In April 2017, Milos Raonic visited New Balance’s Sports Research Lab in Lawrence, MA. The top-ranked Canadian experimented with heat maps and pressure plates to analyze his movement in the pursuit of a new, more personalized shoe. The Fresh Foam Lav was the fruit of that labor, designed to a certain extent to reflect Raonic’s needs—more supportive in certain locations, more flex and give in others. How successfully the requirements of a 6-foot-5 rocket launcher translate to common players is anyone’s guess, but my time with the Lav was one of the more positive experiences I’ve recently had in an NB shoe. I felt secure and assured in my movement, even if I didn’t start firing 140+ mph serves.
Lav means “lion” in Serbian, a nickname bestowed upon Raonic by his grandfather. The moniker is meant to inspire confidence and assertiveness, as well as call out the more aggressive styling. The assurance starts with a secure upper outfitted with a new technology: Kinetic Stitch. It’s a TPU (plastic) thread sewn into the mesh to offer a lockdown feel and increased stability in the strength zones, most notably during lateral cuts. It’s designed to be more lightweight, forgiving and breathable than the knit upper of the NB 996v3. The external TPU heel counter also provides security during when scrambling around the court.
Like an increasing number of new releases, the Lav has a tongue-less bootie construction, which I often find to be a hit-or-miss proposition—on the positive side it can be sleek and supportive; negatively, it can be too restrictive and complicated to put on. The Lav struck a nice balance of providing security with enough give for a relatively seamless point of entry—although the grab loops along the spine of the shoe certainly help the process. The forefoot isn’t as spacious as previous NB models, which is a plus for players with narrower feet (like me). The heel counter is also well padded and supple around the ankle. However, there are only six eyelets and at times I felt I could use one more so the laces could really squeeze the shoe around my foot.
Fresh Foam, a technology familiar to running enthusiasts, has been engineered in the midsole to provide cushioning. The usual plushness of the padding had to be modified to suit the demands of tennis. Along the outside of the shoe, you can see broader hexes in the heel area for added shock absorption, and narrower hexes in the forefoot to promote better court connection and responsiveness. The thickness difference created a slightly elevated feel to start—there’s a 12mm heel-to-toe drop—but became less apparent as the heel sank into a pocket over a few court sessions. The padding and support features on the Lav do add a bit of weight—my 11.5 checked in at 15.8 oz., putting it at the upper end of the high-performance category. I didn’t as quick in the Lav as some other shoes, but it’s also not intended to be a lightweight speed shoe.
A frequent problem I incur with NB shoes is a lack of arch support. Granted, that’s a me problem—my arches are somewhat high. The last NB shoe I spent extended court time with, the MC 896v2, was otherwise comfortable and responsive, but left me wanting in that category, too. The Fresh Foam Lav better served my purposes. I could still use a little more support in that part of the shoe, but I was able to play for several hours at a clip without enduring the fatigue in my foot that generally results from an NB outing.
The NDurance modified herringbone patterned outsole translates to any surface. It didn’t produce as much squeak as other shoes on hard courts, but it still had good levels of grip and give. The PU medial guard adds extra durability to high wear areas, and the 6-month outsole warranty make the Lav attractive to shoe abusers.
Overall, the Fresh Foam Lav is a solid new line from New Balance. It’s one of those shoes that checks nearly all of the required boxes. It’s supportive, comfortable and promotes a sense of security around the court. I’d like to see a little more arch and ankle support and little less weight, but those are personal quibbles. In the tennis shoe jungle, this lion is one of strength and stability more so than speed and agility. If that describes your footwork around the court, you should hunt down the Lav.