Frames for young players are bringing in technology from adult racquets, and hope to promote brand loyalty early on.
By Kent Oswald
Thankfully, the days of a junior tennis racquet being an adult stick with the handle sawed off are long gone. This isn’t to suggest that finding the right racquet for a younger player today is easy, but the search does come with the near-guarantee of finding a high-quality model. This is particularly true when talking about the performance racquet niche of the junior tennis market.
Technology allows for increasing nuance in how a racquet plays and, increasingly, kids and their parents are demanding those choices — which they should. Hunter Hines, Dunlop’s eastern region sales manager, recommends, “Parents and players should pick the most advanced racquet that the child is comfortable with. If a child continues to play with a racquet that is not suited to their development level, it can hamper their progress.”
“Demo first, if at all possible,” insists Pacific’s Global Player Services Director Tom Parry, echoing Hines with the advice to “purchase what is best suited for the player’s actual ability, body, game, style, etc. — as of today.”
The current excitement is with reference to the sales potential inherent in the USTA “QuickStart” and ITF “Play and Stay” initiatives — the change of rules for the under-10 players and need for new, color-coded equipment that promotes the game in a much more child-friendly manner. However, when the discussion moves from that niche of the junior market, you can’t help but hear the pride in the product as manufacturers discuss how they have introduced tour-level technologies in shorter, lighter junior performance models that mirror the sticks of tennis heroes.
No doubt part of the pride is finding an answer for the desire of the serious tennis teen who is not ready to swing an adult racquet but won’t accept being part of child’s play. Babolat USA Marketing Director Susan DiBiase describes the junior performance racquets of her company and others as, “[looking] like their favorite pro’s racquet, but more appropriate to their playing ability and strength.”
There is certainly no shortage of appropriate, quality racquets to choose from for the serious teen. Or, as Parry puts it, “There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ racquet/string combination, only a ‘bad’ choice for your own personal needs!” Probably the best advice any shopper can receive is to not become overwhelmed by all the options.
As Cory Springer, Wilson’s global business director for tennis racquets, says, “There is a high degree of expertise among floor personnel. Those people are helping to match the player to the racquet. The key thing [for juniors and their parents] is to find the racquet that fits.”
Recognizing the business imperative to maximize lifetime customer value, manufacturers are bringing increasing attention and focus on enticing players who will shortly be making adult decisions and spending their own money on tennis equipment. Since racquets are most often the most expensive part of the game, there is serious competition among manufacturers to offer the best choice for a market just about ready to bloom.
Given that one of the key drivers of young desire is hero worship, it is difficult to be in a better place than Babolat, whose team includes 2010 US Open champs Rafael Nadal (playing with an AeroPro Drive) and Kim Clijsters (who hits with a Pure Drive). Two new racquets added to the performance line that has found such favor with young hitters in the relatively few years since Babolat entered the racquet market are the AeroPro Drive Junior (100 sq. in. head, 26 in., 8.6 oz. unstrung), featuring the same technology as played with by Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki, and Pure Drive Roddick Junior (100 sq. in., 26 in., 8.8 oz. unstrung).
Pure Drive Roddick Junior
Dunlop, whose marketing efforts are expanding online with Dunlopbuzz.com and various mobile apps to “remind” everyone of the historic legacy they build their new products on, has introduced the HM6 carbon-framed Biomimetic 300 26” (95 sq. in., 26 in., 9.7 oz. strung) modeled on Fernando Verdasco’s racquet as a complement to its new adult line. Adding to the racquet’s allure is a textured skin, a feature Dunlop says is not just cosmetic, but reduces drag in a way that can be measured by the ear when listening to this racquet swing compared to other frames.
The next big thing from Gamma regarding racquets will be the development of its line to use with 10-and-under tennis. Building the bridge between that line of junior racquets and its adult performance frames is the new 300X Tour Junior (95 sq. in., 26 in., 8.8 oz. strung) with a “titanal” composite frame and the same technology as Gamma’s Tour 300x and Tour 340x Team frames.
300X Tour Junior
In Head’s line of racquets offering a choice for all swing types and playing styles are two designed specifically for the junior performance crowd. The YouTek Speed Jr. (102 sq. in., 26-1/5 in., 9.2 oz. strung) is a shorter, lighter version of the racquet Novak Djokovic uses with the patented d30 technology and Teflon grommets. Another option is the Microgel Prestige Junior 26+, with its microgel/graphite frame (102 sq. in., 26-1/4 in., 9.5 oz. strung).
Microgel Prestige Junior
Pacific, which recently incorporated Fischer racquet technology as a complement to its string sales, is making a big push in the junior racquet market. Racquets designed for the junior on the brink of an adult tour model are BasaltX frames, the X Force Team 1.45 (98 sq. in., 27 in., 8.7 oz. strung) and Finesse Team 1.55 (102. sq. in., 26-1/2 in., 8 oz. strung), which also is a featured player in some foreign markets for adult women looking for a racquet that’s easier to maneuver.
X Force Team
Rather than refer to a junior performance line, Prince highlights its “reduced length performance models.” Among the racquets recommended for top-flight juniors are the EXO3 Graphite 26+ (100 sq. in., 26-1/2 in., 8.8 oz. unstrung); the EXO3 Rebel 26 (95 sq. in., 26 in., 7.9 oz. unstrung) modeled after the racquet Gael Monfils plays with; and two new racquets, both using Prince’s O3 technology: the O3 Hybrid Sharapova 26+ (100 sq. in., 26 in., 7.8 oz. unstrung) and the O3 Hybrid Ignite 26+ (100 sq. in., 26-1/4 in., 7.8 oz. unstrung).
O3 Hybrid Sharapova 26+
Volkl weighs in with its carbon/fiberglass framed Volkl Power Bridge 10 (98 sq. in., 26.8 in., 9 oz. unstrung) and Volkl Power Bridge 9 (102 sq. in., 26 in., 8.6 oz. unstrung). Once again, the technologies, dampening system and frame construction mirror the tour versions, but the heads are a touch lighter and the racquets a tad shorter and more maneuverable.
Power Bridge 9
Like the other manufacturers, Wilson has been looking at the needs of younger players more carefully and aligning their junior models with those played by popular touring pros. Their current performance models, both using the tour BLX technology with basalt fibers enhancing the frames, are the Pro 26 BLX (100 sq. in., 26 in., 8.8 oz. strung) and Six.One 26 BLX (100 sq. in., 26 in., 8.9 oz. strung), a lighter, shorter version of Roger Federer’s stick.
Six.One 26 BLX
See all articles by Kent Oswald
About the Author
Kent Oswald is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.