Everything you Need to Know about Tennis Shoes

Buying tennis shoes can seem like an impossible task as you need to consider so many variables when selecting the right pair for you.

Let us take you back to the basics and take you through the key things to consider when shopping for tennis shoes.

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What’s the difference between a running and a tennis shoe?

Running shoes are designed for running in a straight line and so their grip and support is built around this.

Tennis shoes in contrast need to be able to move in all directions, and quickly, as the player moves across the court.

Tennis shoes tend to have greater ankle support than running shoes as this helps protect ankles from turning over when pivoting on court.

Many people ask: can I wear a running shoe on the tennis court?

Of course, if you are just a beginner then running shoes would be fine at first. But as your game improves switching to proper supportive tennis shoes will ensure you protect your joints and get the benefit of good grip.

Do I need different tennis shoes for different surfaces?

If you watch the big tennis grand slams the difference in play is obvious between the fast grass courts of Wimbledon, the slower, higher bounce on the clay courts of Roland Garros and the medium speed and bounce of the more predictable hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

In exactly the same way the optimal type of shoe needed for each surface is different – after all it is the shoe which comes into contact with those different surfaces.

The upper part of a tennis shoe might stay the same on each surface but the outsoles (the bit on the bottom of the shoe) should change to suit the characteristics of the surface you are playing on.

The easiest way to see this is to show you, with the starkest contrast between the soles of shoes for different surfaces.

Look at the pictures below showing the soles of two tennis shoes, both from the popular Babolat manufacturer.

On the left is the grass court shoe, with the ‘dimple’ design. On the right, the clay court shoe – with channels and structures to deal with the ‘dusty’ clay court surface.

The sole of a Babolat specialist grass court tennis shoe
The sole of a Babolat grass court shoe - which shows the 'dimple' design to enhance grip
The sole of a Babolat specialist clay court tennis shoe
The sole of a Babolat clay court shoe – which shows the different design elements to fit this surface

Grass court tennis shoes

Grass courts favour big servers such as Milos Raonic and serve-volley specialists. Grass courts are fast and the bounce of the ball can be unpredictable and is lower than on a hard or clay court.

As a result grass court shoes need to have good grip however the outsole needs to be relatively flat so as to not damage the surface (your local groundskeeper won’t thank you for ripping up their lovely grass surface with ridged or rough footwear!).

Grass court shoes tend to feature nubs or pimples on the sole (like tennis’s version of cleats or spikes) as this gives extra grip on slippery grass. This sole should not be used on any other tennis court surface.

Durability is not as important in a grass court shoe as the softer surface means that soles do not wear down as quickly.

Flexibility of the upper part of the shoe is also a plus for playing on grass to allow serve-and-volley players to run in quickly to the net.

Below is the best, specialist grass court tennis shoe available from tennis equipment specialists DoItTennis.com:

Babolat Men’s Jet Mach II Grass Court Tennis Shoes

– Dimpled sole for better grip on grass court surface
– Soles designed with tire manufacturers Michelin

Price: from $140

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Clay court tennis shoes

Clay courts are a slower surface and suit baseline players like Rafael Nadal. Baseline players tend to play very powerful shots and therefore need stability and support from a tennis shoe. Good grip is really important for a clay court shoe as the surface provides little traction.

Clay court shoes usually feature full herringbone pattern on the sole as this gives grip but stops the clay from clagging up in the soles.

Clay players often slide around the court so the sides of the tennis shoes need to be durable to protect the foot and prevent the shoes from wearing down too quickly.

The upper need to be tighter than a grass court shoe to support the foot as you move from side to side along the baseline and prevent any stray clay getting inside your shoe.

See below for a selection of the best clay court tennis shoes:

Babolat Men’s Jet Mach II Clay Court Tennis Shoes

Price: from $140

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ASICS Men’s Gel-Resolution 8 Clay Court Tennis Shoes

Price: from $134.95

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Adidas Women’s Adizero Ubersonic 3 Clay Tennis Shoes

Price: from $129.95

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Babolat Women’s Jet Mach II Clay Court Tennis Shoe

Price: from $89

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Hard court tennis shoes

Roger Federer is king of the hard courts. To be fair, when you’re as good as him you’re king of most surfaces!

Hard courts are not as fast as grass but faster than clay. The durability of the court means the ball will always bounce true but this also means it is a tough surface and so hard court shoes need to be extra durable.

Hard court shoes generally feature some form of herring-bone pattern grip. This gives good grip while ensuring sufficient give in the sole.

The hardness of the court can be hard on legs and feet and so hard court shoes generally offer more cushioning.

The upper portion of a hard court shoe should be relatively firm to offer stability and support to the foot.

See below for a selection of the best hard court tennis shoes:

Asics Women’s Court Speed FF Tennis Shoes

Price: from $104.95

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Asics Men’s Court FF Novak Tennis Shoes

Price: from $119.95

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Adidas Men’s Stycon Laceless Hard Court Tennis Shoes

Price: from $139.95

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Babolat Women’s Jet Mach II Clay Court Tennis Shoe

Price: from $139.95

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All Court Tennis Shoes

Little bit of a misnomer considering you shouldn’t really wear these type of shoes on a grass court, but all-court tennis shoes are a great option as they work well on both hard courts and clay courts (and can be used on artificial grass courts too).

Most all court shoes have a herringbone pattern on the outsole which offers good grip on hard and clay courts. The versatility of having a shoe suitable for most court types make all court shoes a very popular choice.

Babolat Men’s Jet Mach II All Court Tennis Shoes

Price: from $125

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K-Swiss Women’s Court Express Tennis Shoes

Price: from $104.95

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Babolat Women’s Propulse Blast All Court Tennis Shoes

Price: from $100

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K-Swiss Men’s Court Express Tennis Shoes

Price: from $60

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What are the key elements of a good tennis shoe?

There are two key differences to consider when selecting the right shoe for you – do you want a light-weight mesh shoe which also greater speed but offer less support? Or do you want to opt for a more supportive durable shoe?

A heavier shoe will offer greater lateral support and will help support your ankle when you place your foot to take a shot. This type of shoe is more suited to injury-prone players or those who favour hard courts.

A lightweight mesh shoe will be more dynamic and would suit a fast player.

Top tennis shoe tips

  • Tennis shoes often take a bit longer to wear in than running shoes because they are more durable. To help make this process go more smoothly try different lacing techniques to loosen or tighten the hold on your foot and make the shoe more comfortable.
  • If your shoes are still in good condition but the comfort level has gone down then try inserting a fresh insole. This can make old shoes feel bouncy and fresh again.
  • If you have invested in a great pair of tennis shoes then don’t mess it up by wearing any old socks. For just a few dollars more you can buy some performance-enhancing socks which will wick sweat away and can offer extra arch support too.
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How important are tennis socks?

If you’re thinking: “How important are tennis socks anyway? Aren’t the shoes more important?” – then watch this short video from sock specialists, Thorlos.
In it, they talk about the materials they use and the considerations that go into the design, even of something as simple as a sock.
It stresses the impact the right kind of sock can have especially if, like many of us, you play a lot on hard courts.
You may never look at socks the same way again!

Last update on 2022-09-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API