Survival of the Fittest
For racquet manufacturers, the strong are not only surviving, but they’re also producing some of their best frames ever.
By James Martin
Eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith didn’t play tennis, and he probably didn’t have the game in mind when he championed the advantages of a free-market economy in his book “The Wealth of Nations.” But he would have dug the effect his theory has had on the tennis business.
Competition has driven weak manufacturers off the court, and the survivors are producing some of the best tennis racquets ever — frames that incorporate high-tech materials like Liquidmetal and Isogrid and others that boast elaborate designs with cool-sounding names like Catapult and Frequency Tuning.
For consumers, the problem isn’t finding quality racquets anymore; most of what’s on your walls is worthy of their consideration, if not their money. The problem for players, besides sometimes trying to figure out how these high-tech materials and designs help their games, is selecting a racquet that compliments their strokes and skill levels.
Here’s a guide to help you help your customers.
Over the last year, Dunlop’s biggest coup wasn’t designing a revolutionary new racquet — though they’ve put out some gems this season — but luring back a star. John McEnroe, who grew up playing with the Dunlop Maxply, has returned to the Dunlop fold to not only endorse its racquets, but also to help in the research and development of new ones.
Currently, Johnny Mac is using the Dunlop 200G — a solid frame that he credits with his recent resurgence on the senior tours — but there are plenty of newer frames that should pique the interest of recreational players. For starters, there’s the Dunlop 200G XL, which is a half-ounce lighter and half an inch longer than the original. Result: Although it’s still designed for serious players, the XL is a bit more user-friendly. It’s also got a slightly more open string pattern so players can get extra bite on the ball.
Tweaking another popular model, Dunlop has introduced the 300G Oversize. It’s got a 106-square-inch head, versus the original’s 98-square-inch head, and a longer length (for more reach) to make the all-court racquet a little more powerful and easier to use, without losing control.
And while many racquets are, essentially, made for a specific type of player (e.g., serve-and-volleyer, advanced baseliner, short-swinging senior, etc.), Dunlop has taken the extra step of explicitly marketing to a target audience with the Lady G. According to Dunlop, women want three things in a racquet: maneuverability, light pick-up weight, and power. You’ll find all three in the Lady G, which should be popular among the female club dubs set.
After 10 years of development, Liquidmetal has arrived, with a strength-to-weight ratio 2.5 times that of titanium. Tag Heuer has created a dent-proof watch and Rawlings a Liquidmetal baseball bat. Head? It’s been using the stiff stuff in its racquet heads, at the 10, 2, 5, and 7 o’clock positions, to produce a solid, super-stable family of frames. There are three new ones this spring.
Look for the Liquidmetal Instinct to take off with competitive juniors. It delivers a little more power than a typical tour-level racquet and doesn’t skimp on control. And thanks to Liquidmetal, the stability is beyond belief.
With the Liquidmetal Prestige, the super-stiff alloy improves the frame’s stability and slightly increases the size of the sweetspot compared to the i.Prestige. Remember: “slightly increase” is a relative term. The Prestige has always been, and still is, a racquet for pro-tour wannabes.
The Liquidmetal 2, meanwhile, will have broader appeal. Weighing a little over 9 ounces, it’s light and maneuverable. It’ll appeal to players who don’t quite have a long enough swing to use a tour-level frame, such as the Instinct and Prestige, but still like to take a healthy cut at the ball. And if anyone’s worried that the Liquidmetal 2 won’t be stable because it’s so light, don’t be — for the most part, it doesn’t twist in your hands when you miss the sweetspot.
In 2003, Wilson raised more than a few eyebrows when it introduced a slew of sticks for players of all shapes and sizes. Not a whole lot has changed this year: The Big W is still touting the virtues of quantity with eight new racquets.
But the quality is there, too. The Triad 4 110 and Triad 3 Mid, for example, combine, for the first time, the company’s two flagship technologies, Triad and Isogrid. The three-piece design (the head and the hand are separated by a shock-absorbing polymer) reduces bad vibes, while Isogrid (an ultra-light weave of Aramid and graphite that’s used for the frame’s innermost layer) delivers outstanding stability. The Triad 4 110 has a crisper feel than the original Triad 4, and should be popular with mid-level men and women. The Triad 3 Mid? Compared to the oversize, which was a hit with intermediate women, it’s targeted more for aggressive male players with somewhat compact strokes.
While most racquets, Wilson’s included, are getting heavier these days, there are a few notable exceptions. The Wilson H Cosmo 115, for example. Billed as the “lighter side of Wilson,” it weighs a mere 8.6 ounces, features Isogrid, for stability and a solid feel, and should find an audience with women and older men with short to medium swings. Then there’s the Wilson Outer Edge, so named because it pushes the boundaries: the 28-1/2-inch length is shy of the 29-inch legal limit, and the 135-square-inch head is the maximum size, according to the rules of tennis. The Outer Edge will appeal to short-swinging seniors who want a super-powerful racquet that does virtually all of the work for them.
Advanced players, of course, need heavier frames, and Wilson’s got plenty of options. Serve-and-volleyers will like the thin-beam, head-light Pro Staff 95 (a lighter version of Roger Federer’s Pro Staff 90), while power baseliners looking for a head-heavy stick will have their choice of the oversize H Tour 105 and mid-plus H Blaze 95, among others.
Big doings at Prince: The company has consolidated its tennis operations in the U.S., from Italy, and it’s re-directing its emphasis. For the last few years, Prince has concentrated on the game-improvement market, but this year it’s going back to its roots with player-esque frames. Remember the original Graphite? The Michael Chang Graphite? Well, you get the idea of the direction Prince is heading.
