Tennis Industry magazine

 

A Colorful Game

Apparel makers are hoping their high-tech features and fashionable looks will catch the eye of consumers.

By Cynthia Sherman

If you think racquet and shoe technology has advanced, clothing has certainly caught up in many technical ways. Apparel manufacturers are in a race to see who has the best form of moisture-wicking, fabrication longevity and comfort, anti-microbial protection and UV shielding.

Color knows no bounds, either. Stand-out greens, vivid oranges, bold purples, sea blues and vestiges of bright pink fill the fashion horizon. All these technical features are complimented by lots of fashionable looks for the court and beyond.

Bolle

bolletenniswear.com

301-362-0360

Bolle reflects a fresh tropical theme with its South Beach collection. Fusing breathable, moisture-wicking poly/spandex blend with chic abstract design, this group show off aqua and white, accented with slivers of bright orange throughout. The printed top sports a free-floating abstract design. The A-line flounce skirt is a classic style that is flattering on any body type.

Eliza Audley

elizaaudley.com • 262-691-4770

Eliza Audley’s designer-look clothes are comfort and performance-oriented. The red Kaleidoscope tank dress features an 80/20 poly-spandex print overlay mesh, which can be worn over the tailored tank dress (which also can be worn on its own). The dress is 90% micropoly/10% spandex (Dri Weave). Slivers of poppy stand out on a White racer-back dress with built-in bra. Also available in black, the fabrication is the same as the Kaleidoscope tank dress.

Tail

tailactivewear.com • 305-638-2650

Not to be outdone in technology, Tail apparel is performance-oriented utilizing moisture-wicking and “comfort stretch,” which provides for freedom of movement and a sound fit and drape. The purple-pinks are definitely in play on the Sweet Spot Knit Jersey Tank Dress, which shows off a power mesh ruffle detail in Plumberry with Purple Passion contrast in a single Jersey and Power Mesh fabrication.

Wilson

wilson.com • 800-333-8326

In keeping with trends in fashion, Wilson opens the new season with bright colors for both men’s and women’s lines. For 2011, Wilson incorporates its “nano-fiber technology,” which boasts moisture-wicking, anti-microbial protection, UV shielding, comfort features and more. A typical men’s pairing includes the Brisben Polo in white, lime and bark coupled with white Basic Woven Shorts, featuring “cooling zones,” laser zoned ventilation and seamless construction.

Fila

fila.com • 410-773-3000

Fila continues to churn out smashing pieces that combine traditional reds, whites and blues and signature F-box logo with the season’s latest fashion colors and Italian styling. The fresh designs retain classic looks without sacrificing comfort and performance technology. The vintage-look Kelly green, navy, and white tops are fabricated in a flat poly spandex jersey for great draping and breathability. The classic skort is woven with finely executed details at the waistband and contrast piping at the pockets. The smart go-with French Terry jacket features a rib-knit collar, cuffs and bottom.

Peachy Tan

peachytan.com • 847-480-5922

For the warmer months, Peachy Tan offers up a tasty combination awash in a dazzling color-blocking of Pink and Varsity Orange. The Sylvia outfit sports a built-in shelf bra with cups in a longer cross-strap tank with empire line and slightly flared bodice. The orange detailing complements the swingy a-line paneled flounced skort. Made of 90% micropoly/10% spandex, Peachy Tan assures moisture management, UV protection and anti-microbial treatments.

In the Know

For consumers, string knowledge is power, and control, and comfort — and is leading to more sales for stringers.

BY KENT OSWALD

It’s either/or, or both, as string sales continue upward, a trend that has seen sales in dollars rise 38 percent from 2003 through 2009. Final 2010 figures weren’t yet available, but according to the TIA, units shipped and dollars sold through the third quarter rose well above 4 percent, compared to the same period in 2009. Either players are becoming more savvy about what actually touches the ball when they swing away, or the tough economic times have them tweaking their games with string rather than springing for new racquets.

It’s also possible both are true, and that they dovetail with efforts of manufacturers who have brought to the string biz new marketing pizzazz with trendy colors, increased hybridization and an increasing number of multi-sided strings, along with cutting-edge products dusted with technological magic to improve by different measures power, control and comfort for the arm.

The most prominent string trio — in terms of units sold in the U.S. — continues to be Prince, Wilson and Babolat, which, according to TIA data on tennis specialty stores through the third quarter of 2010, combine for more than 60 percent of the American market. However, market expansion is providing space for new players as well as opportunities for less well known brands. Brands that let their focus wander from their string biz have taken a renewed look at their lines.

The task for stringers and retailers is to help players figure out what they need and remember that the string is not supposed to match the racquet — its purpose is to fit with the player’s game. There is more enjoyment to be gained from the game through restringing. The industry’s mission should be to continue to get that message out and to encourage players to talk about their games with stringers in order to continue the encouraging trends.

It is likely that with more television analysts highlighting what the pros are playing with, as well as the public’s increasing sensitivity to how racquets and strings should complement each other and the game as a whole, the string market will continue its growth spurt in terms of sales and complexity. There is, truly, at least one string for every player’s situation.

Ashaway

ashawayusa.com • 800-556-7260

While recent years have seen a big push at the club level for monofilaments, nylons and the like used by pros, Ashaway VP of Sales and Marketing Steve Crandall believes, “More traditional players don’t get the same benefit; if you don’t hit hard it is not as nice to play with.” In response, the company says it’s developed string both more arm friendly and player friendly — pop with no pain. Ashaway’s most recent additions to its line are the multifilament optic green Dynamite 17 and blue Dynamite 18 and will soon be bringing out its black Dynamite 16 gauge.

