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The anatomy of a tennis shoe: Support

Posted on September 6, 2012 in Shoes and Apparel

Shoes are not just something we put on our feet anymore. They’re a bevy of technology, sciences and theories mixed together to offer the best possible support system for our feet while we’re on the court.  Each shoe offers something different, and we individually look for qualities and features that best serve our specific needs. Shoes not only help us move faster, they allow us to change directions quicker, prevent slipping, support injuries, provide comfort during long hours on court… It’s endless. Every player wants something different – we can just look at the pros to see this: Federer loves his Nike Vapor 9 Tours, Tsonga in his adidas Feather IIs, Roddick and the Babolat Propulse — each shoe offers certain qualities that these players have come to rely on.

Tsonga at Wimbledon. Photo by Cynthia Lum.

This blog is the first in a series that will focus on certain qualities of shoes, and different shoes that offer these qualities. I like to think of the anatomy of a shoe as something we sometimes overlook. If we don’t know what we’re really looking for, then how do we know that the shoe we’re wearing is the best for us? There are so many parts, that when put together, create the perfect tennis shoe. I will focus on five aspects: support, weight, comfort, stability and durability.

1. Support

What makes a shoe supportive?


Lace system: Haven’t really thought about your laces before? Let me explain. The laces on your shoe weave through the upper to tighten the shoe, and by doing this, they pull the shoe in certain places to wrap around your foot. This provides some of the support you get  from the upper of the shoe by holding your foot in place, and by providing comfort and pressure. The top eyelet is the most important because it is the one that holds and locks the lace system, and keeps your foot securely and comfortably in your shoe. The Nike Vapor 9 Tours have a technology called “adaptive fit construction” — finger-like synthetic upper pieces that attach to the lace system allow how tight the support is around the shoe, which means you can customize the wrap around your foot.


Upper: When it comes to this part of the shoe, the structure is more important than the materials used in regards to support. “Cage” systems wrap around your foot and stop the material from flexing out of shape when you’re moving. There’s a bit of a trick to it: if it’s too stiff it can cause discomfort, blisters and be uncomfortable, and if it’s too soft it can lose support and stability. A technology that works for this is Nike Flywire, which is a thread made of a substance called Vectran (a manufactured fiber spun from liquid polymer). Instead of using layers of (sometimes bulky) materials to support the whole foot, Flywire can be added. It’s placement in the shoe at key points maximizes the support that more materials would normally produce (the shoe stay light and comfortable, while still offering the support).

Fit: None of us has exactly the same shape feet, and although we are able to adjust the length, sometimes it can be hit and miss with the width. If the shoe is too wide for our narrow feet, or vice versa, how can we expect to get the most efficient support? Although general sizes normally function well for most people and support is provided through features of the entire shoe, sometimes the little extras make all the difference and the right fit is essential to give the proper support needed. Every brand offers a slightly different fit, but New Balance is the only brand that we sell at Tennis Warehouse that gives width options, and we carry two or more widths in each model.


Heel security: To keep your foot in place your heel needs to be secured. It can’t slip around because sliding within your shoe can almost be as bad as sliding unintentionally on the court. To be snug and secure in the right places can make all the difference, and if your heel is locked into place, the rest of your foot can be supported correctly. One technology that locks the heel into place for better support is the Yonex TPU strap. It functions as an external heel cradle that wraps around the outside of the shoe to add support for your foot and stability for the entire shoe.

Arch Stability/Support: While support around the outside of the shoe is important, the inside also plays an important role. We all have different arch heights, and although the arch support doesn’t necessarily have to fit exactly the height of our own arches, it can add or take away from support and comfort. If your arch isn’t supported properly, it can cause pain, and conversely if it’s too high, or too far forward, it’s also not comfortable. Many companies are now taking a progressive approach to creating a supportive insole (a good example is Babolat with its SFX shoe). Also, a welcomed addition can be separate insoles that suit your specific foot shape and arch type, and these can make shoes a lot more supportive, particularly if you have an injury – you just slip out the one that the shoe already has and slip your specific fit in.

Despite many shoes that we sell offering really great support, the playtesters rated their favorites right now:

  •  Asics Gel Solution Speed – Defying traditional lightweight shoes, this shoe provides higher than expected durability and support. It also provides great out of the box comfort, and of course, great support.
  • Nike Vapor 9 Tour – The fit of the shoes is designed around Federer’s desire for a running shoe-like feel with the support and stability of a tennis shoe. It is lightweight, breathable, with no break-in comfort and excellent support (take note, this is Chris’ favorite shoe OF ALL TIME).
  •  Asics Gel Resolution 4 – Offering great cushioning, durability, high performance stability and as per this blog, great support. Don’t sacrifice any features, as this shoe,  (according to Jason) it just “does EVERYTHING well.”
  • Yonex Power Cushion 308 – This shoe does well in the comfort and support areas. Designed with the Power Cushion technology in the midsole and insole for a responsive and comfortable ride, it also looks really cool in the men’s all black colorway!


See you again soon,


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