Tennis is a game of motion, but winter’s harsh bear-hug can freeze even the most rugged players.
Biting winds and jolting chill can conspire to punish the hardcore and hardy souls who brave the elements and feed their tennis fix outdoors during the season of frost. On a mild day after Thanksgiving in New York, recreational players worked off the holiday stuffing—many wearing only sweats or hoodies as insulation—on the outdoor courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Before the deep freeze blankets the courts completely, it’s a good idea to gear up for winter tennis.
“Layers are important because your body can be cold when you step on court, but as you warm up, move around, and sweat more, you want to control your body temperature and peel off the layers so you don’t over-heat,” says Arlet Allahverdian, apparel buyer for Tennis Express in Houston. “I always recommend a good jacket and a pant as the two main items you need for the winter season.”
Nike’s Hyperply Knit Women’s Tennis Jacket (MSRP: $90, pictured at top-right) and its Men’s Hyperply Therma-Fit Jacket (MSRP: $88) provide protection against cold temperatures and biting wind. The Therma-Fit polyester jacket is designed to retain warmth with increased insulation at a lighter weight. Vents in the shoulder and elbow area offer both breathability and range of motion.
“Hands down, Nike’s is the most sophisticated high-tech tennis jacket I’ve seen,” says Woody Schneider, who owns and operates the National Tennis Center Pro Shop and Grand Central Racquet in New York City.
Women accustomed to playing in skirts can find more coverage with a variety of hybrids that combine tights with skirts.
“These days, many leading companies are making tennis skirts with the Capri tights built in,” says Sol Schwartz, retail manager and buyer for Holabird Sports in Baltimore, MD. “Even playing indoors in a club in the winter, it can still get kind of chilly, so building the capri leggings into the skirt is a good option. Bolle makes a legging which has ball pockets built in, which is a popular piece, and Fila makes a good skort with built-in legging too.”
Fila’s Essenza Skort Legging (MSRP: $65, pictured at right) covers skin completely from waist to ankles, and Wilson’s Capri Skort (seen here) will wrap your legs in protection. The skort with built-in capri leggings features internal ball pockets at both hips and comes in five sizes, extra-small through extra-large. You can layer your limbs matching the capri skort with Wilson’s Women’s Garden LS Pullover (seen here), a long-sleeved polyester-spandex zip mock.
“I prefer a long-sleeved mock with a zipper or a fleece to a jacket for winter play because I think it can be difficult to play in a jacket,” says Joan Dziena of NYC Racquet Sports. “Your mobility is a bit easier in a long-sleeve mock and when you do get warmer you can zip it down immediately for the right level of breathability.”
Fila makes a long-sleeved, Half-zip Fleece for men (MSRP: $65) and its Essenza Half-zip Long-sleeved Top for women (MSRP: $55) offers full coverage and pockets to keep your hands warm.
When tennis players cross-train in the offseason, apparel experts suggest high-tech running apparel to complement cold-weather tennis clothes.
“The toughest part of playing tennis outdoors in the cold winter is dealing with the wind,” says Schwartz. “The wind is what kills you. So a good shell will provide protection, but I also recommend looking to some of the running lines which are designed for cold-weather performance and for layering. Mizuno’s Breath Thermo line is a good one because it’s light, it keeps you warm and absorbs moisture.”
Mizuno’s Men’s Breath Thermo Running Crew (MSRP: $64.99) and its Women’s Renegade ½ Zip (MSRP: $49.99, pictured at right) are two options within this line.
Feet are vulnerable to chafing in cold conditions, and as such socks are an important layer of protection. High-tech options drawing retailers’ recommendations include Sugoi’s R & R Knee High compression socks (MSRP: $40)—for their comfort, durability, and moisture-wicking material—as well as Thorlo's Experia CoolMax socks (MSRP: $14.99), which are reinforced on high-stress areas in the forefoot and heel, and thinner in the mid-foot. Players who wear compression socks to reduce muscle fatigue after play may be interested in 2XU’s Compression Socks for Recovery (MSRP: $44.95, pictured at right), which are made of moisture-wicking material and graduated compression to promote increased circulation.
Elsewhere, Wilson is unveiling its new compression line in January, which should suit cold-weather players.
“Wilson is launching a big initiative for men’s compression wear in 2013 called R2R compression,” says Schwartz. “They’re doing compression in both long-sleeved and short-sleeved seamless crews and seamless compression shorts that work as a base layer to keep your muscles warm with moisture management.”
Body heat escapes through an exposed head, so keeping a lid on it can help.
Asics’ Thermopolis LT Beanie (MSRP: $22) is light-weight polyester/spandex high-performance headwear that combines the comfort of a headband with the protection of a ski cap. It’s contoured around the ears for complete coverage. The brand’s Thermopolis LT Headband (MSRP: $15) will cover your ears and forehand, but won't mess up your 'do. If you’re seeking isolated protection, Asics’ Thermopolis LT Arm Warmers (MSRP: $22, pictured at right) have thumbholes for hand protection and come with a pocket, should you get carded on court.
Another option is Hoo Rag (MSRP: $14.95), which makes seamless, cotton-polyester bandanas that can be worn as headbands, neck gaiters, or wrapped as a full face mask—paintball warrior style—to protect your face, neck, and ears from whipping winds. Design styles range from “Groovy-Hoo”—a print that resembles multi-colored shapes inside of a lava lamp—to the more menacing Hoo Tactical Black, a charcoal-colored bandana with a flying skull logo, perfect for the player who attacks net with the ferocity of a bounty hunter, or one using fashion as a forceful declaration of intimidation against the chill.