Nike Air Court Ballistec 4.3 Men's Shoe Review
- Arch placement
Few players can say they put as much stress on a tennis shoe as Rafael Nadal. Even Nike must have a tough job making shoes that can withstand that level of play. The Air Court Ballistec series has been Rafa's shoe of choice, so it's easy to see why we'd expect a lot from them. With the first two versions our testing team couldn't have been happier, but the third version wasn't as widely pleasing, as it needed a long break-in before becoming comfortable. With the Air Court Ballistec 4.3, Nike has made big improvements. A quick break-in and excellent cushioning led to increased comfort, while mesh throughout the design of the shoe increased breathability. The shoe's outstanding stability and traction allowed our testers to move aggressively. Despite some hesitations from toe draggers, the overall durability was high, rounding out the checklist of demands for a top tier hard court shoe. When it came down to it, the Nike Air Court Ballistec 4.3 hit all the marks of a quality hard court shoe and earned some bonus points for returning to a comfort level similar to that of the Air Court Ballistec 2.3.
Comfort - Score: 4.1
There was a noticeable improvement in comfort in the Court Ballistec 4.3 over the previous 3.3 version. Spencer found this shoe much better, saying, "Even though they're made on the same last, the 4.3's upper allows a more generous forefoot fit, with a softer, more comfortable feel. This shoe definitely reminded me more of the highly successful 2.3 than the 3.3. The break-in was easy. The comfort was there from the get-go and got better as my feet jelled in time with the shoes. There was also plenty of cushioning underfoot. It wasn't the pillowy kind of cushioning one might find in a T22 from Prince, but more of a firm feel from the Max Air. I got everyday comfort on court with the 4.3."
Jason agreed. He said, "The very first time I put them on I noticed the significant improvement in comfort from the previous version. The uppers weren't nearly as stiff as the 3.3s, which really needed a break-in period. The Max Air and Lunarlon cushioning provided excellent shock absorption and padding for even the harshest landings. It was a definite improvement from the 3.3 but not quite back to the comfort of the 2.3. With all that said, I still marked my score down because of the arch."
Troy didn't need a break-in period with this shoe. He said, "These shoes provided good comfort right out of the box, and were much more supple than the previous version. I found the fit of this shoe to be about as close to a mold of my foot as any shoe I have tried. I never experienced any uncomfortable rubbing since the shoe contoured to my foot so well. The one problem that I did experience was some cramping near my arches when I tried to cinch the laces tightly. It was as if the shoes were cutting off the circulation. With this in mind, I found I didn't have to tie the shoe so tightly to get good support because the shoe fit my foot really well. The overall comfort was much improved over the 3.3. When I played with these shoes in a tournament I never had to think about them hurting my feet, which is all I can ask from a shoe."
Ventilation - Score: 4.2
The mesh in the Air Court Ballistec 4.3 helped increase the breathability. Jason liked the fact that his feet never overheated. He said, "I found enough mesh and perforations in the uppers to provide breathability. My feet never felt like they were getting too hot, even when I had my thicker socks on."
Spencer thought the mesh increased the ventilation in the shoe. He said, "Using mesh in the forefoot, the lateral and medial sides and the tongue of the shoe was key the key to the breathability of the 4.3. My feet never once felt hot or suffocated. The fact that there was no compromise to the stability and support to get this ventilation was even more impressive."
Troy agreed, finding the ventilation surprisingly good. He said, "I felt that the added mesh in the forefoot increased its breathability. I don't typically judge a shoe based on ventilation due to the fact that I wear two pairs of socks when I play. Sometimes when I practice I will wear one pair of socks, and that is when I benefited from the ventilation."
Arch Support - Score: 3.5
Our testers had varied opinions about the arch support. Finding the arch location to be a little uncomfortable, but easily fixed, was Jason. He said, "Like the previous version, I found the arch location didn't line up with my arches. They needed a fair amount of time to break-in, and even after they were broken in my arches ached after long rallies. I definitely needed to put in some after market insoles (Superfeet) to help the situation. Once I had those in the shoes felt much, much better."
Needing a break-in period to reduce discomfort was Troy, who offered, "The arch support was mediocre for me. It was about medium height, which was good, but I felt that the arch area of the shoe was fairly narrow, which caused pain when I cinched the laces really tight. As the shoe broke in the pain slowly went away. Though this pain wasn't a major setback, it was something that I experienced with the 3.3, but never had with the 1.3 or 2.3. During match play this pain was not an issue because I didn't have to cinch the laces tightly to get good support."
Spencer liked the arch support, saying, "A medium arch was a good fit for my medium arched feet. Therefore, I never had to be concerned about it, and was never reminded of it, before, during or after play."
Foot Support/Stability - Score: 4.2
The stable ride provided our testers with complete confidence while moving in this shoe. Giving this shoe a high stability rating was Troy. He said, "I felt that this shoe provided top-notch stability. I never rolled my ankle while playing in these shoes, and I didn't have to restrict my movements to feel safe in them. The fit of this shoe was like a glove, so I never felt my foot sliding around. The 2.3 was better for support, because it felt a bit lower to the ground, but I was definitely not disappointed with how this version handled lateral movement."
Jason felt safe and comfortable moving in the Court Ballistec 4.3. He said, "This was one of those rare shoes that, once I had my laces taut and tied, let me move around the court with 100 percent confidence. The Adaptive Fit technology really formed the uppers of the shoe around my foot for a secure and locked in feel/fit. The uppers felt solid enough to prevent any ankle rolls while changing direction. The half point I took away was for the heel area. There was some heel slippage if I didn't make sure to cinch down my laces."
