Christmas comes early for New Balance tennis fans with the introduction of an update to the performance oriented 996 shoe series. The New Balance 996v4 isn’t just a cosmetic update though; it boasts an incredible amount of technological advancements. The knit upper is now made with Hypoknit, a breathable material with a backer that has data driven perforations for targeted support on tennis specific movement. The tongue has also been slightly updated to include wings (think half sleeve) to keep you locked in place. The biggest enhancement is the replacement of RevLite cushioning with a full length midsole composed of FuelCell, New Balance’s most responsive and energy returning material. NDurance rubber continues to offer durability and the sole now includes Lightweight Solid Rubber (LWSR) in low wear areas to reduce weight. The 996v4 also features an 8 mm heel-to-toe drop versus 12 mm on the outgoing model, bringing you closer to the court than ever before. I was eager to hit the court with this game changing update to one of New Balance’s best performance shoes.
The 996v4 was comfortable right out of the box. The shoe felt a bit more true to size in my size 10 than the old 996v3 which felt a bit short in the same size. The standard D width fit my foot well with the perfect amount of room in the forefoot and toe box. Immediately, the upper felt softer on the new model without feeling too loose or floppy. It flexed in all the right places right off the bat, but still felt like it had support for lateral movement. I instantly felt the switch to the new FuelCell midsole. The shoe felt like it had significantly more rebound and cushion than previous 996 models. While it still didn’t offer a ton of forefoot cushion, this model was vastly better feeling underfoot than previous iterations. I found plenty of ankle cushion and support, especially for a relatively low cut shoe. The addition of wings on the tongue was also welcome. I found the tongue on older models to constantly slide out of position and require adjusting. The 996v4 stayed much more locked in place, giving the shoe a nice secure feel without being overly snug like some of the full sleeve style shoes are.
Breathability with the 996v4 was also very solid. The knit upper gave it a light, airy feel and it was supremely easy to play for extended periods of time. I never felt like the shoe was baking my feet or holding a lot of sweat in. The perforated Hypoknit material breathed easy and seemed better ventilated than the knit but less forgiving material used on the previous 996v3. I had no doubt I could take the shoe on court for multiple hours in the peak of summer without my feet begging me to take them off.
Performance & Durability
From my first hit, I was impressed with the on court performance of the 996v4. On court, it felt incredibly light and fast to react. The usage of materials like Hypoknit and LWSR made the shoe feel quicker than ever before. I appreciated the lower to the court feel and it was an improvement over the old model. It may not have had the same level of lockdown stability offered by its higher priced sibling the Fresh Foam Lav, but I preferred the court feel of the 996v4 to the higher riding heel that the Lav has. The shoe had much higher lateral stability than the 896 series and I felt I had plenty of support on hard cuts and changes of direction. The FuelCell midsole absolutely shined, providing excellent cushioning and an explosive feel on the first step. For me, the switch to Fuel Cell was completely game changing for this series. I found previous 996 models to bottom out from a cushioning perspective rather quickly. Armed with FuelCell, the 996v4 delivered responsive feel and cushion every time I took the court. The NDurance rubber outsole provided excellent grip while still being able to give on changes of direction or if I slid into shots. It seemed to hold up to hard courts well although I did have some balding of the tread under the ball of my foot by the time my play test was over. Overall, the 996v4 was an extremely impressive performance shoe that should serve even the highest level players well.
New Balance takes their “Always in Beta” mantra to the next level with the new 996v4. It offers an incredible amount of advancement over previous models in the series. The standout is the FuelCell midsole, which offers massively improved cushioning and outstanding response and explosiveness. The Hypoknit upper makes the shoe feel lighter and faster than ever. Players looking for a light, well cushioned shoe that provides outstanding connection to the court and plenty of support should definitely have the New Balance 996v4 on their wish list.
About the Reviewer: Matt Locke formerly served for 3 years as the Junior Programs & Development Coordinator for USTA-Idaho. He is a PTR certified coach and is an active USTA 4.5 League and Tournament player.