Frames of reference
For spring, manufacturers have perfected their techniques, offering higher quality, better products.
By James Martin
If 2005 was the year of big racquet introductions, like Prince’s O3 and Head’s Flexpoint frames, the 2006 spring season is all about expanding and refining existing product lines. For retailers, that may not sound like the most exciting news, but the situation offers many advantages.
First and foremost: Manufacturers have had time to perfect innovations and use them in slightly different applications. It’s like going from Windows 98 to NT. Net result: You’re selling higher quality, slightly more sophisticated frames. You, and your customers, should also be familiar with the technologies, so the learning curve won’t be as great as it was last year.
“You’ll have an immediate sense about the racquet and its target audience,” says Tennis magazine Equipment Advisor Bruce Levine. “That’ll make the retailer’s job of selling frames much easier.”
There’s another reason racquets should fly off the shelves — the variety. This season, companies have introduced enough frames to satisfy almost any player, from older hackers who want powerful oversize frames to advanced players interested in demo-ing control-oriented racquets.
Here are the season’s highlights.
When HEAD released its Flexpoint technology last season, many advanced players were asking the same question: Where’s the Flexpoint Prestige? Well, Head waited until this spring to unveil the latest incarnation of its franchise frame.
The Prestige first came out in the early 1990s, and over the years its been updated with Intelligence and Liquidmetal. Now players will get a crack at the Flexpoint Prestige. What’s different, of course, are the holes, and dimples, at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions of the head, which allow the frame to cup the ball on the strings for a split second longer for more control.
“It’s the type of technology that’ll let you hit with a bit more power and control,” Levine says. “Prestige fans, in particular, will appreciate the difference.”
The Flexpoint Prestige is available in three models: the 90-square-inch mid, the 98-square-inch midplus, and an extra long, 27.3-inch midplus. All of them tip the scales at around 12 ounces.
Juniors and older players who’ve lost a step will be interested in another pair of Head frames. You may remember that last year the company introduced the Flexpoint Instinct and the Flexpoint Radical. This spring, you’ve got the Flexpoint Instinct Team and Flexpoint Radical Team. The hook: each frame is designed to be easier to swing and produce more power and spin.
At 9.3 ounces, the Instinct Team is about a half-ounce lighter, but it’s also got more weight toward the head, so it still packs a punch. This racquet is ideal for the aggressive baseliner who hits a heavy ball. The Radical Team is 9.9 ounces versus the Flexpoint Radical’s 10.4 ounces, and it, too, has more weight toward the head. Both Team frames also feature slightly thicker side walls and a more open string pattern to deliver extra spin.
“Two types of players will want these racquets,” says Head’s Roger Petersman. “Juniors coming up who can’t handle the weight and heft of the Flexpoint Radical and Instinct, and older players who’ve used those frames but now require something more user-friendly.”
Over at Prince, the story continues to be O3 technology — the large, grommet-less holes in the head that allow for more string movement, which in turn create a more forgiving string bed and bigger sweetspot. Last year, there were four introductions: the O3 Red, Silver, Blue, and Tour.
What’s new this season? The Prince O3 White. “This one rounds out our original O3 series,” says Prince’s Dave Holland.
The White is positioned to fill a niche: players who found the Red too light, but also deemed the Tour too heavy. Improving intermediates up to advanced players will probably gravitate toward the White, which has a 100-square-inch head (by far the most popular head size these days in performance racquets), and it weighs 11.1 ounces.
Prince has also taken the O Port design and created the Prince O3 Hybrid Shark. Instead of having the large holes throughout the entire head, the Hybrid Shark has them at just the 12 and 6 o’clock positions. The purpose is to give the frame more of a traditional feel while also expanding the sweetspot toward the racquet’s tip, where many players tend to mis-hit the ball. But like the original Shark, which is endorsed by Maria Sharapova, the Hybrid comes in a 100-square-inch midplus and a 110-square-inch oversize, and each one weighs the same as the originals, 11.1 ounces and 10.4 ounces, respectively.
There’s also a Prince O3 Hybrid Hornet for advanced players who want something with even more control (and less power). In addition to having O Ports, the Hornet Hybrid has a more aerodynamic beam, reducing the swing weight.
All of the O3 racquets have a solid, if somewhat damp, feel because the strings rubbing against the frame help snuff out vibration. Of course, the built-in dampeners also quiet string chatter.
Just as Völkl is using carbon nano tubes to toughen up its frames, Dunlop has been using softer multifilaments to enhance the feel of its racquets. You saw this with last year’s M-Fil 200, 300, 500, and 700. Fill in the gaps and you’ll know what’s on tap for this season — the Dunlop M-Fil 400 and Dunlop M-Fil 600. The 400 is a medium-weight racquet with a 100-square-inch head (is there no stopping this particular size head?) and a 23.5-millimeter beam. The M-Fil 600 is lighter, with a 108-square-inch head and thicker, 27-millimeter beam to give it more giddyup.
Although the company made a stir with its W racquets for women last fall, Wilson is concentrating once again on its nCode line. First up: the medium weight Wilson nSix-Two, which comes in a 100- and 110-square-inch model and has a very stiff construction. Both versions weigh around 11 ounces. The second key introduction will be the Wilson nBlade. Available in a 98- and 106-square-inch head, the nBlade is designed to have a soft construction and deliver lots of feel.
