The Difference Between Tennis Shoes & Sneakers

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While it is certainly forgivable to conflate the two terms, there is indeed a difference between tennis shoes and sneakers. Historically, sneakers were invented first, and tennis shoes branched out of the sneaker category. Since then, tennis shoes have taken on their own identity.

Tennis Shoes

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Tennis shoes differ from sneakers in that they are designed to improve and compliment tennis players’ performance. Tennis shoes are adapted with a wide and low rubber sole for rapid lateral movements and changes of direction. This feature helps prevent rolled ankles. Tennis players also have a tendency to wear out the toe of their shoe for these same reasons, so the toes of many tennis shoes are reinforced with extra rubber or other material. Scuffing tennis courts with black marks damages the courts, so soles are non-scuffing.


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Sneakers encompass a far larger variety of shoes than the sport-specific category of tennis shoes. If you bought a pair of tennis shoes with no intention of ever playing tennis, you wouldn’t be wrong to call them sneakers. Very generally, sneakers are shoes with a rubber sole and a canvas or synthetic material on top. In other words, all tennis shoes are sneakers but not all sneakers are tennis shoes.


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Goodyear started to manufacture the first rubber soled shoes in the 1880s under the name Keds. Later, these shoes were nicknamed ‘sneakers’ because they were exceptionally quiet on all surfaces, allowing you to ‘sneak’ around in them. In 1931, Adidas released their first tennis shoe and Converse followed suit by releasing the Jack Purcell tennis shoe. Since then, the tennis shoe has become specialized for the game of tennis. Sneakers became increasingly popular after the 1950s among teenagers and rebels and increasingly important and popular in sports like basketball and football. Sneakers continued to grow in popularity and have become both a practical sport necessity and a fashion statement.


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The cost of sneakers and tennis shoes depend on the innovative technology created for the shoe, the brand and the model. Inexpensive sneakers will have lower quality rubber soles, less intricate stitching, and little or no ‘air’ in the soles. Mid-range sneakers that usually advertise special technology or comfort additions cost more. Because tennis shoes must fit certain qualifications to be court-ready, the budget range tends to be higher than that of sneakers. At the high end, tennis shoes and sneakers are advertised as specialty or limited models.


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Sneakers are generally easier to find than tennis shoes. Sneakers are available at virtually any shoe store. The best place to find quality tennis shoes is at a tennis shop, because they select shoes that fit a range of tennis players’ needs. You can also purchase sneakers or tennis shoes online, but check to make sure you can return them if they don’t fit right.