Tennis Shoes vs Sneakers: What is the Difference?

Confused about the difference between sneakers and tennis shoes? We break it down for you.

Last Update:

We may all be aware of words often used interchangeably but do not have the same definition, although pretty similar in meaning. Such an example is undisputably the tennis shoes vs sneakers debate. 

Although people tend to use these two terms as synonyms (and you might be one of them!), you would be surprised to learn that these two words have two distinct meanings. There is no shame in not knowing the difference; however, if you want to learn the real definitions of these two words, I got you covered! 

And, of course, for you curious ones out there eager to learn more: I will let you in on some pretty interesting details about the difference between sneakers and tennis shoes, when to use them, and more! Keep on reading for all the facts.

tennis shoes vs sneakers difference

What are Sneakers?

Sneakers are shoes that were introduced first by a US Rubber company in 1892, quickly becoming quite the popular footwear. These shoes have rubber soles, making them very comfortable for walking, running, and playing different sports such as basketball.

Their name comes from the fact that the rubber soles do not make too much noise on most surfaces, making it easier to sneak around.

Now, think of sneakers as a tree, and this tree contains various branches, such as slip-on shoes, high-tops, and the like. Put simply, “sneakers” is the general term serving as a container of many shoe types. It also includes tennis shoes; therefore, they can be a separate branch of this tree representing sneakers.

Sneakers are generally made of rubber, canvas, and various synthetic materials, specifically for the upper part, while using rubber soles. They aren’t shoes made for a specific purpose, but people generally think of them as gym shoes used for athletic activities. 

Generally speaking, most sneakers are not meant to be used for playing tennis, and they’re meant more for casual use and stylistic purposes. However, no one will stop you from using sneakers to play tennis.

What are Tennis Shoes?

Tennis shoes are a branch of sneakers made specifically for usage on tennis courts, although they can also be used for playing croquet, bicycling, or even just casual use like normal sneakers. They have existed since the mid to late 1800s and were originally called Plimsoll shoes.

Although we categorized tennis shoes as a separate branch in the sneakers family tree, it is necessary to note that while tennis shoes can be sneakers, the opposite is not true. So, sneakers cannot be tennis shoes.

They’re made of material that absorbs shock while you’re playing a game and are made in a way that specifically supports your legs and feet so you can play tennis safely. Tennis shoes provide plenty of lateral support for quick movements on the court and have less padding. 

These shoes are also resistant to wear and tear because their soles are made from polyurethane, flexible material capable of bracing the impact of the feet when they hit the ground. 

Tennis shoes are also slimmer, as they are made primarily to protect the ankles of the player and make them comfortable during play. Lastly, it is essential to note that tennis shoes have their sub-categories. Many tennis shoes are made for specific court types and are divided accordingly.

Difference Between Sneakers and Tennis Shoes

The main difference between sneakers and tennis shoes is their designed purposes. Sneakers are generally meant for walking and running, while tennis shoes are made to be used mainly on a tennis court. 

1- Purpose

The primary purpose of sneakers is to provide enough cushioning for running and walking. For instance, when you are running, you are usually only moving forward, and that’s the idea that sneakers are based upon. They provide comfort and support for the heel-to-toe movement striking the ground, but not for lateral movements, as you rarely move laterally while running. 

On the other hand, tennis shoes are made to be used on a tennis court, and while you could definitely use them for walking, they aren’t mainly designed with that in mind.

Many of the movements made in tennis are lateral, side-to-side movements, and tennis shoes are made for that purpose. In essence, though they fall into the sneaker family of shoes themselves, they’re also the exact opposite of them in their purpose.

2- Material 

The material used for sneakers is also more lightweight than tennis shoes. The difference in their weight lies primarily in these shoes’ usage. Heavier sneakers would make running harder for the runner, who would struggle more if there was added weight on their feet. 

While still striving to be as lightweight as possible, tennis shoes focus on stability over anything else and do not want to sacrifice any of it for less weight. A heavier tennis shoe is also better for a tennis player because there are a lot of situations in which a player will have to place more pressure on one leg, which means more pressure on the shoe. This is unneeded for runners who use both of their feet in tandem to move forward. 

On the other hand, tennis player has to maneuver around the court, sometimes shifting their weight unexpectedly. 

Another material difference is the shock-absorbing fabric that tennis shoes use to absorb the shock while playing. This material absorbs shock and makes forward movement harder, so we see it mainly in tennis shoes and not any type of sneaker on the market.

3- Support

Tennis shoes offer a lot of support to your ankles since you’ll be making a lot of sudden side-to-side movements, as mentioned above.

With a normal shoe such as a general sneaker, you would be more likely to sprain your ankle. 

Tennis shoes can have padding around the collar, support built into the mid area, and a supporting shank in the midfoot, which helps your ankle stay supported, especially with some tight laces to keep everything in place. 

High-top shoes are also an option; they aid in supporting your stability even more, but you might find them a little too restrictive, and your movement might slow down. This slowdown results from your ankles being kept extra tightly in place. 

