your feet in sudden stops and lunges, and space in the toe box is crucial for serve-and-volley players.
Your feet should feel deep and low in the shoe. The sides and back of the shoe should cradle and support the sides and back of your feet. This support around the side and back of your foot is essential for safe, rapid lateral motion, and key for baseline play.
Notice the level of support. If you feel as though your feet move around too much inside the shoe, and the inner sole isn't supporting your arches, consider an insert.
Your new shoes should be worn casually for a while before you debut them on the court, in case you find that they bind, chafe, or cause blisters. Wear them around the house or for light errands (not for a marathon) to identify any potential problems, and to help them conform to your feet.
How many pairs of tennis shoes do I need?
Once you've found the right shoes for your game and your feet, you may want to consider owning multiple pairs. If you play on grass in the summer, and hard courts in the winter, you will probably want a pair for each season. If you play more than 2-3 times a week, it's a good idea to have two pairs of tennis shoes and alternate them, so that your shoes have time to dry thoroughly between games. Allowing your shoes time to dry preserves their performance for longer, and prevents odor.
How often should you replace tennis shoes?
Most players should replace their shoes once or twice a year, depending on how frequently they play, how damaging the court surface is on their shoes, and how heavily they impact their shoes during their game.
Watch your shoes for wear. If the outsole is getting very thin, you should replace your shoes before it has worn completely through, so that you have the protection and durability of a solid outsole, as well as giving yourself some time to break in a new pair before they are needed on the court.
Watching your wear pattern will also give you insights into how you use your feet during your game, so you can look for additional reinforcing or cushioning in those areas.
Finally, try out new tennis shoes every couple of years, even if you are loyal to your tried-and-trusted brand. Not only does your game play change over time, but shoe design and technology evolves every year. Don't let your brand loyalty prevent you from taking advantage of the latest advancements in tennis shoes: keep an open mind.
Now you know how what to look for when shopping for new tennis shoes, and how tennis shoes should fit your feet and support your game. Investing in the right shoes pays off on improving your performance, as well as protecting your health and preventing injuries. Keep trying until you find the perfect pair for you.