Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers
Whether you’re a round-robin veteran or gearing up for your first beginner drill, having the right tennis shoes is a necessity. Tennis requires a huge range of movement: running backward, lunging, sidestepping, and even sliding (for Francesca Schiavone wannabes), which is why running shoes and other nonspecific sneakers won’t cut it on the court. Proper footwear will give you support for 360 degrees of movement and even a mental boost, which writer Emilia Monell can attest to. As Monell, who trained at IMG Academy under Nick Bollettieri and played for Columbia University’s varsity team, explains, “My coaches always said I had more energy the first day I got new shoes.”
There are also external factors to take into account, such as the surface: Are you partial to clay courts or hard courts? Do you toggle between surfaces based on the season? With so many considerations, it can be difficult to determine which tennis shoes are ideal for your playing style and your feet (maybe you’re one of the many who suffer from plantar fasciitis), so I spoke to a host of tennis experts, including tennis-store buyers, college coaches, and club directors about their top women’s tennis-shoe picks. If you already have an idea of what you want, skip directly to the type of shoe you’re looking for in our table of contents below. Otherwise, read on for ten options that will suit all types of players, from serve-and-volleyers to baseline loyalists.
Best overall | Best (less expensive) overall | Most comfortable | Best for plantar fasciitis | Best for sliding | Best for narrow feet | Best for wide feet | Best for older players | Most responsive | Most durable
Durability: Tennis training involves so many repetitive movements that you’ll likely find you damage your gear in the same places time and time again. I burned through many pairs of tennis shoes as captain of my high-school team, and I always wore a hole in the toe of my right shoe because I dragged my foot when I served. Mike Layton, owner and CEO of Westside Tennis in Santa Monica, California, explains that tennis shoes need to withstand a specific type of pivoting and start-stop wear and tear, so they “are more solid around the whole perimeter of the shoe.” While this construction may seem clunky at first, the bulk is necessary for the shoe to last a reasonable amount of time. Monell recommends a test to see if you need to replace your pair: “Place the two ends of one shoe between your hands and apply pressure — if the shoe caves in on itself, it’s lost support, and it’s time to get new ones.” Depending on how often you play, your shoes will degrade at varying rates. Monell offers a general guideline of a three-month shoe lifespan for players training at a competitive level. In comparison, recreational players can stay with one pair for a year.
Support: It’s not uncommon to see players (like Serena Williams) on court with tape around their ankles. Tennis is a joint-heavy sport that involves tons of lateral movement and frequent changes in direction, so the structure and support of a tennis shoe are designed to handle this demanding sort of action. According to Layton, tennis shoes “are typically a little bit heavier than running shoes” and “have better lateral support on the inside and outside of the shoe” to protect the ankle, so you don’t strain or twist it when you’re moving side to side. For players who are newer to the sport, this can be an adjustment, says Karen Moriarty, co-owner of the Tennis Professionals — Sportech in Rye Brook. “You might be shocked when you put a tennis shoe on and think, Oh my God, these feel so much stiffer than my running or walking shoes,” she says.
Fit: Woody Schneider, co-owner of NYC Racquet Sports, says the best shoe is “the one that fits your foot the best.” The term explosive is often used to describe the movement in tennis matches, and you’ll feel that explosiveness in a bad way if your shoes aren’t the right fit. A wide toe bed is necessary for stability, but you don’t want so much room that your toes are jamming and bruising. As gross as the image is, there were multiple times when my big toenail cracked and (bloodily) fell off because my shoes were a little too big and my foot kept smashing the front during split stops. The fit of the shoe will depend on your feet (wide, narrow, injuries, etc.), so I’ve done my best to articulate which type of foot the shoes cater to in each entry below. If you can, try the shoes on in person first to see if they’re a good fit, or if you’re shopping online, make sure the store has a good return policy.
