My passion for Nike tennis shoes is something that transcends my age.
Seeking out classic models like the Air Tech Challenge 2, Air Challenge Huarache, Air Oscillate, and Air Trainer 1 that debuted long before I had the chance to wear them on court is a passion of mine.
The first pair of NikeCourt shoes I ever purchased to play in was the 2007 Nike Air Zoom Vapor 4. I have owned at least one pair of every Vapor model that has come out since. I’ve experienced the good, Vapors 4, 5, and 6. The bad, 7 and 8. As well as the G.O.A.T.’s, Vapor 9! Crazy limited editions and collabs with the likes of Jordan brand along with countless memories of watching Federer make history in these shoes has cemented the Vapor name in tennis history.
So needless to say, when Nike decides to update the Vapor, it’s “kind of a big deal."
Nike’s latest addition to the Vapor family introduces several new technologies, and approaches the speed shoe category from a new perspective. Being fast on court isn’t just about being lightweight. You need aggressive lockdown and responsive traction in order to have confidence to make quick lateral cuts, and that is what this new NikeCourt React Vapor NXT aims to deliver.
Arguably the most important factor when getting any type of footwear. Nailing the fit can either make or break your experience with a shoe.
Comparing the Vapor NXT to other NikeCourt shoes, I found the fit somewhere in between the outgoing Vapor X and the current Vapor Cage 4 in terms of length. While it doesn’t fit a half size long like the Vapor Cage 4, I did find it had just a touch more room in the toes when compared to the Vapor X.
Ultimately, I went true to size as I already wear my tennis shoes quite snug so I was ok with a bit of extra room. This shoe is medium width. Those of you with wide feet or a high instep may feel some tightness due to the built up medial side as well as the plastic shanks along the midsole on the lateral side.
In the heel area, Nike has added a padded heel liner that nicely contours to the shape of your foot. At first try on, the different cut and heel construction did take some getting used to. This is an area of fit I would especially place close attention to if you will be pairing this shoe with either a custom or over the counter orthotic. The new heel construction and fit gave me the sensation of some minor heel slip initially. This was quickly alleviated after wearing the shoe around a little bit, and by the time I hit the court it was all forgotten.
*Side by side comparison of the Nike Mercurial Vapor 14 Elite NikeCourt React Vapor NXT upper
This new generation of Vapor sees a complete overhaul in the construction of the upper.
Gone is the dynamic fit lacing system first introduced in the Nike Air Zoom Vapor 9 that carried over into the Vapor 9.5 and Vapor X. It is replaced by a new upper material that Nike is calling Flyweave. The Flyweave construction takes its cues from Nike’s learnings in football boot construction as both football and tennis require quick changes of direction and aggressive cutting. The Flyweave upper is very lightweight and breathable. This could be a real asset on a nice hot and humid summer day.
*Small shoe nerd observation. Although I can’t find any official tech breakdown to support this, it appears Nike has added a grippy textured finish to the area where the shoe lace knot sits surrounding their court logo. Perhaps intended to prevent the laces from coming undone or shifting while playing. If anyone can find official confirmation of this please @racketsandrunners :)
The upper also provides an exceptional locked in sensation.
When pushing off aggressively out of corners, I found little to no stretch throughout the upper of the shoe. It is arguably one of the best tennis shoe uppers I have ever played in with regards to lockdown and at no point did I experience any potential roll over on my ankles.
The aggressive lockdown does come at a price however.
While the Flyweave upper is soft and flexible, the same cannot be said for the built of rubberized components that make up the medial side of the upper. Out of the box, this part of the upper was at odds with the rest of the shoe. The difference between the stiffness of the two materials was noticeable and took some getting used to.
I am happy to report however, that after a bit of a shoe break-in ritual I lifted from Nadal and about 30 minutes on court, the stiffness has subsided and by my second hit in them they were fully broken in and comfort was not an issue.
Underneath the outer layer of the upper is a full neoprene bootie with a one piece construction.
Bootie constructions seem to be quite divisive amongst people. I personally like the fact that I don’t have to to deal with a tongue that can crease or slide uncomfortably while playing, but dislike how thin the material between your foot and the laces is. Those of you that really like to cinch down your laces may find a bit of lace bite due to the lack of a padded tongue. On that note however, I should mention that I because the lockdown and support the upper provided me, I did not feel the need to have to cinch up my laces all that tight at all thus avoiding that issue.
One other observation with regards to the upper construction of the Vapor NXT is the toe area. Nike continues to leave a gap between the outsole of the shoe and where they place their upper reinforcement thus creating a weak point in the shoe for toe draggers. It was an issue in their Vapor X Knit for severe toe draggers like myself, and will likely continue to be an issue on this shoe. I would have loved to see Nike reinforce this area of the Vapor NXT in a similar fashion to what they have done on the Vapor Cage 4.
This is an area where Nike again has completely re engineered the Vapor. This shoe definitely is a departure from previous vapor iterations. No longer offering that low to the ground feel. The ride height has been lifted to a similar height of Vapor Cage 4 but not as much as the GP Turbo.
The Vapor NXT also sees the introduction of React foam. React foam is borrowed from Nike’s running shoes. React is strategically placed along the medial side of the shoe, and flanked by a firmer foam on the lateral side. Nike designers looked to create and facilitate a banking momentum effect, allowing players to push off more aggressively thus making them faster on court. While I cannot say that I noticed much of a difference between the firmness of the medial and lateral foams, I did appreciate how responsive the midsole was, especially when paired with the lockdown provided by the upper.
Much of the lockdown is provided by the plastic reinforcements found along the lateral side of the midsole. An evolution of the Vapor line for some time now that has also found its way into the Vapor Cage 4.
The overhaul continues onto the outsole. In Nike’s words, the Vapor NXT features a modified herringbone pattern with a data-informed design to help provide great traction, without impacting your ability to slide.
I’m quite happy with the outsole pattern. I’m personally a fan of outsoles with less grip and more give. It makes sliding in and out of shots easier so this outsole worked well for me. While it is still too early to draw conclusions on long term outsole durability, judging from the depth of the lugs, it seems Nike have finally listened to all of us and beefed up this new Vapor in that regard. I’m happy to report that after my first couple of hits in these shoes, the outsole is showing minimal wear, which has not always been the case with previous vapors.
Ultimately, I believe that this shoe provides some of the best lockdown and one of the most responsive rides on the market, as well as adding some much needed durability. So if you’re looking for those attributes in a tennis shoe, this is a great option. In achieving this however, Nike has gone away from what made the Vapor 9/9.5/ X so special. So much on this shoe is new and different from the Vapor X, that part of me wishes Nike had chosen another name for this shoe especially considering that there appears to be a Vapor X replacement on the horizon.
This shoe is not lightweight, it’s not very low to the ground, and the upper isn’t overly soft and flexible out of the box, but I’m okay with that because I don’t think it was designed to be. This shoe was designed to offer something different. While it shares some features with the Vapor Cage 4 and other past and present offerings from Nike, I found the sensations on court quite different. The best comparison and competitor to this shoe right now is the Asics Court FF 2.
This shoe to me is a welcome addition to the market, and while it might not be for everyone, I’m excited about the new technologies and direction it’s taking tennis footwear.
NIKECOURT REACT VAPOR NXT
Hernán Chaves Posse grew up watching and loving tennis. He started playing tennis competitively around 2009 and is a 5.0 player with a baseline game. He's been stringing rackets since 2008 and working at Rackets & Runners for 6 years.