Performance Footwear is King
In tennis shoes, consumers want it all — fit, durability, lightweight, great looks. But in the end, it’s all about how they work on court.
By Kent Oswald
Tennis players may well be more demanding of their footwear than of any other piece of equipment that contributes to their game. They want it all: fit, durability, lightness, performance and a great look. And if they don’t see it all, they are more tightfisted with their money.
Current TIA estimates for the year just ended are that there will be an increase in footwear dollars of 1.9 percent over 2009, no doubt influenced by the suggested retail price of a new pair up a bit over 3 percent in that time. The good news, unfortunately, is found in the negative: the percentage of tennis retailers declaring a decrease in shoe sales for 2010 will likely be in the neighborhood of 18 percent, compared to 39 percent in 2009.
Unfortunately, tennis shoes aren’t established as fashionable kicks in the way of running or basketball shoes. Right now, while there is more color added to the shoes — in the same way a variety of hues are accessorizing the rest of tennis’s product categories — most sales are specific to those who play the game. And for them, as explained by Mark Eggert, Fila’s director of design for footwear: “Tennis footwear must perform. As a designer, it is imperative to incorporate performance technology.”
Once players find a shoe that fits, they are reluctant to switch, particularly at current prices in the current economy, until it loses its durability — and every manufacturer today is taking advantage of technology that allows them to build footwear that is often lighter than in the past but always more durable.
babolat.com • 877-316-9435
The marketing promise Babolat makes with its new Propulse 3 is that of providing the greatest number of technologies and innovations for an all-court shoe. Although proud of being a “tennis specialist,” Babolat is not shy about collaborating on R&D with others. Perhaps as a result, the description of the latest in the Propulse series rivals that of a high-performance automobile, although designed specifically to handle the lateral and diagonal movements unique to a tennis court.
The highlights from the manufacturer: The Andy Roddick-endorsed shoe offers lateral relaunch and velocity via the Exact Pro System; grip and durability are thanks to the Michelin OCS sole; durability and comfort through the heel due to its Kompressor System; support and fit through use of Foot Belt Technology; and additional durability and comfort on the uppers thanks to Cell Shield material. And all with a vibrant red color.
fila.com • 410-773-3000
In addition to taking advantage of new technologies to make its shoes lighter, more durable and breathable, Fila works as hard as any manufacturer to sync the footwear and apparel into a singular fashion statement. The season’s new shoes for men and women are the R4 and (slightly more heavy-duty) R8 models. They share many of the same technologies, including abrasion-resistant medial toe wraps and Flow foam for anti-microbial and odor fighting, forefoot comfort, midfoot and increased lateral movement support and the company’s Ever-Grind extra-durable rubber soles.
head.com • 800-289-7366
Head is re-entering the footwear market in a serious manner after having been away for a few seasons. This year’s additions to the current lines for both men and women will be the Insane Pro (also available for juniors), the Prestige Pro II and the Radical Pro II. Each shoe is backed by Head’s six-month durability guarantee on the outsole and toe guard, and features soft, breathable mesh linings, a HiRebound EVA footbed with non-slip cover material, non-slip heel lining and a breathable heel stabilizer.
The Insane Pro, in white/black, has asymmetrical lacing, memory foam in the heel and seems almost to swaddle the feet. The Prestige Pro II is an upgraded version of the basic Prestige Pro and comes in white/black/red and white/black/blue. The Radical Pro II offers even greater breathability as it improves upon The Radical Pro line and comes in white/black.
kswiss.com • 800-714-4477
K-Swiss makes its move to lighter, more natural performance footwear with the Big Shot in black/blue for men and white for women. The shoe’s features include a lower and wider platform for balance and agility and provides mid-foot support to ensure foot and shoe move as one. Of particular note is the company’s application of “ballistic propulsion plate technology” providing for a greater push when moving side to side or forward and back. As for comfort, kEva and SuperFoam are incorporated into the footbed and K-Swiss backs the shoe’s durability promise with a six-month wear guarantee.
newbalance.com • 800-253-7463
The New Balance 900 offers a fit that’s more snug than past tennis shoes from the company. It uses the patented N-ergy technology used for shock absorption and responsiveness in the company’s high-end running shoes, as well as lightweight, high-performance support and cushioning. The company will continue to offer multiple widths in keeping with its corporate mantra that “a better fit produces a better performance.” Additional features include Abzorb cushioning, extra stability midfoot, a form-fitting feel and even the Sure Lace promise to keep shoes tied during play.
princetennis.com • 800-2TENNIS
Prince continues to be a leader in the tennis footwear category, recommending players pursue either a durability or lightweight strategy. Players focused on the durability of their shoes are directed to the Prince T-22 Team series in various colors, but all with the forefoot straps that stabilize the foot within the shoe and keep the toe from jamming into the shoe’s front. Those looking for light weight are steered toward the low-profile Rebel for men and Poise for women, both part of the Light Speed series that, like the T-22s, come with a six-month durability guarantee. Of course, those who want the best of all possible worlds are encouraged by the manufacturer to pick up a pair of the T-22s for practice and keep the Light Speeders handy for match days.
wilson.com • 800-272-6060
Wilson features RG (proprietary reactive gel) technology — highlighted by shock absorption, energy return and stability — in its premium tennis footwear for men and women, the Tour Vision, Tour Spin II and Tour Fantom lines. The gel is used in heel and forefoot inserts and is part of a package that includes lightweight breathable uppers, moisture-wicking liners in shoes designed to meet the unique demands tennis players require from their footwear. Taking up the challenge to create something eye-catching, color combinations range from white/navy/silver to black/deep lavender and back to white/orange peel.
See all articles by Kent Oswald
About the Author
Kent Oswald is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.