As one may know, tennis applies constant side to side movements and quick changes of direction. Tennis shoes play an important role in preventing injuries and allowing one to move better on different tennis court surfaces. One way to prevent unnecessary tennis injuries is by wearing adequate tennis shoes for each court surface, something often ignored by many amateur players.
Without getting too specific, we can all agree that there are three main tennis playing surfaces: Hard courts, clay courts and grass courts.
The most common surface in the U.S. and on the professional circuits (ATP and WTA) is the hard court. As the name suggests, these courts are the hardest ones and thus they induce a great amount of shock to one’s joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Therefore, when playing on this type of surface, wear heavier shoes that are supportive in the upper part, with a good amount of cushion so they absorb part of the impact, and with diverse designs to the outsole. Common injuries related to this type of surface are plantar fasciitis, Achilles and patellar tendonitis.
The second most common surface in the U.S. and on the professional circuits is the clay court. Very predominant in Western Europe, this type of surface is much softer than hard courts, thus, it is more forgiving with one’s lower extremities and joints. Clay court shoes should be a little lighter than hard court ones and have a homogeneous outsole pattern. The triangle-like pattern is one of the best outsole patterns since it adheres to the court really well and also allows for sliding. Unlike hard courts, clay courts can differ a lot from each other. Both weather and maintenance conditions of the court play an important role, and can increase the risk of injuries. If the court is wet or unevenly moist, it is easy to get stuck in the clay and sprain an ankle. On the other hand, if the court is too dry, it is very easy to slide, making it difficult to realize changes of direction. Dry clay courts put the player at risk for hamstring, adductor and Achilles strains.
Last but not least is the grass court. These are less common in the U.S., as they require a substantial amount of daily care. They are more popular in the United Kingdom and Australia. Grass is the softest surface, and by far, the most slippery and hardest to run on. Grass court shoes are distinctive from the others. They are the lightest and they have small rubber cleats on the outsole that grip to the soil underneath the grass. Even with the cleats, it is very easy to slide and fall on this surface. Ankle sprains and muscle hyperextensions are very common injuries associated with the grass court surface. As preventative measures, many players do extensive strengthening ankle exercises and they often tape their ankles when playing on grass courts.
Remember that it is very important to use appropriate shoes for each surface, as well as replace them with new ones when the old ones wear away. Once the outsole design begins to fade out or the shoe’s support wears out, it is time for a new pair. In order to prevent unnecessary ankle or foot injury, it is better to replace one’s tennis shoes before it’s too late.
Andrea is a world recognized tennis coach specialized in biomechanics and injury prevention. She is the coach of top national juniors (Rachel Arbitman), and WTA players (Daniela Hantuchova, Arantxa Parra). Andrea is the Junior Director, and she also works for the Wake Forest women's tennis program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.