Elite athletes always look for an edge on their competition and sometimes that comes in the form of gear. A couple of years ago, Serena Williams and Nike began a conversation about how she needed better shoes on the court—something that would offer her ankles added stability and make her more surefooted. This conversation spawned the NikeCourt Flares, a shoe she’s sported since 2014, and now they’re on sale to consumers.
Though tailored specifically for Williams, the NikeCourt Flare’s earliest versions were based on Nike’s work with an unnamed kung fu master and its longstanding obsession with getting that barefoot feel while wearing shoes. “An insight we gained from him was this idea of unencumbered mobility,” Nike designer Aaron Cooper says. “The thought is that a product should be an extension of your body.”
Cooper’s team used durability mapping techniques to uncover exactly how Williams’s feet moved around the court and where they needed more support. They presented ideas to Williams who then tested the prototypes and offered feedback until reaching the final version. “It’s amazing to see something come to life like this,” Williams told Disegno. “It’s not a typical sports shoe, it looks like a street shoe rather than a ball shoe.”
Instead of bulking up the design with more structure than was needed, Nike fine-tuned it for precision. It’s made from composite materials for lightness and breathability. It also has a neoprene cuff that attaches to an inner sock that hugs the foot for more natural movement.
“I feel like when you look good you play good because you feel better about yourself,” Williams says.
Williams was also quick to point out that best thing about the shoe is that it was unisex, which is a rare (and refreshing) occurrence for a shoe originally designed for a female athlete.
While lacing up in the shoes won’t bestow you with same skills as Williams, you’ll at least gain some of her confidence. Find them at store.nike.com for $200.