Tommy Paul Headlines Latest New Balance FuelCell 996v5 Tennis Shoe

January 11, 2023

Moving and cutting. That's what American tennis player Tommy Paul says he loves about the totally updated and newly released New Balance FuelCell 996v5 tennis shoe.

"This is a totally new shoe that is super comfortable and with a ton of stability so that I can move all over the court and know I am supported," says Paul, currently ranked No. 35 in the world.

But getting to that place took plenty of engineering and design. Released in January, Josh Wilder, New Balance's product manager for tennis, says the 996 series has always focused on staying low to the ground, a "sports car speed shoe for slasher type players who are chasing every point. The focus on the update was to provide additional cushioning and torsional stability so that players didn't feel like they were bottoming out the FuelCell foam, or that they can't get back in position."

Still, New Balance didn't want to stray from the speedy, court feel the 996v4 was known for. "We tested plenty of different stack heights in the forefoot and the heel and found a happy medium by only adding two millimeters throughout," Wilder says. "During our wear testing with both pros and amateurs, we confirmed the same court feel as the predecessor while only adding a half ounce total."

This additional two millimeters of FuelCell foam improved the comfort on the 996 silhouette, but still provided plenty of separation between the brand's baseliner Fresh Foam X Lav V2 model.

For torsional stability, the tennis team borrowed ideas from basketball. A new TPU chicken foot shank makes an appearance in the 996v5 (a showy one in the debut colorway), a design borrowed from Kawhi Leonard's firs New Balance basketball shoe, the OMN1S. "We used the same exact shank and found that it provided added torsional stability when making cuts out wide," Wilder says, "so we didn't have to add loads of reinforcement backers in the upper and sacrifice breathability and weight."

To further work on lateral stability, designers also raised the midsole in the forefoot and added banking elements to prevent the shoe from twisting. Within the upper, a minimal reinforcement package underneath the mesh comes understated compared to past models thanks to additions elsewhere.

For the upper, the 996v5 features a padded tongue and employs a minimal PU drag guard to ensure the shoe hits all points of a speed-focused design.

That idea of a speedy sports car was more than a design ethos. It was an aesthetic inspiration. "Our 996v5 takes design cues from F1 cars and the pointed functional design elements that they utilize," Wilder says. The heel button on the midsole will get painted in future colorways to look like the brake lights on a car and the fade graphic on the "N" logo and the wavy lines on the midsole and upper mesh are meant to evoke a "feeling of break-neck speeds." Additional racing design callouts will show up in colorways launching in the second half of 2023.

And Paul will be there to wear them all, serving as the face of the new sneaker's campaign. "It's great, I love being with a brand that allows me to have so much input into product," Paul says. "It just confirms that they really care about me as a person and not just an athlete."

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