Get your kicks
In tennis footwear, companies are cutting the weight while upping the quality.
By James Martin
This season, tennis shoes are lighter, slimmer, and sleeker than ever. It’s as if the industry made like Anna Nicole Smith and took a big hit of Trim Spa.
How are companies trimming the fat? They’re using lightweight materials, such as thermo plastic urethane, to provide support in the heel and arch areas. And we’re seeing an increasing, and creative, use of different types of mesh in the upper, which not only produces lighter shoes, but also makes them more breathable and comfortable.
“It’s an encouraging sign that manufacturers are delivering lighter shoes for the court,” says David Sharnoff, a podiatrist in Shelton, Conn., and footwear advisor to both the WTA tour and Tennis magazine. “The lighter your shoes, the faster you’ll be on the court.”
But as we all know, losing weight isn’t easy. The trick is to shed the pounds, not the muscle. In this regard, some companies have succeeded and others have come up a bit short.
“Reducing weight is great, unless you’re sacrificing stability,” Sharnoff says. “And one of the trends we’re seeing is shoe companies not putting as much support into their shoes, particularly in the upper, to keep weights down. It’s not everyone, and in many cases the lack of support may only be an issue for serious, aggressive players.”
In other words, the shoes aren’t as unstable as Anna Nicole Smith, but they could use a little more beef.
But overall, Sharnoff says, “The industry is heading in the right direction. They’re making higher quality products that’ll keep you comfortable and help you reach more balls — and play better tennis.”
Here’s a rundown of the spring’s hottest models, with input from Sharnoff, who’s coordinated wear-testing for Tennis magazine of all the latest and greatest.
Adidas Barricade IV
If you had to pick one of the most popular shoe lines of the last few years, the Barricade would be on top of that list. It’s long been one of the standard-bearers for stability, durability, and comfort for advanced players. What’s new with the fourth incarnation? Not much — and that’s a good thing.
The shoe delivers excellent stability and support, but Adidas did manage to get the weight down just a tad, too, but without sacrificing a supportive fit. “This is an example of a shoe with excellent upper stability for aggressive players,” Sharnoff says. The Barricade IV will be worn by many pros, including Justine Henin-Hardenne, Mardy Fish, and Fernando Gonzalez.
Nike Air Zoom Vapor 3 and Air Zoom Mystify
Although they go by different names, the Vapor 3 for men and Mystify for women are the same shoe. The main selling point is the low-to-the-ground ride, which helps you turn on a dime without losing stability. Think of it this way: When you make a sharp turn, would you rather be in an SUV that could tip over or a Ferrari that hugs the road?
The Vapor 3 (right) and Mystify, which Nike says were “inspired” by Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova, respectively, will appeal to hard-core players looking for a stable, light game-day shoe. “The stability in the upper could be a bit better,” Sharnoff says. “And while it’s comfortable, this isn’t a shoe you’ll want to wear all day long. It’s for performance on the court.”
Although Fila has a few new models this spring, the one that offers the best all-around performance is the Torneo. An update of the Axelis D, the Torneo features the same upper and midsole but has a softer, lighter, more supple upper. “The strength of this shoe is comfort,” Sharnoff says. “It’s a big improvement for Fila.” For Tennis magazine wear-testers, it was the shoe’s comfort that made it a huge hit among female players.
Babolat Team All Court
This is Babolat’s first foray in the U.S. footwear market. And it’s got some star power behind it — Andy Roddick, who wears the Team All Court. Of course, if A-Rod’s endorsement can help drive sales of the Team All Court the way his official stamp has made his racquet, the Pure Drive, the hottest frame of the last few years, Babolat’s going to have a winner on its hands.
The men’s-only shoe, which closely resembles a competitor’s (we’re not naming names), is designed as a stability shoe. It has a mid-foot support strap that attaches to the laces and works its way under the arch and attaches to the other side for a secure fit. And the shoe features a Michelin rubber outsole. Perhaps the most important thing to know is that the Team All Court runs a half-size short. So, for example, if your customer takes a size 11, put him into a size 11½.
New Balance CT/WCT 1002
Typically, New Balance shoes are known for their superior comfort and cushioning, and the fact that they’re available in different width sizes. But with the CT/WCT 1002, New Balance puts an emphasis on stability, thanks to an integrated lacing system.
“This model might not have as cushy of a ride as some other New Balance models,” Sharnoff says, “but it has good stability, which will appeal to more serious players.” The CT/WCT is also available in width sizes, and the men’s version comes in a white and a more aggressive blue.
This women’s only shoe should prove extremely popular with the country-club set for two reasons. One, it’s got a classic look. Two, it’s an extremely comfortable, cushioned shoe that can be worn on and off the court.
“It’s not necessarily a competitive game-day shoe for advanced players,” Sharnoff says. “It’d need more mid-foot and upper support for that. But for club player comfort, this one will be tough to beat.”
Prince T9 Roadster
Prince’s latest model is pretty light, with good ventilation, to keep your feet cool and comfortable. But it’s not just the mesh that keeps your feet dry. The T9 Roadster has Dri-Lex lining, which pulls moisture away from your feet and toward the mesh, where it evaporates. “I’d call this a good comfort shoe with moderate stability,” Sharnoff says.
K-Swiss Ascendor SLT and Glaciator SCD
The Ascendor SLT (right) is a lightweight, game-day shoe with a striking feature — the upper is made primarily of a mesh with a poly/nylon coating to keep the weight down. “Wear-testers also found the shoe to offer excellent comfort,” Sharnoff says. The one question: Will the mesh upper provide enough stability for serious players?
The Glaciator SCD, meanwhile, is all about keeping your feet cool. The shoe has a heat-deflecting material in the midsole, huge mesh vents in the upper, and Fautex moisture-management technology in the collar lining to wick sweat away from your foot. “It’s also comfortable,” Sharnoff says. “Fans of K-Swiss are really going to love this model. It has comfort, stability, ventilation — it’s all around a good shoe.”
Diadora Attax DA 2
The Italian company, which is best known for its soccer equipment, has a new tennis model this spring, the Attax DA 2. It has the Axeler Technology — a thread-like alloy that snakes its way through the outsole to help guide the foot to a proper landing and keep you on an even keel. There’s also extra cushioning in the forefoot and heel.
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