In this study, SnO2:Sb coating on Cr-coated stainless steel and multiwall carbon nanotube (MWCNT) buckypaper substrates were prepared as anode materials using a radio frequency (RF) magnetron sputtering process for lithium-ion batteries. The nanocomposites were characterized with field-emission scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction and electrochemical test facilities. The evaluation of the electrochemical performance in lithium-ion batteries showed that the SnO2:Sb–MWCNT nanocomposites have shown reversible discharge capacities of 701 mAh g−1, 732 mAh g−1 and 753 mAh g−1 for different RF powers (75 W, 100 W and 125 W), respectively, after 100 cycles. The high-capacity retention and cyclability ascribed to the good dispersion, high conductivity and fine particle size of SnO2:Sb on MWCNTs. Besides, the MWCNTs in SnO2:Sb act as a load carrying buffer component and behave like a flexible reinforcement, alleviating the electrode dilapidation resulted from volume change during the lithium insertion and de-insertion. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.