On the weekend I watched a young player slip over on Synthetic Grass during the warm up for his match. Synthetic Grass has a layer of sand over it making it slippery. He slipped because of his shoes. He was wearing his 2 month old, hard court shoes. He had left his grass court shoes at home this time. After falling and taking some skin off he forfeited the match in the warm up!
(in an upcoming article I talk about what you SHOULD do if you injure yourself in a match)
Amazing, you can do all this training and practice and something simple like keeping 2 pairs of shoes in your bag can determine how well you play. Simple really! I personally always have both sets of shoes in my bag. Even if I am playing a ‘hard court tournament’ I will bring my grass court shoes just in case. Why? Well I know that if there is a delay sometimes other ‘outside’ courts are used. This may mean different tennis centers are used and potentially they can be a different surface.
Be strict with yourself. Never wear your grass court shoes on a hard surface – not even once. The hard courts just strip the tread off – you want maximum grip when you need it.
So why different shoes?
There are 2 main things to look for when deciding what shoes to wear when. Cushion and grip pattern.
On a hard court surface the pattern does not matter as much as the cushion. Having extra padding, cushioning, gel, air – whatever the technology – is important.
Elite players notice the difference between a good and inferior pair of shoes. Always purchase shoes with padding at the front as well as the heel. This subtle and overlooked difference can be the difference between you feeling light or heavy on your feet.
I remember playing in shoes which were the model down from the top model. It felt like I was playing in thongs. Tennis players spen alot of time on the balls of our feet – jumping for smashes, recovering from a wide ground stroke, going forward on our volleys. You really notice the difference with extra cushioning at the front.
The other reason why cushion matters on hard court is the heat of the court. Playing on a hot court in the middle of the day can be very draining. You need a large buffer between you and the court to keep that heat away from your feet.
Cushioning also – obviously – protects you from injury. By the shoe absorbing the impact – it stops you from taking the impact to your ankles, knees and leg muscles. You also want some ankle support.
Ok, now ‘slippery’ surfaces. Clay, synthetic grass, grass etc. Cushioning and durability is less important. It is more about the tread pattern typically you want a shoe with the majority a heringbone pattern. The rubber can actually be softer so the shoe can mould to the surface of the court. The old Dunlop Volleys are a great shoe for these conditions – however – offer very little ankle support or cushioning.
NEVER wear your shoes on the wrong surface. You need your slippery tread to be fresh, not worn from use on a hard court. And Vice Versa.
Keep both pairs in your tennis bag if you are going to an event and there is a chance between playing on either surface. It can be the difference between winning and loosing.
I also recommend playing on both surfaces regularly. Playing on slippery surfaces is a completely different game to hard courts. They are both very enjoyable. We are going to discuss some surface strategies in an upcoming article.