Can anybody else remember the days when having specialized athletic shoes meant using your high-topped canvas sneakers for basketball and low-tops for tennis? Just us, huh?
We’ve certainly come a long way in improving tennis equipment over the years. Sports engineering, physiology, and metrics are giving us new standards and targets every day.
Shoes are a major part of the effort. The right size, shape and bounce can add speed, balance and agility to even the most nonchalant weekend player.
Manufacturers have gone all in on providing the latest shoe innovations. There are literally thousands of tennis shoes to choose from.
How do you tell which are the best for you? To start with, you finish reading this article where we will explain what goes into making the right choice before telling you what we think are the four best tennis shoes for men and women.
What Kind of Feet do You Play With?
The majority of tennis shoes on the market are made for “ideal” feet. However, there are many of us with less-than-ideal equipment inside our shoes.
Some of us have high-arched (or supinated) feet while others have flat (or pronated) feet. The ideal foot is in the middle.
Shoes designed for ideal (or normal) feet are not the worst thing a pronated or supinated player can wear; but finding a shoe that addresses your foot’s imperfection will have a positive influence on your game as well as reduce strain and injury potential throughout your legs.
How Do You Know?
If you wet your feet and make a footprint on concrete and are pretty happy with how normal your foot appears, you are probably ideal. A skinny foot or nothing much showing near the arch indicates a high arch or supination. Too much foot or virtually no arch means pronation.
A good sporting goods or shoe store will be able to verify your situation and make recommendations.
If the Shoe Fits, You Must Use it
It seems silly to have to say this, but the best shoe is one that fits. We’re not just saying that your foot must be 100% inside the shoe or that you shouldn’t be able to store extra tennis balls in there.
The shoe has to really fit. There has to be sufficient width and length to allow your foot to breathe, but not enough that your foot shifts inside the shoe.
What is the determining factor? The only thing that matters is how the shoe feels to you. Do not let someone push on your toes and tell you the shoe fits. They have to be completely comfortable.
Nothing should rub, pinch or crunch your foot when you move. The best tennis shoe for you will be one that feels like you are wearing nothing but soles.
Finding Your Direction
Tennis shoes vary in their basic construction to fit a style of play. While most shoes offer lateral support and flexible toes, there are reasons some offer more of one or the other.
Baseline players spend the majority of their time sliding sideways. Their shoes may have the most comfortable, flexible toe construction in the world, but if the sides blow out in a month, who cares?
Serve and volley players move vertically and bounce on their toes way more than a baseline player. The toe-cap construction and flexibility of the soles are vital to their game.
Understand what your game is and look for either extra-reinforced sides or reinforced (and super flexible) toecaps and soles.
Finding Your Sole-mate
The majority of casual North American players play on hardcourts with concrete bases. For that reason, most shoes are geared for the high-friction abuse they receive from those surfaces.
Some hard courts can provide more friction than others, based on how much sand is in the surface paint, weather and other wear factors.
If you happen to play on clay or a grass court, you will want to use a shoe with a completely different sole. Clay and grass are relatively slippery, so your sole will need to counteract the added slide-factor to keep you on the court.
All Together Now...
Science and engineering of tennis shoes has progressed to the point that we could write a series of articles about each part of a tennis shoe and why it matters to your game.
For now, rest assured that the brightest minds in sports are improving your choices every day to lessen wear-and-tear on your feet and ankles.
Some things to look for include the cushion provided in the sock-liner (the part that actually touches your foot.) Added cushion in the heels and some arch support may help or hurt you.
The goal of providing durable, flexible, lightweight, and breathable shoes has led to a trend of mixed solid and mesh shoe surfaces. Most manufacturers have adopted this basic design.
One word of wisdom: bending a sole in your hands means nothing related to court performance. You have to put the shoe on to see how it flexes in relation to your foot and toes.
We limited our research to the major manufacturers. If you have an unlimited budget, you can have a shoe custom-made for your foot and your game.
For the rest of you, here are our top four choices for women’s tennis shoes:
1. Adidas Women’s Barricade Club Training Shoe
Although the product name indicates it is a cross-trainer, the product description agrees with our players that the Barricade Club is a tennis shoe.
Adidas uses a product they call Adiprene to provide cushion at six points throughout the sole. It also offers a reinforced outsole.
The company is upgrading this product to a designer (by Stella McCartney) shoe this year with the concurrent upward pricing. So if you want the originals, you may want to buy them sooner than later. Some comments we solicited from our favorite players include:
Very lightweight, yet durable shoe
All agreed the shoes feel very comfortable during play.
Not designed for players needing arch support
Sizing is a bit large. Recommended using a half-size lower than usual size.
