Specialized footwear for tennis is nearly as old as the sport, and some designs — including the Adidas Stan Smith and Rod Laver — have become so iconic that most men don’t know their roots or the players for which they’re named. But modern tennis shoes have a host of similarities. All feature a durable, non-marking rubber outsole with a multi-directional tread for grip on asphalt courts. All have softer midsole foam to absorb the pounding of an hour or two of play. And all feature uppers with overlaid reinforcements to provide breathability and lateral stability. The biggest decision for the player searching for the perfect shoe is a combination of game style and fit on the foot, with an emphasis on the latter. In short, if it’s already digging in somewhere, it’s only going to get worse.
With all of the above, a quality shoe that fits your foot should cost around $100, though some may be priced substantially higher based on player endorsement, brand prominence, and other factors. If durability is the chief concern, search for a shoe that carries an outsole guarantee — with these, a company pledges to replace its product should it wear out before the allotted time. (Keep in mind, however, that these shoes may be heavier to ensure their longevity.) Finally, some shoes on this list feature endorsements by certain professionals. By all means, if you’re a Novak Djokovic stan, wear his shoe. But in the perfect world, a shoe is worn for its performance and fit, with everything else — color, signature, and maker — ancillary at best.
The Best Tennis Shoes for Men: At a Glance
Nike Zoom Vapor 9.5 Tour
Designed by Nike legend Tinker Hatfield (Mr. Jordan III himself) for Roger Federer in 2012, this shoe has continued to evolve over the years to mixed reviews. But the 9 Tour is still referenced with awe by many. “[It’s] the best shoe ever made,” says Nikola Aracic, 46, a former Division I All-American, tennis coach, and owner of the Intuitive Tennis YouTube channel.
While its secret sauce of responsive cushioning, a durable and grippy outsole, breathable mesh, and a thick tongue all contribute to a great fit, what most men we spoke with cited as its greatest strength is the over-arch lock. Five finger-like semi-independent pieces connect the upper to below the midsole for a secure fit, next to nil slippage, and ballet-like precision foot placement over long rallies. Thanks to a reissue by Nike, you can avoid eBay fees and buy new.
KSwiss Ultrashot 3
American original KSwiss makes the most plush shoe on this list by several court lengths. Some may find its cushion too slow for baseline scrambles, but doubles players, serve-and-volleyers, and those sensitive to impact will love them. “[If] you’ve got that bomb serve coming, you probably won’t care as much about a lighter shoe,” says former Davis Cup player Wkwesi Williams, a Los Angeles-based coach and Wilson Advisory Staff member.
New Balance Coco CG1
Even Nadal and Federer are simply associated with certain shoes instead of having a signature model. But that may be changing with the New Balance Coco CG1. Here, top women’s player Coco Gauff sets the style bar high with a mid-top cut, a throwback from the sport’s ‘90s heyday. But the CG1’s carbon fiber shank is completely modern, revolutionizing distance running and other sports into which it’s been incorporated. It’s also a cool way to support a dynamic American player. “I want to see tennis take more inspiration from basketball when it comes to developing a culture and a personality,” says Beckett Chung, a former collegiate tennis player who now runs the YouTube channel TennCom.
ON The Roger Pro Clay
Federer may be best known for his eight Wimbledon grass court wins, but his new Roger Pro Clay performs admirably on the shifty surface. Adapted from Fed’s 2021 hardcourt model, the RPC retains the original’s plush feel and ventilation-friendly mesh upper, as well as a wider fit, while adding a full herringbone outsole. “It’s the perfect shoe for the American foot,” says Harry Tong, a 30-year industry veteran and owner of the Tennis Spin YouTube channel.
Arguably the flagship hardcourt shoe by Adidas, the Barricade’s once-narrow fit has widened to accommodate most, while a broad, low base allows fast pivots and lightning-fast direction changes. Tong recommends these especially for those with a history of ankle problems for added support. While not the lightest shoe on this list, it provides a sense of security that builds confidence to pursue every ball.
Nike Zoom Vapor 11
Time doesn’t stop, and the Vapor line, which was first introduced in the mid-aughts, continues to advance with this 2023 update of a classic. Seen on pro players and weekend warriors alike, it’s a safe starting point should you not have the option of trying on before you buy. “There’s good cushioning and good support,” Tong says. “It’s comfortable and playable.”
Frequently Asked Questions About Tennis Shoes
How do I know when I need a new pair of tennis shoes?
Can you see your sock through the bottom or the toe? Would the smell of your shoes in an enclosed space necessitate you searching for another tennis partner? If neither of these is in the affirmative, then there’s life yet left. But one thing to pay attention to are small aches where previously there were none. This may indicate the uneven wearing — and, therefore, the uneven joint angles — of a shoe’s outsole as it wears to the medial, or inside. If your body’s talking, you should listen.
Tennis shoes are expensive. Can I use my [insert sport] shoes instead?
Sometimes. Running shoes, which are designed to move forward, won’t have the lateral support you’ll need, and their paper-thin uppers will shred quickly when contacting the court. But some athletic shoes can perform admirably in a pinch, including CrossFit-style metabolic conditioning shoes, provided they have uppers that can handle some abrasion. (Many can.) And, as mentioned in the story, basketball requires a similar style of movement, so they can be a great choice, provided their uppers allow some breathability. Will either supplant a tennis-specific shoe? Certainly not. But it’s better than playing barefoot.
Can I use my pickleball shoes for tennis?
Not unless you want to be relentlessly bullied. But otherwise, yes.
The shoe I want is cheaper online. Why should I pay more from my local tennis store?
Because you want a local tennis store to answer your questions about string gauges and troubleshoot your forehand. Because you want someone to complain to about bad line calls and adverse conditions. And you want a place where you can try on a few shoes and find the best one for you — and not the one with the best endorsements. Buy local, shop small.
Sure, I can see my sock. But I think I’ve got at least another week in these shoes.
They’re dead. Give it up.