Tennis Industry magazine


Footwear: Bottom Liners

Offer customers the opportunity to match their shoes to their preferred court surface for optimum performance.

By Bob Patterson

What’s on the bottom of your shoe? It can make a world of difference in your traction, comfort and stability during play.

The outsole is something that often goes unnoticed — most players are first attracted to the color and design of the upper. Even when the shoe is on your display shelf, players won’t see the outsole unless they pick up the shoe. Yet, the outsole is crucial in how the shoe performs.

There are all sorts of outsole patterns, and although some may look like works of art, there is a methodology to their design. Tread design is crucial to stability, traction and overall performance of any shoe.

Since the majority of tennis in the U.S. is played on either hard courts or synthetic clay, most shoes offered here are designed for those two surfaces, or in many cases, both. (There are also grass-court shoes designed specifically for those who play on the lawns.) Over the last few decades, tennis-shoe manufacturers have been developing new technologies to help players find the best solutions for gripping the surface, or sliding, based on court type.

Clay Court Shoes

For clay courts, it’s important to have a combination of slide and grip that allows players to develop defensive skills and cover more area while conserving energy. Clay court shoes usually will have a tight herringbone or wave pattern to provide that sliding control and grip.

The overall surface of the outsole is generally flat. A true clay court shoe can be used on hard courts, but the player certainly won’t get the best performance. Usually there is less cushioning and the traction will suffer, but the big difference will come in durability. Clay shoes are not set up to withstand the abrasive aspects endured on a hard court.

Hard Court Shoes

Most hard court shoes will incorporate a similar herringbone pattern, although it will be less dense than a clay sole pattern and often less uniform. Often the patterns may vary in different areas of the foot.

One big difference that may not be visible is the compound used in the rubber. Generally, for hard court shoes, the rubber is much harder for durability reasons and can be thicker, especially in high-wear areas of the shoe, according to the shoe design team at Head. Most hard-court shoes are not suitable for clay courts and some may even damage the softer clay-court surface with their deeper grooves.

Dual Purpose

Hunter Hines of Dunlop/Diadora says it is important to know what the player is seeking in order to get them in the right shoe with the right outsole.

“All-court/all-surface shoes are great for both surfaces as they have a good herringbone pattern, albeit different size and directional treads,” Hines says. “At the end of the day, it’s what the player is most comfortable with, but a good all-court outsole will meet the needs of just about every player.”

If the player commonly plays on both surface types, the dual-purpose or all-court shoe may be the best answer, although they will sacrifice some performance offered in a shoe specifically designed for the playing surface.

Lacing Systems

The laces are another component that players usually don’t think much about, but the lacing system, which literally holds your foot in the shoe, is crucial to comfort and performance. In fact, most people may not realize they don’t have to use all the lacing holes in the shoe; they can skip holes if it makes the shoe more comfortable or produces a better fit.

Companies look to strike a balance of just enough pressure and comfort. While there are slight variations in lacing systems, the two main variances are a traditional tongue style and a tongue-less or uni-tongue style.

The traditional style allows for more control on “how tight is too tight,” but the uni-tongue generally provides a more snug fit and is usually preferred by aggressive players.

Your shoe inventory should be diverse enough to offer your customers options so they can find the perfect shoe. Having a well-trained staff that not only knows their inventory but also are good listeners will go a long in way in keeping customers happy.

When players can have enough choices so they can find a shoe that not only fits well but also will help them perform better, it’s a win/win for everyone.

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About the Author

Bob Patterson , the founder of the RacquetMAXX customization service, is a Master Racquet Technician with more than 20 years of experience. He was RSI's Stringer of the Year in 2005. He is Executive Director for the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association.



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