The Art and Science of Choosing a Tennis Shoe: “The foot and shoe should move as one”

Babolat Team at the COURTGIRL LIFESTYLE EXPERIENCE 2016 at CT Open courtside suite.

In line with the racquet, the most important piece of tennis equipment requiring careful selection is the shoe. The wrong type of shoe can hinder your performance and cause embarrassing, often painful, accidental injuries on the court.

A courtgirl reports, “As I was sliding with intensity to make that perfect volley, I took a skirt-flipping topple that exposed more than my clumsy attempt at finishing the point. A hush came over the busy courts as I scrambled to regain my composure ‘I’m fine everyone, thank you!’ I announced with a wave. Shaken and covered in Hartru but OK, I checked my shoes and saw that the treads had completely worn-out from playing 10 months on three different surfaces… clay, hard court and paddle court. As much as I loved those shoes they were way overdue for retirement.”

So how do you know how to choose the right shoes or when it’s time to retire them?

We caught-up with an expert on the subject, Sally Calongne, Babolat USA Manager of Footwear & Apparel…

How do you select a shoe? Most people start with the look or design and then go for fit. What do you suggest?

Fit is the most important aspect when selecting the perfect shoe for you. Too many times, people choose shoes based on look (which is why companies need to have “cool” looking shoes); however, would you choose the same shoe if you were blindfolded?

Ask the sales person to look for a shoe based on the type of shoe you want (durable, lightweight, traditional, etc.) and the shape of your foot or any issues you may have (wide, narrow, wide toe-box, narrow heel, Achilles issues, etc.). Then choose a couple more options to compare. Here is where your eyes can do the shopping.  Try on each pair, walk around the store, get in ready-position, jump around, split step, move side-to-side, sprint forward then stop sharp, anything to get the feel of being on a court.

Select the shoe that is the most comfortable in the store. Never buy a shoe and think, “Oh, when it breaks in it will feel better.” It will not.

When trying on what should you look for and how can you test a shoe without actually trying it out on the court?

Put the pair of shoes on and lace up like you normally would to go play. Wiggle your toes. Do you have room? Too much room? Lift your heel. Does it move too much? Does the arch of the shoe hit the arch of your foot in the right place? You want a shoe that fits snug but comfortable. You do not want your foot to move inside the shoe. The foot and shoe should act as one for the most part; otherwise, you will get blisters (side note: this goes for socks too…do not play in socks that are too big). If you have wide feet, is the shoe too constricting at the widest part of your foot? Take the insole out of the shoe and place your foot on it. Is your foot wider than the insole? If yes, then you probably need a shoe with a wider toe-box.

What are general return policies if a shoe doesn’t fit after you leave the store?

Most stores will let you return the shoes if they haven’t been worn on the court. I used to suggest to my customers, when I had my tennis shop, to buy the pair they want. Wear them around the house that day and/or night. Return them if they are causing some pain. As long as they are not worn on the court, dealers typically can put them back in stock. There have been some instances where customers played in the shoes and they caused major blisters so I would let the customer return the shoes. Most of the time when customers complained and returned certain shoes, it was due to the shoes not fitting their foot properly.

What shoes are best for which surfaces?

Most soles these days are considered “All Court” outsoles, which means they can be played on all surfaces. The tread pattern on Babolat “All Court” shoes have a variety of patterns that allows good traction on clay as well as hard courts. Typically, a clay court shoe will have a herringbone tread pattern (zigzags). Grass court shoes have little nubs on the bottom to help grip the court. As mentioned before, it is better to have fresh treads while playing on clay or grass courts to help with traction. It can become very slippery otherwise. Some people like to play on hard courts with treads starting to wear because the shoes can slide a little bit.

How tight should the laces be? One basketball coach personally laced the player’s shoes to minimize injury. Is there a trick to lacing tennis shoes?

Tennis shoes should fit snug so the laces must be slightly tight but not uncomfortable. The foot and shoe should move as one. Tennis players move in every direction so it is important to have the laces tight enough so the shoe can add support for the foot. Think about going to one side with an unlaced shoe. When you try to push-off to go in the opposite direction, your foot will come out of the shoe. Injuries can be prevented just by properly lacing shoes. There is not any particular style to lacing. If your heel is moving a little too much, you can lace through the last two holes closest to the ankle to offer more support to keep the heel down.

Does your style of play dictate the shoe? Someone who is active and moves aggressively to the ball vs. someone who is a steady as you go player…

Yes. Players who depend on speed and are light on their feet, need lightweight shoes to get to the ball quickly (Think Federer). Players who play aggressively and need that explosive support from their shoes, need shoes with stability and durability (Think Rafa). Some players just need a good supportive shoe to help with ailments (Achilles or joint issues) – these players do NOT need “lightweight” shoes. Be careful buying inexpensive tennis shoes because they may not be giving players the proper support which could lead to many injuries. Tennis players pound on the court and need equipment that can support them. Players who wear shoes out very quickly should look for durable shoes with a 6-month sole guarantee. That means that you can send back the shoes to the manufacturer with a receipt and get a new pair of shoes if you wear through the outsole within 6 months (Babolat Propulse shoes have a 6-month sole guarantee). Remember, lightweight shoes are not meant to be durable or have extra cushion.

How often should you change your shoes?

There isn’t an easy answer for this because it depends so much about the player and what surface they are on. For example, it is very difficult to play on clay courts with outsoles that are starting to wear out. However, that same pair of shoes will do fine on hard courts. Shoes break down internally over time as you play even if the treads are not worn out. If a player starts to feel some aches and pains while playing (typically in joints and shin splints), then the shoes have lost their internal support. Time for new shoes. New shoes every 6 months should be a good rule of thumb for the players playing consistently throughout the year. Or, for those league players playing often, get some new shoes each season (Spring, Summer, and Fall).

What are the different types of shoes Babolat offers and what are the features?

There are three main Babolat families:
Jets ($140): The lightest shoe on the market featuring a one-piece Kevlar matrix upper – lightweight but very supportive. The Jet will be called the Jet Mach II in 2018. The Jet Team ($110) has the same Jet platform but with a mostly mesh upper instead. The Jet Team will be called the Jet Mach I in 2018.

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Propulse Fury ($120): Supportive tennis shoe offering stability and durability for explosive protection. The powerbelt holds the midfoot in position and heel back. This shoe will be heavier than the Jet and offers a 6-month sole guarantee. Very good for players needing that extra stability that a lightweight shoe cannot provide. The Propulse Team is a lower price point shoe with very good support and durable outsole. The Propulse Team will be redesigned with a front mesh upper (looks great and comfortable) and called the Propulse Blast for 2018.

18585849_fury.jpgSFX ($100): Traditional tennis shoe built for comfort and support. The original SFX was designed to have a wide toe-box with extra layers of padding making an extremely comfortable shoe, especially for people with wide feet. The current SFX2 is still very comfortable, but not running as wide as before. The newly designed SFX3 comes out in July 2018 with a wide toe-box and new look. We are very excited about this shoe and it will stay around $100.

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Thank you, Sally…amazing lesson in selecting tennis shoes. Looking forward to trying on some of these live at the COURTGIRL LIFESTYLE EXPERIENCE at Connecticut Open on August 22! All tournament attendees are welcome to our courtside suite to shop and sample… for a VIP Ticket which includes a Gold Level Seat, Luncheon and a luxe Babolat Club Tote, and more… click here (a few seats left!)

Have any questions about tennis shoes? Email us at play@courtgirl.net

Let’s play,

CG TEAM