Tennis shoe manufacturers are finding ways to give players all the benefits, with no trade-offs.
By James Martin
Tennis equipment is a zero-sum game. Do you want a more powerful racquet? You’ll have to sacrifice some control. Looking for the most comfortable strings possible? Then say hello to natural gut and good-bye to durability.
And there’s always been a trade-off with tennis shoes, too. If you desire stability or a high level of cushioning, you’ll pay the price with a hefty weight. Conversely, lightweight shoes typically have lacked cushioning or, worse, lateral and medial stability, putting players at risk for developing foot problems and suffering injuries. But is it game over for the zero-sum game? Maybe. This spring, manufacturers have put their best foot forward with a slew of high-tech shoes that promise to deliver all of the above: stability, cushioning and lighter weights. How’d they do it? With innovative designs (e.g., unibody constructions), mesh uppers, and strategically placed, lightweight support pieces, to name just three methods.
Some shoes, including those from Prince, Diadora, and Adidas, also feature resourceful constructions that flex with your foot to make your movements on the court more efficient and comfortable.
In brief, these are serious shoes for serious players who are as hard on their footwear as they are on their opponents. While you’ll still find the familiar zero-sum tradeoff with a few models, isn’t it nice to know you won’t have to make that compromise if you don’t want to?
Here are some highlights of what you can expect from the major shoe manufacturers this season.
Fans of the lightweight Quiktrac (QT) shoes will have reason to be excited this season. The new Prince Fastcourt QT for men and women is the lightest QT shoe to date. It also boasts Range of Motion Technology (ROM), which, as its name suggests, is anatomical flex grooves in the forefoot and heel that move with your foot for support and comfort. The Fastcourt QT doesn’t skimp on stability, either, thanks to a lightweight thermoplastic urethane piece that cradles the heel and a midfoot shank for motion control (i.e., to help prevent roll-over).
From top to bottom, Adidas has updated one of its most popular models, the Barricade II, and they’re calling it — ta-dah! — the Adidas Barricade III. This aggressively styled, snug-fitting shoe will be worn by the likes of Justine Henin-Hardenne, Taylor Dent, Tim Henman and Jan-Michael Gambill. Designed for play on hardcourts, the Barricade III features adiPRENE, an elastic material, under the forefoot to help you push off. Stability? The Torsion System — a bar that extends from the outsole (for arch support) to the lateral side of the upper — allows natural rotation between the forefoot and heel for a comfortable, supportive ride.
Choices. That’s what Wilson’s giving consumers this season, with a handful of new models. But it’s one in particular, the Crossfire SL, for men and women, which is causing quite a buzz already. An edgy-looking shoe, the Crossfire SL has a high-abrasion Schoeller Dynatec mesh upper. Dynatec is used in motorcyclists’ protective clothing and for mountain sports and occupational safety, and here Wilson co-opts the material to make a unibody construction that’s light, durable, and very breathable.
While any player can appreciate those functions, the youthful style of the Crossfire SL, and of the new Wilson Fli-By, another unibody shoe, probably won’t appeal to the country-club set. For them, Wilson offers the Pro Staff 850CC for men and women, a classically styled shoe with a herringbone outsole for play on clay. The men’s Pro Staff Extreme 800 and women’s Pro Staff Intrigue, meanwhile, emphasize durability and comfort — think of them as shoes of choice for teaching pros.
Diadora may have lost Gustavo Kuerten, but the Italian shoe company hasn’t lost its direction. Cases in point: the men’s Protech DA2 and women’s Kynetech DA. They both have the new Axeler Air Flow grid (a thread-like frame of lightweight alloy) in the outsole that increases flexibility where you need it, in the forefoot, while providing extra stability in the midfoot and heel. Each model also has shock-absorption in the forefoot and heel, and a durable rubber compound outsole.
For the last few years, the Swoosh has been the sleeping giant of the tennis industry. The company hasn’t generated much buzz with its products, apparently following the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it doctrine. But with the signing of Serena Williams to a five-year, $40 million endorsement contract, the question is: Will Nike start putting more emphasis on product and product development? Time will tell, of course, though in the meantime, Nike has a few new shoes for the spring of 2004, including the men’s Air Voltage (a lightweight model built for speed), the men’s and women’s Vapor S2, and the women’s Air Illusion II.
And don’t forget
This spring will see the introduction of the Reebok 360 DMX or men and women, which will emphasize a snug, 360-degree fit around the foot. And with the New Balance CT652 and WCT 652, that company continues to show that its famously comfortable shoes (they come in full width sizes) are also serious pieces of equipment, with the support and stability demanded by serious players.
To contact these and other manufacturers, see our links pages.
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