Enhanced durability | Heavy support | Versatile fit
The Asics Gel Resolution came highly recommended by four of our experts and is a safe bet if you’re not sure where to get started. Layton has worn the Resolution for years and says, “It hits all of the requirements for a good tennis shoe, including good lateral support and stability. I’ve had foot issues in the past but not with these.” He adds that they are durable and very comfortable. “I think you would fit a majority of people with this shoe regardless of skill level,” he says. Claire Ann Pollard, head coach of Northwestern University’s women’s tennis team, calls the Asics Gel Resolution her favorite, and Moriarty says they are consistently a top pick for her customers.
[Editor’s Note: Mark Mason, owner of Mason’s Tennis in New York City, noted that supply-chain issues have affected tennis shoes tremendously. Many factories have been in COVID lockdown much longer than expected, and delays in shipping have led to a shortage of available sizes and models. Mason says the Asics should be available in March, but there will likely be delays until April or May for other brands that are not currently offering a wide range of sizes.]
Moderate durability | Flexible support | Narrow fit
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better shoe for a better value than the NikeCourt Air Max Volley at under $100. Monell, who trained alongside Sloane Stephens and Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig, says this Nike pair was “really great for narrow feet — I always felt like the other brands were just too wide for me.” Tennis shoes often have a wider toe bed, which can make it difficult for women with narrow feet to find a secure fit. This pair also has a “good balance of lightness and support,” according to Monell, who says her ankles felt more supported than with other shoes she had trained in.
Maximum durability | Heavy support | Wide fit
Harry Tong, host of Tennis Spin on YouTube and a buyer at California Tennis Club, says this New Balance pair is “the softest, most cushiony, most bouncy shoe you can have in tennis.” He compares the cushion level to the springy, super-popular Adidas Ultraboost and describes the fit as “a soft, comfortable ski boot.” “You want tennis shoes to hold on to you and be tight around the whole foot,” Tong says. “Because of all the stop-and-go, you can’t have too much movement in the shoe, or else you will get blisters and a black toe.” Greg Pearson, owner of Tiki Tennis in Islamorada, Florida, says of all the brands he has tried, “New Balance is the most comfortable.” This shoe is particularly durable because it comes outfitted with a toe-drag tip (to prevent excessive wear on the toe) and New Balance’s NDurance rubber outsole, which has a six-month limited-warranty guarantee.
Enhanced durability | Maximum support | Slightly wide fit
If you have plantar fasciitis, the most important qualities to look for in a tennis shoe are extra cushioning in the heel, thick soles, and extra padding to reduce shock. This Babolat shoe checks all three boxes because it is designed with thermoplastic rubber and a tube compression system beneath the heel for exceptional shock absorption. Schneider says this shoe has a “wow factor” because it offers “about as much comfort as you’re going to find in a tennis shoe” that still has enough stability to be functional. Mason calls this the “best-fitting tennis shoe” in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants sense — i.e., a wide range of players with different foot types (narrow, wide, high arched) have said this model fits perfectly. Schneider adds that these shoes are cut slightly on the wider side, which is great if plantar fasciitis requires you to fit custom orthotics, extra-cushioned socks, or inserts. Anthony Evrard, founder and CEO of tennis club and school Court 16 in New York, says Babolat shoes are especially durable and long lasting because the outsoles are made from Michelin rubber.
Enhanced durability | Sliding support | Standard fit
The Nike Zoom Vapor X was beloved by many, and its upgrade is not to be ignored. The React Vapor NXT has “great Achilles and lateral support,” according to Mason. And unlike other Nike models, this one isn’t notably narrow. Near the arch, soft foam works in tandem with a firmer foam along the outside of your foot to help you push off during fast movements. It’s a great shoe for players who like to slide because the modified-herringbone outsole provides just the right amount of grip so you feel stable but free to slide. The durability factor is present because the shoe combines both durable rubber and tough plastic in high-wear areas, such as the inner side of the foot, to ensure they don’t wear down when you skid across hard or clay surfaces.