Völkl will continue to expand its DNX frames. The Völkl DNX 3 is a 110-square-inch oversize frame, which is 27.75 inches long, 27 millimeters thick, and weighs 9.9 ounces. It also features carbon nano tubes, an ultra stiff material, in the head at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions for added stability on off-center hits, and just above the handle to help prevent the shaft from bending back on impact, which causes a loss of power.
In other words, the DNX 3 packs a serious punch and will appeal to those players with short to medium-length swings who want a racquet that’ll do most of the work for them.
If you’re not in the market for a game improvement frame, try the Völkl DNX 8. This is, essentially, a good player’s racquet at a lighter weight (light meaning it is 10.9 ounces but 1/2-inch head-light, so it is a breeze to swing). This 100-square-inch racquet should find an audience with players who are NTRP 4.0 and higher, and particularly among the junior set who want a control racquet that’s ultra maneuverable.
The company has one new frame this spring, the Yonex RDS-001. OK, Yonex doesn’t exactly create catchy names, but it knows how to make heavy but head-light (and therefore maneuverable) advanced players’ frames. The RDS-001 comes in a mid, which is for only tour and tour-wannabe players, and a 98-square-inch midplus, which will have a much broader appeal to high-level intermediates and elite players alike.
New Tennis Racquets for Spring 2006
|Racquet||Headsize (sq. In.)||Len. (In.)||Wt (gm)||Wt (oz.)||Bal. (cm)||Bal. (in.)||Flex (RDC)||Swingwt. (kg·cm²)||Pattern (M×C)||Power||MSRP|
|M Fil 4 Hundred||100||27.25||298||10.5||34.25||13.48||70||299||16×19||2145||$149|
|M Fil 6 Hundred||108||27.50||278||9.8||35.25||13.88||69||296||16×19||2316||$159|
|M Fil Lady G||108||27.50||277||9.8||35.00||13.78||69||291||16×19||2277||$149|
|M GDS Rally||102||27.38||295||10.4||34.00||13.39||65||291||16×19||2002||$160|
|M Twin Tec Motion||112||27.63||278||9.8||36.00||14.17||70||307||16×20||2557||$210|
|Flexpoint Prestige Mid||93||27.00||345||12.2||32.00||12.60||67||312||18×20||1944||$225|
|Flexpoint Prestige MP||98||27.00||338||11.9||32.38||12.75||66||315||18×20||2037||$225|
|Flexpoint Prestige XL MP||98||27.38||342||12.1||33.13||13.04||67||333||18×20||2268||$225|
|FXP Instinct Team||105||27.00||281||9.9||35.00||13.78||68||298||16×19||2128||$170|
|FXP Radical Team||102||26.88||294||10.4||35.00||13.78||59||312||16×19||1854||$190|
|Power 102 (Navy Blue)||102||27.38||272||9.6||37.00||14.57||73||315||18×18||2433||$199|
|Power 115 (Red)||115||27.25||262||9.2||37.25||14.67||73||309||19×19||2659||$199|
|Air Freak Midplus||100||27.00||305||10.8||34.00||13.39||71||317||16×19||2251||$120|
|Air Freak Oversize||110||27.00||287||10.1||34.25||13.48||70||298||16×19||2295||$120|
|O3 Hornet Hybrid Midplus||100||27.00||302||10.7||34.25||13.48||72||314||16×19||2261||$190|
|O3 Hornet Hybrid Oversize||110||27.00||283||10.0||35.00||13.78||71||305||16×19||2382||$190|
|O3 Shark Hybrid Midplus||100||27.00||314||11.1||33.75||13.29||66||322||16×19||2125||$200|
|O3 Shark Hybrid Oversize||110||27.50||295||10.4||35.00||13.78||67||323||16×19||2500||$200|
|O3 Tour MS||95||27.00||338||11.9||31.75||12.50||65||315||16×20||1945||$220|
|O3 Tour OS||107||27.50||316||11.1||34.00||13.39||66||321||16×19||2380||$220|
|O3 White MP||100||27.00||315||11.1||33.25||13.09||67||317||16×19||2124||$220|
|Ki 20 PSE||110||27.38||297||10.5||34.50||13.58||67||321||16×19||2454||$210|
|Type C 93 Redondo Edition||93||27.00||331||11.7||32.00||12.60||57||310||18×20||1643||$160|
|Type C 98 Redondo Edition||98||27.00||342||12.1||31.00||12.20||56||314||18×20||1723||$160|
|T Flash 290||100||27.00||308||10.9||33.75||13.29||69||312||16×19||2153||$170|
|Boris Becker 1||110||27.25||269||9.5||36.50||14.37||65||304||16×19||2228||$160|
|Boris Becker 5||102||27.00||276||9.7||34.50||13.58||62||282||16×19||1783||$130|
|Boris Becker 10||100||27.50||306||10.8||34.25||13.48||67||314||16×18||2209||$160|
|n5 Force 110||110||27.25||286||10.1||37.50||14.76||56||329||16×20||2077||$240|
|n5 Force 98||98||27.25||276||9.7||37.50||14.76||56||312||16×20||1755||$240|
|nPro Open X||100||27.50||316||11.1||33.50||13.19||68||319||16×19||2278||$200|
|nSix Two 100||100||27.00||295||10.4||33.00||12.99||67||298||16×19||1997||$190|
|nSix Two 113||110||27.50||290||10.2||34.50||13.58||70||321||16×20||2595||$190|
|RDS-001||90||Samples not available to measure at press time|
|RDS-001||98||Samples not available to measure at press time|
See all articles by James Martin
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