Outlook 2005: Footwear
Manufacturers are turning to lightweight yet strong materials for tennis shoes that add support, not extra weight.
By James Martin
Less is more. That’s the philosophy shoe manufacturers are taking this season. They are producing lighter shoes than ever to help players get to the ball faster.
“But the conundrum had always been, how do you reduce the shoe’s weight without compromising stability?” says Dr. David G. Sharnoff, a podiatrist in Shelton, Conn., and a footwear advisor to the WTA Tour. “And you don’t want to lose too much cushioning, either, or else players won’t want to wear the shoes because they’ll be uncomfortable.”
The solution has presented itself in the form of lightweight yet strong materials, such as thermoplastic urethane and graphite, that companies are using for arch and heel supports. These types of materials are also placed on the medial (big-toe) side of the shoe to help prevent inward roll, which is a common problem known as overpronation.
Consider the Yonex SHT-304. It has graphite in the midsole, under the arch, and it weighs a mere 12.8 ounces for men and 10.3 ounces for women. That’s feather-light compared to what was being offered even just a few years ago.
Another new lightweight is the Diadora Speedzone. It features the Air Flow Competition Comfort Bridge, which combines a perforated insole and a lightweight arch support piece with holes cut into it, so your foot doesn’t heat up.
The Speedzone is the perfect example of how companies are not only using lighter, stronger support materials, but also incorporating ventilation into them. “It’s a three-fold benefit,” Sharnoff says. “Reduce the weight, increase the breathability, and enhance support.”
Nike achieves all three with its Air Zoom Vapor Speed. It has a breathable synthetic upper and a low-to-the-ground ride, which increases stability on quick changes of direction. “Think car racing,” Sharnoff says. “On sharp turns, you want your car to be close to the track to avoid tipping over.”
The Adidas A3 Accelerate is also designed for the court instead of a stroll in the park. Instead of using foam, such as ethyl vinyl acetate, for the midsole, which virtually every shoe company does, Adidas has created a thermoplastic urethane midsole, with columns that help guide your foot to a proper landing and cushion the blow. These support structures are also supposed to aid in take-off. Because TPU is stronger than foam, the shoe’s cushioning will last much longer, yet it’s a light material so Adidas is able to produce a durable shoe weighing less than 1 pound (for a size men’s 9 and women’s 7).
“It’s important for the consumer to understand that a high-performance shoe typically won’t offer a ton of cushioning,” Sharnoff says. “It should be comfortable, but strong players want to ‘feel’ the court much like they want to ‘feel’ the ball. As long as you know this, and know whether a shoe is designed for high-performance or all-day, you can’t go wrong.”
If stability is a concern, the Prince T10 is worth a look. It uses supple TPU support straps, called 4Foot Wrap, that allow you to thread the laces through the upper for a snug fit and to prevent your big toe from smashing into the front of the shoe when you come to a hard stop. (Footnote: The T10 is made for players, particularly juniors, who have a narrow foot and found the last Quiktrac model too roomy in the forefoot.)
Other excellent shoes this season include the Reebok Upset DMX, the K-Swiss Defier RS, and the New Balance CT/WCT 802. These models are not the lightest of the lot, but they’re hardly clodhoppers, either. And if you’re looking for all-around shoes that can be worn for the court, and beyond, these just might be your Cinderella slippers.
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