Moderate durability | Flexible support | Narrow fit
Phil Parrish, tennis director of the Longfellow Health Club in Wayland, Massachusetts, recommends this pair for people who have trouble finding a snug fit in other brands since Nikes tend to run narrow in general. This model is designed with reinforced mesh for extra support, and the outer mesh has a thin, flexible overlay for added durability. Mason notes that in comparison with the NXT model described above, this pair is “also lightweight but slightly narrower.” There is no rubber in low-wear areas, making this shoe even more streamlined. Dana Mason (a buyer at Mason’s Tennis) adds that this is a great shoe for clay, on which you can get away with a lighter, less cushioned shoe because the surface is more forgiving. This shoe is also sliding friendly because the medial eye-stays closest to your toes are covered for added durability.
Enhanced durability | Heavy support | Wide fit
This is a great shoe for players with wider feet, according to Tong and Parrish, while Moriarty and Dana Mason both say this is one of the most popular shoes with their customers. Mason says in the standard women’s B width (D is a women’s wide, which translates to a men’s regular), “it’s going to be a wider shoe all over,” so it may be a good choice if your foot is slightly wider than average but not wide enough to need a D-width shoe. (If you do end up needing something wider, she recommends the New Balance 1006, featured below.) “It’s really nice on a hard court because of the durable sole,” Mason says, though it is a great all-court shoe. The K-Swiss Hypercourt Express is also known for a minimal break-in period thanks to its Durawrap Flex technology, which offers support without stiffness.
Enhanced durability | Extra-cushioned support | Extra-wide fit
It’s often the case that older players are looking for a wide tennis shoe that is lightweight and extremely cushioned. If this set of criteria sounds familiar to you, the New Balance 1006 is a great choice. It has extra-plush cushioning and offers tremendous support for players with foot issues. Dana Mason notes that this model comes in a D width and that its light weight makes it popular among the older set. This shoe is especially light because it’s designed with the New Balance REVlite foam compound, which weighs 30 percent less than standard foams yet maintains the same level of cushioning and stability. This is a great option for more mature players because extra-cushioned shoes are often extra-heavy and can impede mobility, but with this New Balance model, you get the best of both worlds.
Moderate durability | Flexible support | Standard fit
When returning serve, it helps to have responsive shoes so you can react as quickly as possible. Dana Mason’s pick for the most responsive shoe is the Asics Solution Speed FF 2, which is lighter and more flexible than the Asics Resolution (our best overall pick). The FF 2 has a little bit less cushioning, which is ideal for players who like to feel fast on the court. Mason says it’s her personal favorite (and the one she wears) because it’s so lightweight and has a roomy toe box; it’s also her top pick for clay courts.
Maximum durability | Intense support | Standard fit
When I think back to playing juniors and going to tennis camp, I remember every other kid (boys and girls both) wearing the Adidas Barricade. The current version of the Barricade is worn by Greek player Maria Sakkari, and the shoe has come a long way from its first iteration in 2000. The beauty of the current model is the lock-in construction of the lacing, which molds the tongue to your foot to create maximum stability and makes for a great fit regardless of foot type. As its name suggests, the Barricade is a remarkably tough shoe that is on the heavier side and designed to last. To see how your shoes are holding up, Monell recommends frequently checking the treads: “If you’ve got wear and tear around the heels, you’re not on the balls of your feet enough during play. You should have the majority of your wear and tear around the ball of the foot if you’re keeping up with proper footwork.”
• Anthony Evrard, founder and CEO of tennis club and school Court 16
• Mike Layton, owner and CEO of Westside Tennis
• Dana Mason, buyer at Mason’s Tennis
• Mark Mason, owner of Mason’s Tennis
• Emilia Monell, writer and former junior and college player
• Karen Moriarty, co-owner of the Tennis Professionals — Sportech
• Phil Parrish, tennis director of the Longfellow Sports Club
• Greg Pearson, owner of Tiki Tennis
• Claire Ann Pollard, head coach of Northwestern University’s women’s tennis team
• Woody Schneider, co-owner of NYC Racquet Sports
• Harry Tong, host of Tennis Spin and a buyer at California Tennis Club
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