They’re still worth trying out, especially if you have had a recent injury or are worried about your ankle’s health. If we compare these features of tennis shoes to sneakers, however, they offer a lot less in this regard since, as mentioned above, running in a forward direction has less of a chance of spraining your ankle, as long as you don’t slip in them.

4- Durability

The durability of your shoes is a very important factor to think about when buying a shoe. High-quality sneakers can be quite durable, but on a general basis, it can be said that tennis shoes are more durable than normal sneakers. As mentioned before, tennis shoes are usually heavier than sneakers, making them more durable. 

There are certainly more lightweight options for tennis shoes that you can use; however, their durability is lowered by quite a lot and will wear out much easier than their heavier counterparts.

However, the type of court you’re playing on also matters in this case since hard courts will be harsher on your shoes, while clay courts aren’t as tough on the outsole, making lightweight shoes somewhat more viable on them.

5- Cushioning

Tennis shoes have less cushioning than sneakers. While sneakers have more cushioning to provide general comfort for walking and everyday use, tennis shoes have less cushioning because they focus on providing stability and flexibility. 

Foam or EVA cushioning is also a part of the shock-absorption technology mentioned previously, helping the player absorb the shock from their steps while playing tennis.

6- Availability

Sneakers are widely-available compared to tennis shoes. As previously mentioned, sneakers are general-purpose shoes that people wear on casual outings to look fashionable or for athletic activities, such as gym, jogging, and such. 

Since they are an “all-around” shoe type, as I like to call them, they are also available in almost all shoe stores that you can visit anywhere worldwide. 

Therefore, finding a pair of sneakers to suit your taste is not challenging. On the other hand, we established that tennis shoes are specific-purpose shoes. They are made for tennis players to help them feel comfortable during their games. And since their purpose is so specific, I would be surprised if you could find any pair of tennis shoes in a small shoe shop. 

You will need to look into athletic shoe stores to find them, and even then, they may lack variety, depending on where you live. Online shoe stores may be your best bet for tennis shoes in this case!

Sneakers vs Running Shoes

After learning about the difference between sneakers and tennis shoes, you might be falling into the pits of another debate: sneakers vs. running shoes. But as I always say, do not fret; you’ve got the questions, and I’ve got the answers!

As mentioned above, sneakers are generally made for walking and running. Any kind of sneaker may work as a running shoe, as long as it provides cushioning, ease of light-weightedness, and support for forwarding movement. 

Yet it is important to note that just like tennis shoes, running shoes are also specific-purpose footwear, unlike sneakers. As the name suggests, running shoes are created keeping runners in mind.

These shoes have a specific type of heel built in so that the impact that the foot makes on the ground when running is not as strong. They are also more flexible than their sneaker counterparts so that it doesn’t strain your foot when it arches while running.

Should You Get Sneakers or Tennis Shoes?

If you are torn between getting sneakers or tennis shoes, you must first determine the purpose that you want these shoes to serve you. If you simply want to wear your new shoes for everyday activities or to make a fashion statement, you would be better off buying a pair of sneakers. 

You will find a great variety of them from which you can choose, many of which can be budget-friendly. At the same time, even if you are a casual tennis player that plays recreationally, you might want to save up your money and go for some good sneakers instead that will still feel comfortable on your feet.

On the other hand, if you are more on the professional side of tennis, I would highly recommend investing in a pair of tennis shoes. It will improve your performance, and you will feel more confident in the field, knowing that your feet are well-supported. 

However, I advise you to consider the type of court you will play in before choosing the right tennis shoes. Take it from a seasoned player; it will make a difference.

But as I always like to say, it comes down to your preferences. You can use sneakers to play tennis, and you can use tennis shoes to wear for a walk or while going to work. What matters is that you feel confident and comfortable, whatever your purpose for wearing them is!

Conclusion

To better understand the differences between tennis shoes and sneakers, here is the recap:

  • Sneakers and tennis shoes are NOT the same, despite people using these words interchangeably.
  • Sneakers are general-purpose shoes made to be comfortable and/or stylish, used for everyday activities or athletic ones.
  • Tennis shoes are specific-purpose shoes made to aid tennis players in their games. They absorb the shock and support the players’ legs and feet because of their material.
  • Sneakers and tennis shoes differ in six areas: purpose, material, support, durability, cushioning, and availability.
  • Running shoes also differ from sneakers because they are specific-purpose shoes built to support runners in their activity by having a specific heel structure and more flexibility.
  • When choosing between a pair of sneakers and a pair of tennis shoes, keep their purpose and your reason for needing them in mind, but most importantly, choose what makes you feel comfortable and confident.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

As you found this post useful...

Share it with your friends and family.

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

I am Mario, a professional tennis player and a USPTA certificated tennis instructor.

Here at TennisRacketBall, we differentiate ourselves from other review sites by actually purchasing and using products. We do not allow ourselves to be bribed! We are 100% honest with our reviews even when manufacturers do not like it.

Disclosure: TennisRacketBall.com participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for publishers to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.