Tennis Shoes vs Sneakers – What’s The Difference?

We write about tennis shoes a lot. It is our job, after all. When we are doing our research, we often see the words tennis shoes and sneakers used interchangeably.

Of course folks are 100% free to do whatever they want, we did feel that we should put together a guide on the difference between the two.

That way, none of our readers will accidentally purchase some sneakers expecting them to perform on the tennis court.

Sneakers and Tennis Shoes – Similarities

Before we start talking about the differences as we compare tennis shoes vs sneakers, let’s start with what they hold in common.

Part of the reason why people call tennis shoes by the name sneakers is that tennis shoes are just sneakers, albeit slightly more specialized than other sneakers [1]. All that defines sneakers really are:

  1. Footwear
  2. Rubber Soles
  3. Material/Fabric Over Top of Foot

Of course, many shoes do not actually use rubber soles nowadays, but they will certainly use something similar.

It’s really that simple for similarities between tennis shoes vs sneakers.

Let’s jump into the differences.

Tennis Shoes vs Sneakers – Differences


We are going to start by confusing you (sorry about that!)

Part of the reason why there is confusion in the difference between tennis shoes and sneakers is that people do use the terms interchangeably. In fact, it is a roughly 50% split in the United States.


Those in the Northeast of the country are more likely to use the term sneakers. The further south you go, the more likely you are to hear the term tennis shoes.

When you are shopping for a pair of sneakers, simply pay attention to the sneaker category a pair is placed in by the respective shoe companies. If they state a pair are tennis shoes, then this means that they have been designed specifically for tennis.

If they do not list a sport at all, then it is just a general-purpose sneaker. Once your brand-new shoes or sneakers have arrived at your doorstep, you can go back to calling them whatever you want!


Sneakers were originally designed to be shoes for sports. Just a general-purpose shoe. Up until 1892, most of the shoes on the market weren’t really that good for sports. In fact, they were probably barely that good for walking around in.

tennis player

Shortly after, someone had decided to slap some rubber on the bottom of a pair of shoes (it was Goodyear, mostly to sell their rubber) and sneakers were born.

Nowadays, sneakers are still used for sports, but they are much more of a fashion symbol. For those that are heading out and want to rock a more casual style, you would probably throw on a decent pair of sneakers from one of the big brands, or one of the smaller brands that still have shoes that look rather dapper.

When sneakers are used in sports, they tend to be more of a general-purpose shoe. The sort of shoe that you can dive into most sports with. They would be comfortable to wear, but you wouldn’t necessarily thrive with them.

The Game of Tennis

Tennis shoes, on the other hand, have been explicitly designed for playing tennis. Older styles may have a bit more of a general-purpose. However, as shoe technology has improved over the years, they are becoming more and more specialized.

If you buy proper tennis shoes, you can expect them to function best for a player on the court as opposed to jogging or football. So if you are looking for a pair of tennis shoes, knowing that you only plan to walk in them – it’s probably best to target a pair of walking shoes.

TL;DR – As of this decade, tennis shoes are for made specifically for tennis. Sneakers are intended for those that want a general-purpose shoe for something like gym shoes.


Sneakers Support

The support in the two types of shoes will be slightly different. Of course, this is going to tie into the use of the shoe.

As sneakers are more general-purpose shoes, they have been designed to support people that are walking in them, perhaps a bit of light running.

Nothing too strenuous.

Just something to keep your feet comfortable while you are traveling from point A to point B. They may have a bit of extra support for lateral movements i.e. from side to side, but nothing too intense because this would hamper your ability to walk in the shoes.

Tennis Shoes Support

Tennis shoes, on the other hand, are different. They need to be able to support the following:

  • Running from side to side
  • Sudden turns
  • Lateral Movements
  • Running forward and backward at fast speeds
Rubber Sole Support

The lateral support in a tennis shoe needs to be doing a lot more. It needs to be preventing your feet from becoming injured when you are twisting and turning on the tennis court.

In recent years, tennis shoe manufacturers have been working tirelessly to improve their tennis shoes to ensure that the feet have the maximum amount of lateral support, but movements on the court remains as natural as it possibly can be.

If you are looking to play tennis a lot, then you need to have proper tennis shoes. We cannot see how you would thrive playing the game to a decent standard if you wore sneakers. There just isn’t going to be any lateral support there.

Sole Differences of Sneakers vs Tennis Shoes

The rubber soles on tennis shoes are going to be different too.

