Lightweight without feeling flimsy. Cushioned and stable, but still responsive. For many tennis players those are the parameters for their footwear. Some opt for the equivalent of body armor, others want track shoes, but somewhere in between is the desire for most players. (A little durability wouldn’t hurt, either). The New Balance 996 is just about as light as they come for performance tennis shoes. Currently worn by world No. 13, Milos Raonic, it tries to strike that balance between providing enough support features without weighing a player down.
Thanks to the typically roomy forefoot and availability of widths, New Balance shoes have a dedicated following. The players I know who wear them would consider nothing else. I like New Balance shoes, but have never found a tennis model that suited me. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the 996. Perhaps it was the similar coloring and profile, but it reminded me of the Adidas Feather II, which I happily wore into the ground several years ago. The 996 has a wider toe box—it is New Balance after all—and less of an arch, but the lightweight, low-to-the-ground ride felt eerily similar. It’s also nearly as comfortable, and required no break-in period. The shoes dug nicely into the clay court and felt very responsive and supportive when changing directions. I plan to try them on a hard court to see if they hold up just as well on a less forgiving surface. I have only played in them a few times, so I can’t speak to the long-term integrity of the soft upper or the shoe's overall durability, but it’s reassuring that New Balance offers a one-year outsole guarantee.
And, on August 15th, the 996 is being released in a special US Open edition ($110). The black shoe with teal and electric blue accents has the number “7” on the heel to represent the NYC subway line out to Flushing Meadows. The shoe is part of the 4 Majors Pack: A collection inspired by the host nations of the Grand Slams. A decal on the tongue highlights each location. In addition to the “7” there is a kangaroo for Australia; a royal crown for England; and the Arc de Triomphe for France. The shoes for the other majors will be available closer to their tournament dates in 2014.