Perhaps the most exciting new frame is the Tour NXG Graphite, Juan Carlos Ferrero’s weapon of choice, which is loaded with high-tech bells and whistles. The “Next Generation” frame has the More no-grommet design, for enhanced feel, “S” channels to allow for more string movement against the frame, reducing vibration, and Triple Threat weighting to increase stability and expand the sweetspot toward the 10 and 2 o’clock positions of the head. And talk about one-stop shopping: The NXG Graphite is available in an oversize (for good players), a mid-plus (for very good players), and a mid (for tour-level players).
Jennifer Capriati endorses the Tour Diablo. Compared to the NXG Graphite, this sinister-sounding stick has a more flexible, old-school feel, without the throat stabilizer. There are no bells and whistles — it’s just a solid-feeling graphite racquet for hard-hitting advanced players.
While Prince is servicing the more experienced player, it’s not forgetting about the masses. On the contrary. This season, you’ll also find the game-improvement Thunder Rip, an update of the 1999 Rip, with two significant improvements — high-modulus graphite has been added to the head, at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, for extra stability, and an Air Handle has been added to reduce shock. The Turbo Outlaw, meanwhile, is an update of the Scream and is being targeted to juniors stepping up to their first adult-size frame.
It’s anniversary time at Volkl. To celebrate the 10th year of the V1 Classic, Volkl is releasing the V1 Classic 10 Year. It’s exactly the same racquet — no technological updates here, and why would there be? This is the racquet, after all, that Tennis magazine once called a “virtual extension of the arm” that was like “playing with a cushion.” So rest assured, the soft feel is still there. What’s new? A snazzy new paint job to get the Classic caught up with the times.
Volkl also has something new, the Catapult 6, a light and maneuverable “tweener” frame for players between intermediate and advanced levels, to help round out its Catapult line of sticks.
Fischer will have another addition to the Frequency Tuning family, the GDS Spice FT, for mid-level players with medium swings. The hook? It’s all in the name — FT, metal powder that’s placed all over the frame to optimize its weight and “tune” the vibration frequencies, for good feedback without the bad vibes.
New Racquets for Spring 2004
To contact these and other manufacturers, see our links pages.
|Racquet||Head Size (sq. in.)||Len. (in.)||Wt (gm)||Bal. (in.)||Balance (cm)||Flex (RDC)||Swingwt (RDC)||Pattern (M×C)||Power level||SRP|
|GDS Spirit FT||107||27.00||296||35.50||13.98||66||311||16×21||2196||$139.99|
|GDS Spice FT||102||27.25||276||35.00||13.78||67||284||16×19||1989||$179.99|
|Twin Tec 750 FTi||105||27.63||291||36.25||14.27||70||326||16×20||2546||$179.99|
|Twin Tec 950 FTi||112||27.75||281||36.00||14.17||70||316||16×20||2663||$209.99|
|GDS Take Off 1250||120||28.25||259||36.25||14.27||73||295||16×20||2907||$239.99|
|Turbo Outlaw MP||100||27.00||291||35.75||14.07||71||311||16×20||2208||$150.00|
|Turbo Outlaw OS||110||27.50||285||35.00||13.78||71||314||16×19||2575||$150.00|
|Tour Diablo Mid||93||27.00||340||32.00||12.60||67||310||16×20||1932||$170.00|
|Tour Diablo MP||100||27.25||314||32.00||12.60||63||298||16×18||1924||$170.00|
|Tour NXGraphite Mid||92||27.00||359||31.00||12.20||64||329||18×20||1937||$200.00|
|Tour NXGraphite MP||100||27.25||336||32.00||12.60||66||310||16×20||2097||$200.00|
|Tour NXGraphite OS||107||27.50||336||31.50||12.40||64||325||16×19||2337||$200.00|
|Thunder RIP OS||115||28.00||274||37.00||14.57||78||340||16×19||3355||$210.00|
|Core 1 No 06||95||27.13||339||31.75||12.50||61||317||16×18||1860||$189.99|
|Core 1 No 10||102||27.25||310||33.75||13.29||68||311||16×19||2211||$199.99|
|Tour 8 SE||100||27.00||288||33.50||13.19||64||282||16×18||1805||$180.00|
|Tour 9 V-Engine||98||27.13||322||33.00||12.99||64||303||18×20||1924||$180.00|
|V1 Classic 10 Year Anniversary||102||27.00||298||34.50||13.58||72||310||16×19||2277||$200.00|
|Tour 10 V-Engine||93||27.13||336||32.00||12.60||60||308||18×20||1740||$200.00|
|Pro Staff Trance MP||95||27.00||277||34.50||13.58||70||290||16×19||1929||$119.99|
|Pro Staff Trance OS||110||27.00||281||35.00||13.78||74||302||16×20||2458||$119.99|
|Pro Staff Tour 95||95||27.00||326||32.00||12.60||62||311||16×19||1817||$159.99|
|H Tour MP||105||27.44||297||35.75||14.07||69||332||16×20||2511||$169.99|
|H1 Outer Edge||135||28.50||253||39.25||15.45||75||329||18×21||3799||$219.99|
|Ultimum RQ Ti 200M||102||27.00||258||36.00||14.17||73||281||16×19||2092||$119.00|
|Ultimum RQ Ti 250M||98||27.00||264||37.00||14.57||76||298||16×18||2220||$139.00|
|MP Tour 5||98||27.50||323||32.00||12.60||60||304||16×19||1877||$169.00|
See all articles by James Martin
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