"Though I was a little concerned with the height of the midsole, the 4.3s never failed me," said Spencer. "I usually prefer the ride to be closer to the court, and this shoe gave me that up high feel, like I was almost on them, not in them. However, like past iterations, there was never even a hint of rollover. They held very well when planting and changing direction. As with the previous versions, I was very happy with the support/stability."
Overall Sole Durability - Score: 4.2
With a reputation for good durability to maintain, most playtesters felt the Court Ballistec 4.3 stepped up to the mark. Spencer felt the 4.3 measured up to the best of the competition. He said, "Other than the usual wear on the medial side of the toe and forefoot, I didn't notice any premature wear. I continue to be impressed with the XDR compound."
Jason was also a huge fan of the durability of this shoe, saying, "The XDR outsole once again impressed. It's just as durable, if not more so, as the 3.3s. The rubber didn't wear down prematurely and held up quite well for the duration of the playtest. The first signs of balding and tread loss were at the usual areas for me -- medial forefoot and heel. "
Having some reservations was Troy. He said, "The overall sole of this shoe held up pretty well, which I expected given the reputation of past Court Ballistecs. I didn't notice any unusual wear of the tread pattern. I tend to wear down my shoes the most in the ball of the foot and the toe, which wore out faster than I would have liked. I would say the overall sole durability was better than average, but not as good as past Ballistecs or the adidas Barricade 6."
Toe Durability - Score: 3.7
Toe durability could have been slightly improved, according to our one toe-dragging tester. Troy reported, "The toe area of this shoe wore out faster than I would have liked. After about 10 hours of play in these shoes I started to notice that the tip was worn down. After about 20 hours of play the outsole near the toes was basically gone, and the midsole started to appear. I wouldn't say that toe durability was bad, because I wear out my shoes relatively fast. I felt that the toe area was more durable on all the previous models of this shoe, though."
Traction - Score: 4.3
Our playtesters enjoyed really great traction with these shoes, increasing their ability to move aggressively around the court. Spencer had nothing but positive feedback. He said, "The traction was up to par with my expectations. Because this is a top tier shoe I expect good traction for efficient movement, and that's what I found. I experienced no slips or slides and was able to trust the outsole to grip the court during changes of direction."
"The traction held up well, and I was able to move aggressively without having to worry about slipping," said Troy. "I typically put a lot of pressure on my feet as I move laterally during a point, and I felt that these shoes increased my ability to start and stop and gave me a lot of confidence when I was running down balls."
The Ballistec 4.3 created another believer in Jason. He said, "I loved how well this shoe gripped the court! The traction, along with the great support from the Adaptive Fit, really inspired me to move aggressively on court, and allowed me to stop and change direction with no issues."
Weight - Score: 3.9
Our testers found the weight of the Ballistec 4.3 to be an improvement over the 3.3. Finding the weight of the shoe to be really enjoyable was Jason. He said, "Another area of improvement! It feels lighter than the previous versions. Nike did an excellent job of removing some weight while keeping the high level of support, comfort, stability and durability intact. It's still not what most would consider a lightweight shoe, but the way the weight is distributed, it doesn't need to be. "
Spencer liked the ratio of weight to stability and durability, saying, "For a durability/stability shoe, I was happy with my movement on court. I didn't notice any bulkiness. They aren't noticeably light, but considering the stable response and durability, they're light enough."
Troy found the weight of this shoe to be much improved over the Court Ballistec 3.3. He said, "With this version of the Ballistec coming in about an ounce and a half lighter than the 3.3, it made me feel a bit lighter on my toes. I typically don't mind a heavy shoe as long as it's comfortable, but the 3.3 version was feeling a bit bulky. I was pleased with the reduction in weight for this version of the Ballistec."
Overall - Score: 4.1
Spencer - "The comfort, stability and cosmetics."
Troy - "Much more comfortable out of the box compared with the 3.3. It contoured to my foot like a glove."
Jason - "Great cushioning, outstanding support, excellent durability. I really enjoyed the Adaptive Fit technology."
Spencer - "I tend to prefer a lower ride (closer to the court)."
Troy - "The pain in the arch area of my feet during the break-in and when I cinched the laces too tightly. Toe durability was wasn't as good as the previous models of the Ballistec."
Jason - "The arch is still hitting me in the wrong spot. "
Comparing the Air Court Ballistec 4.3 shoes to others they've worn, our testers said:
Spencer - "I thought this was a more suitable update to the 2.3 than the 3.3 was, as it offers a more flexible upper with better comfort. The stability and durability can be compared to any of the previous Ballistec shoes, as it demonstrates excellent durability and offers a stable response."
Troy - "Better comfort than the Ballistec 3.3, but not as stable and durable as the Ballistec 2.3. I have been using the Asics Gel Resolution 3 for the past year as my go-to shoe, and I would still have to give that shoe a higher overall rating than this Ballistec 4.3."
Jason - "This feels like a slightly lighter and easier to break-in version of the 3.3. Much improved, but still not quite back up to par with the 2.3. "
Playtester Foot Types:
Spencer - Medium width / Medium arch
Troy - Narrow width / Medium arch
Jason - Wide width / Low arch
Review date: March 2012. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
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