Overall performance was cited by most players, with flexibility and comfort the over-riding reasons for selecting the Barricade as a top recommendation.
2. ASICS Women’s Gel Resolution 6 Tennis Shoe
ASICS Gel shoes use rearfoot and forefoot gel cushioning and a lightweight mid-sole to provide what they claim to be a more comfortable and flexible tennis shoe.
The Resolution 6 also offers a reinforced outer sole, cushioned tongue and extra heel support. Comments we heard about this shoe include:
The Resolution 6 is well cushioned and comfortable to play in.
Did not need much conditioning or breaking in out of the box.
These are a little bit heavier than earlier models.
Added tongue cushion feels a bit snug, but did not cause blisters. However, there is a metal ring that caused player to try different lace patterns to remedy its contact.
Durable and supportive for full-court (side-to-side) players.
3. ASICS Women’s Gel Solution Speed 3 Tennis Shoe
This entry by ASICS offers the same gel support, but with an improved upper shoe. The manufacturer claims that the Solution Speed 3 series offers improved stability and control during intense play.
Players we spoke to seemed to like it, too:
Several player said these shoes were a little stiff out of the box and a little higher around the ankles than other ASICS models.
The shoe’s light weight was cited often.
Players prone to injuries like shin splints said they felt comfortable and had decreased issues with the Speed Solution 3.
Once they were broken in, these shoes were comfortable and supportive on the court.
4. K-Swiss HyperCourt Express Tennis Shoe
K-Swiss says their Hypercourt Express tennis shoes are engineered to get the foot in perfect position for court-to-foot contact.
The synthetic mesh helps makes it a light shoe that the manufacturer says makes it ideal for a fast player. Some fast and not-so-fast players said the following about it:
Lightweight, breathable and comfortable were the most common adjectives to start with.
Players said they provided good lateral support as well as stability when shifting to the front foot.
Players with self-described “wider” feet were more likely to mention fit and comfort.
And now the Men’s turn:
1. Nike Men's Zoom Vapor 9.5 Tour Tennis Shoe
Nike says their Vapor 9.5 molds to the foot of the player. We’re not quite sure how you take it off, but we’re assured by the players we spoke to that it is a very comfortable feeling.
Designed by Roger Federer and Nike designer Tinker Hatfield, this shoe is meant to provide extra control and stability and includes a “zoom air unit” in the heel for constant cushioning.
Here’s why our players say it’s the top pick for men’s tennis shoes:
The shoes look like they will be uncomfortable with high laces, but once they are on, they are actually extremely comfortable on the court.
Good lateral support was mentioned a few times.
Many players mentioned the breathability and light weight.
The design makes the shoe extremely responsive to twisting and pivoting movements.
Durability is not as good as some other shoes, but on a soft court, they will last a season.
2. ASICS Men's GEL-Resolution 6 Tennis Shoe
ASICS Gel Resolution series was the favorite choice of the men we spoke to. The Resolution 6 uses the same cushioning system as the women’s entries, but a mid-sole and lateral support system designed for men.
What we heard about the Resolution 6 includes:
Durability and flexibility of the soles were most often mentioned in comments.
The Resolution series has quite a following as noted by the number of people who compared the Resolution 6 with the Resolution 3, 4 and 5.
Players with knee and ankle problems say they have fewer issues when using the Resolution 6.
Overall comfort was commended even after hours of play.
3. Adidas Men’s Barricade Series Tennis Shoes
Adidas states that the Barricade Series light weight and flexibility is designed to allow for increased agility and balance. They use Adiprene cushioning throughout, but with a little extra under the heel to provide more comfort and bounce.
The upper is knit to expand and move with the foot and there is added lateral support, as well. The players we spoke to had this to say:
Players largely cited the support and flexibility of the Barricade shoes.
Durable soles despite it’s excellent “stoppability” were noted.
Adidas tends to run a half-size larger than normal shoes.
Felt great right out of the box and felt greater as the game went on.
4. New Balance Men's MC806 Stability Tennis Shoe
The New Balance MC806 made the list with multiple comments about its comfort and support for men with wider feet and those with heel issues. The manufacturer does not claim to put any special technology into the shoe specifically for those area, though.
New Balance says this version is designed for good support and stability with good motion control. Here are some comments we received from our peers.
Some players appreciated the supportive heel.
Felt “solid and stable” on the court.
Some cited surprising lateral support for such a light shoe
There were some negative comments about the quality of the upper workmanship.
So there you have our top choices and ideas about the best shoes for tennis.
One other bit of advice: when you find a shoe that is perfect for you, buy a few pairs. Advances are coming fast and furious and manufacturers tend to discontinue model designs quickly.
Oh! And don’t let that guy keep squeezing your toes. It’s just weird.