Even with a market share as big as Nike’s, they haven’t shied away from experimenting with their footwear in the last couple of years. Their latest innovation comes by way of introducing the new Nike Zoom Cage 3. The replacement for the Cage 2, this update sports a new bootie style construction and a redesigned upper for improved flexibility and breathability. There have been a lot if high performing “sock” liner shoes coming out recently so I was excited to see how this new offering from Nike stacked up against the competition.
Out of the box, the Cage 3 was much more comfortable than the Cage 2 it replaced. The redesigned mesh bootie with rubber overlay required minimal break in time and was significantly more flexible than the upper on the previous model. The length ran a little short in my opinion. I stayed with my usual size but could have gone up a half size to give myself a little extra breathing room at the end of the shoe. Compared to the previous model, the Cage 3 ran a little snugger in width and through the toe box. Players expecting the same fit would be wise to try on a couple sizes first to ensure they have the appropriate fit. There was an Air Zoom unit in the heel that provided solid cushioning while retaining a relatively low to the court ride height. I appreciated the increased padding around the ankle collar as I think most Nike’s lack in that regard. The bootie construction made the shoe a little tighter to get on but it did an excellent job securing my foot once I was in. The external heel cup did a good job securing the back of my foot and I didn’t have the same sliding issues that I dealt with on the old model Cage. I wanted a bit more cushion in the forefoot as this model didn’t get the forefoot Zoom unit that the Ultra React series has. Lateral stability was good. The upper had a bit more give to it than the ultra stable Asics FF but overall I felt it was on par with other options like the Adidas Ubersonic 2.
The ventilation on this shoe was another area improved over the outgoing model. There was less rubber on the outside of this shoe, allowing the mesh to breathe much more freely. The inner liner of the shoe trapped a little bit of heat but it wasn’t anything that kept me from using the shoe on high heat days. Overall the shoe had a much breezier feel than the Cage 2 which was a great step forward in my view.
The on court performance of the Cage 3 was very solid. It felt very quick during play while still offering a good degree of support. I was impressed with how much stability it offered while still being relatively unobtrusive during play. I would have liked just a little more firmness in the upper as I noticed a little bit of lateral instability on hard stops and direction changes. I also had a couple issues where my foot slide in the shoe and a little bit more length in the toe box would have kept my toes from crashing into the end of the shoe. Ultimately I corrected this issue by using the runner’s loop when tying them. The Zoom unit in the heel absorbed a lot of impact but I could have used a little more cushioning in the forefoot for extended sessions, whether it was another Zoom unit or some of Nike’s new React cushioning (Cage 4 perhaps?). Even though there was less rubber on the upper of this new model, I found plenty of toe and medial side protection. Super heavy toe draggers may miss the thick rubber of the Cage 2 but I found more than enough there to keep me from damaging the shoe. Ultimately I found the outsole durability to be the weak point, as I have with other Nike models. While I have found their XDR rubber resistant to wearing holes in, I found it to go bald incredibly quickly. As the sole of the Cage 3 smoothed out, it became more slippery than I would prefer. While it didn’t feel dangerous, I definitely missed the level of grip it provided new and the sole pattern durability that other brands offer. If you do punch a hole through the outsole, Nike does provide a 6 month guarantee which was an advantage that many other “crossover” style tennis shoes do not provide.
Nike continues evolving the Cage line with the introduction of the Zoom Cage 3. While it may not have the exact same fit for players coming from the previous model, it offers a noticeable improvement in comfort, flexibility and breathability. The Air Zoom cushion in the heel offers plenty of impact protection while still giving you a solid amount of court feel. Once you sort out the right size, the Nike Zoom Cage 3 offers an excellent middle ground of light weight, support and comfort that should keep a variety of feet happy.
About the Reviewer: Matt Locke currently serves as the Junior Programs & Development Coordinator for USTA-Idaho and is an active USTA League and Tournament player.