For starters, they are going to be fantastic at absorbing impact [2]. During tennis game play, you are likely going to be jumping up in the air and hitting balls with an immense force.

As they say, what goes up, must come down.

Tennis players jump with a large amount of force, and same returning to the ground.

Rubber soles are required on sports shoes to be able to absorb the shock of that. If you don’t, then you are going to be ending up with some very painful ankles.

Shock Absorption

Shock Absorption

As with the support in the shoe, tennis shoe manufacturers work incredibly hard to design the shock-absorbing capabilities of their sneakers and tennis shoes. If any tennis player was to jump in a normal athletic shoe and a then with a pair of tennis shoes, the difference would be obvious.

This isn’t where the differences in the soles end, though. Let’s move on to the grip of the shoe.

Grip & Sole Pattern

In tennis, it is important to have just the right amount of grip. Tennis players don’t want to be sliding all over the tennis court. However, you also need to be able to move positions quickly.

Tennis shoes need to have the right amount of grip. The sole pattern on a tennis shoe is typically a herringbone pattern, which is typically not seen on athletic shoes. It is this pattern that increases the grip on hard surfaces like a clay court, in all directions.

It is important to note that playing on a grass court does require something different than typical rubber shoes.

Sneakers have a rubber sole pattern that would be considered general purpose. They will have enough grip to stop you randomly falling over, but not enough for an intense and agile game on the tennis court.

Sole Marking Properties

Finally (yes, there is a lot going on with tennis shoe soles), most tennis shoe soles have been designed not to mark the playing surface.

If you are playing indoors, then you will know just how important non-marking soles are. The last thing you want is to fear the wrath of the tennis court owner because you have left some deep, black skid marks right there on their pristine playing surface.

Cost Considerations


When considering the debate of whether to get sneakers or tennis shoes, an often important consideration is their cost. Athletic shoes or sneakers are cheaper than tennis shoes as a whole.

To understand why, you will need a quick economics lesson. It is all about economies of scale. Because sneakers are more general-purpose, they are going to be in demand by a lot more people.

As a result, more of them are going to be produced. The more that are produced, the lower the cost to the manufacturer to produce them. The savings are passed onto customers.

Intentional Design

Tennis shoes are designed for a specific sport. They will only be used by people playing tennis (or similar games like pickleball).

While tennis is a popular sport, we can guarantee that there are fewer interested in tennis shoes than a general purpose like running. For this reason, running shoes are far more common than tennis shoes.

A lot of tech has gone into the creation of tennis shoes too. Fewer tennis players, and all of that extra research and development that has gone into the creation of tennis shoes means that the price is going to be higher.

That being said, we have noticed that the tennis shoe market has become a little bit more competitive as of late, and we have begun to see the cost of tennis shoes fall a bit.


sewing machine

Some may think that sneakers or canvas shoes would be more durable. After all, they are designed to be worn a lot more than tennis shoes. However, this typically isn’t the case.

The amount of pressure a pair of tennis shoes endures on the court is much greater than a pair of sneakers or running shoes. Consider the amount of support and the cushioning needed to prevent ankle injuries [3].

Some professional tennis players switch out their shoes every match. After all, once that support and cushioning starts to fail, your performance on the tennis court is going to dwindle.

As a result, most tennis shoes are going to be more durable than your average pair of sneakers.

Can You Wear Sneakers to Play Tennis?

Sure, you can absolutely sport a pair of sneakers while you play tennis. However, we would only recommend this on a casual basis.

As we have said before, normal sneakers haven’t been designed for tennis. This means that while you should be able to play the odd game in them, don’t expect to be that competitive.

You certainly wouldn’t be able to play to the best of your ability as you wouldn’t be able to move fast enough on the tennis court.

If you are playing tennis more than a few times per week, then when it comes to sneakers vs tennis shoes, the answer is clear; you should always be picking up a pair of tennis shoes.

You are doing yourself a massive disservice if you do not.

So Tennis Shoes and Sneakers – What Will It Be?

frequently asked questions

We hope that we have managed to clear up the difference between tennis shoes vs sneakers.

Sneakers and tennis shoes have a lot in common, but tennis players need to determine what’s best for them based on how often they play and the court surface.

There will still be more differences that you will discover when doing your research into choosing a decent shoe.

So, compare like that too!

Don’t just automatically assume that because a pair is considered tennis shoes, that they’re automatically going to have better support than a standard sneaker.

Reference Articles


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