Tennis is a unique sport in many different ways. One of the most unique elements of tennis is its surfaces. You aren’t limited to a specific surface or court like many other sports are.
With this, many surfaces have different requirements ranging from physical demands to playing styles and equipment. In this article, we are going to specifically focus on shoes and their relation to surfaces: the requirements of each surface, the best types of shoes per surface, and recommendations when you find yourself in less than ideal circumstances.
Should a Player Wear Different Tennis Shoes With Different Surfaces?
Ideally, when possible, it is always advisable to use the most ideal shoe to its preferred surface. However, it’s understandable that certain circumstances may limit this. You may travel and find yourself in a location with a different type of court to the shoe you have, or you may have bought a certain type of shoe without really researching on whether it is appropriate for the surface.
To know whether or not you can “get away with it” it’s best to first know what each surface requires and the best shoes that fit that surface.
Grass, the most traditional of surfaces, isn’t as frequently used because of the court’s high maintenance standards.
However, many players like grass courts because it’s softer on the joints and is essentially the fastest of all the surfaces. Balls move faster on grass courts than on hard and clay courts, but the surface can also produce unpredictable bounces or be slippery which can make players slide if they are wearing shoes that offer no traction.
Best Types of Tennis Shoes for Grass
To contend with the slipperiness of the surface and to also ensure that players are able to match its fast-paced, unpredictable requirements, the best types of shoes for this kind of surface are ones that are not only comfortable to move quickly in but ones that provide better traction and a great, solid grip.
The out-soles of grass-court tennis shoes often have protruding nubs, somewhat similar to cleats, which help to provide a great grip against an often slippery surface. Conversely, you may wear flat shoes with herringbone patterns on the out-soles that also offer a great match to the requirements of the surface.
Additionally, grass courts don’t wear out soles like hard courts, so durability won’t really be much of an issue when buying shoes specifically for this surface.
The Nike Zoom Vapor 9.5 Tour is one of the best grass court shoes. Worn and designed by 8-time Wimbledon winner Roger Federer, the shoe features a supportive upper while sporting many distinct grooved patterns along the shoe’s underside.
Hard courts are the most popular courts in the world, largely because of their easy maintenance, which also keeps its sustainability costs low. These courts also offer relatively better ball bounces when compared to other surfaces and also ensure a slower ball speed as opposed to a surface like grass.
Despite this, hard courts offer harsh demands, and are known to easily wear out out-soles therefore durability is a key factor when looking at shoes.
Additionally, hard courts are, by nature, more demanding for players due to its tougher surface. Therefore, when a player’s foot comes into contact with the surface a lot of force is usually generated, and shoes that can take this brunt force will be most appropriate for such a surface.
Best Types of Tennis Shoes for Hard Courts
Since hard courts are the most popular in the world, it’s usually easier getting such types of shoes
As mentioned before, one of the key things when searching for hard court shoes is durability. Hard courts are tough on shoes and will wear them down with ease. A durable, thick out-sole will be perfect to protect from this, and a prominent toe guard will also help to protect you in case you find yourself dragging your toes against the surface.
Ample cushioning is also necessary for this type of surface. This helps in giving players comfort against a tough surface. Another essential of the shoe is a mid-sole that aids in transferring a player’s energy as well as acting as a shock-absorbing means against a harder surface.
It would also be best to aim for lighter shoes that incorporate all the above qualities, which will in turn help to enhance quicker movements.
A great example of a shoe designed for hard courts is the New Balance Lav. The shoe was actually designed by Milos Raonic and new balance and is one of their highest performing shoes to date. It has a Fresh Foam which gives great responsive underfoot cushioning, while still maintaining a fast, low-to-the-ground feel. Additionally, it is both really comfortable and highly durable.
Clay is the second most popular court surface but it is also the most physically demanding of all the courts. However, they slow the ball and offer higher bounces, which are some of the notable pros of the court.
The court is made from either shale, brick, or stone, making the surface a loose one. Clay also regularly gets stuck between the treads which can make a player lose his grip on the surface; a key consideration to take into account when searching for shoes for the surface.
Best Types of Shoes for Clay Courts
Typically, look for shoes that will give you great support and stability. For this surface, the right level of traction is key to mastering the court. The best out-soles for clay courts provide greater traction; therefore the shoe must have a treaded herringbone zig-zag design for a steadier grip on the surface to avoid slides.
These out-soles are purposefully built this way to avoid clay particles from accumulating on the out-soles of the shoes. If clay does build up, a slight knock with a racquet or a slight tap on the ground should clear them up with ease. This design also makes movement from side to side easy on the court.
Clay shoes also need a tighter knit upper which helps in preventing clay from entering one’s shoes.
One of the best examples of a shoe made for clay surfaces is the Yonex Sonicage. The shoe is light, durable, and it has a Power Graphite plate in the middle portion of the shoe which helps to optimize on stability; an important factor on clay surfaces.
Recommended Tennis Shoes for Less Than Ideal Circumstances
As stated before, certain circumstances may hinder one from accessing the preferred shoes for certain surfaces. Here are a few key considerations to always remember:
- Hard court shoes are the most versatile of the three, and can typically be used on clay and grass courts. Additionally, they are more common and easier to find in many places.
- Clay court shoes with outsole guarantees can be used on hard courts, though their durability won’t match hard-court specific shoes.
- Grass court shoes, especially those with cleat-like nubs, should not be used on any other surface other than grass.
- There are a variety of all-court options that have common design features that may be appropriate for all types of courts, such as a herringbone style tread, which may be appropriate if you frequently switch between different types of courts and surfaces
Conclusion Regarding Tennis Shoes for Different Surfaces
Shoes are, in fact, of great benefit especially when worn on the appropriate surface. That’s why the overall consensus is that in ideal circumstances, always wear the correct shoe per surface.
However, just because you may lack the precise shoe that a surface requires doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the sport. If you stick to the general rules—traction for grass courts, durability for hard courts, and support and stability for clay courts—you can always find a way around and still enjoy the sport we all love.