Babolat

babolat.com • 877-316-9435

Susan DiBiase, marketing director for Babolat USA, is one of many who note how dramatic a change consumer demand for polyester strings has been. To fulfill that desire while also maintaining sensitivity to players’ concern for feel, this spring the company will be highlighting the addition to its extensive string line of the hybrid combination of RPM Blast + VS Natural Gut. The goal of the combo is to provide players the dynamic play of a co-polyester with the feel of natural gut, the company says.

Babolat also is continuing to build on its 136-year history of producing tennis strings with the introduction in black its Babolat VS Touch Natural Gut, a medium-gauge string. According to DiBiase, “Natural gut is the gold standard when it comes to comfort, power and tension hold, but we improved it even more with BT7 layering technology,” to improve the string’s durability by 15 percent.

Dunlop

dunlopsport.com • 800-768-4727

In a similar vein of improvement, “It’s a new Dunlop,” says Dunlop Eastern Region Sales Manager Hunter Hines of the company’s revamped string lines. Having put the time, effort and funds into R&D for the racquets, “It’s only fair that we [did] the same for strings and accessories.” The company has taken its Biomimetic (applying the lessons from nature) approach to its strings. Results include the top-of-the-line, soft but durable Silk, based on one of nature’s softest and strongest fibers, and the Black Widow, a seven-sided polyester created with a soft feel for intermediate to advanced players that plays well on its own, but also is sometimes suggested for use as the mains and paired with a string like Dunlop’s Hexy Fiber for the crosses.

Gamma

www.gammasports.com • 800-333-0337

For Chuck Vietmeier, Gamma’s national sales manager, a caveat to the growth in the polyester market is that, “They are not for everyone. A trend I see coming is to blend polys so they are softer so more players can use these types of string. There are advantages with the extra spin and control that more players would like to take advantage of without developing arm trouble.” In that vein, Gamma is rolling out the power plus control TNT2 Touch, its first multifilament string energized with the Gamma patented TNT2 Process. In the case of the Touch — which makes its debut as part of Gamma’s Playability segment to differentiate from Tour, All-Around and Durability Gamma string categories — the processing of the multifilament results in an increased elasticity and resiliency, keeping the ball in the pocket longer than other multifilaments, says the company.

Genesis

www.genesis-tennis.com • 866-787-4644

All this growth and technological advance can certainly be confusing to players. Still, there is some simple advice to follow. While the tennis world has long relied on the rule of thumb that club players should string their racquet each year as many times as they play in a week, Genesis’s Alex Lvovsky breaks down advice for club players to an even simpler level: “Once you notice the performance of your string going downhill and you feel like you lost control, put in some new strings.”

Freshness is a hallmark of the company, which was founded in 2006 and entered the string market in 2009 with the release of two polyester strings. Later this year the company will be bringing to market a natural gut, a new synthetic gut and a multifilament string (names and all specs still to be determined) to complement the current Typhoon, Spin X, Black Magic, Hexonic and Heptonic lines.

Head

head.com • 800-289-7366

Reacting to what they see as increased specialization and a greater demand for customization, Head recently launched the Perfect Match Hybrid Program. “Players are demanding more from their strings,” says Senior Business Manager Ben Simons in explaining the hybrid program. “We took four of our best string — Sonic Pro, FXP, FXP Power and Natural Gut — [and provide] a chart that a player can easily follow to find the best hybrid combination for them.” With that guidance, players and their stringers select the main part of the game they wish to emphasize (power with FXP Power, control with FXP, durability with Sonic Pro and spin with Natural Gut) and then have a string suggestion for the crosses that will provide a secondary, complementary benefit.

Pacific

pacific.com • 941-795-1789

While all the excitement may be about developments in polyesters, Pacific Global Player Services Director Tom Parry suggests that perhaps the most noteworthy trend is a renewed emphasis on the importance of gut. According to Parry, “Hybrids have become the norm at all levels, and with the many options there are for the other non-gut half of a hybrid, you can get almost as close to 100 percent natural gut performance at a price that isn’t that of a full set of gut. However, the benefits of a 100 percent gut string-job do remain unmatched in performance, durability and arm-saving properties.”

For those looking for a full or hybrid gut, the company is offering the new PrimeGut Orange Bull Fiber, a natural gut created to give players a balance of power, comfort and string tension maintenance, says Parry. For players interested in a polyester, they offer the yellow Poly Power Pro, which took more than two years of development to achieve its particularly attractive feel and strength.

Prince

princetennis.com • 800-2TENNIS

Prince is beginning 2011 with a corporate campaign to establish itself as manufacturer of the go-to polyester string. They used the final months of last year to anonymously provide a strikingly green string to various opinion shapers throughout the tennis world. Shortly before the Australian Open, the company hyped the reveal (previously showcased without any Prince identification only at 361nation.com) as their new, extra precision Beast XP, the product of years of development by their Italy-based R&D team. The result is a thermal-poly, control-oriented string that maintains its tension and dynamic properties more successfully over time and across a variety of tensions and string patterns, says the company.

Solinco

www.solincosports.com • 310-922-7775

Solinco, which has only been distributing string in the U.S. for a couple of years, is featuring a new polyester for 2011 designed to generate maximum spin and bite. The black co-polyester Barb Wire joins the co-poly Tour Bite string introduced last year (and recipient of much praise after playtesting in the July 2010 issue of RSI). According to Solinco Director K.T. Kim, the current trend to watch is the switch from synthetics, which says this generation of polyesters holds tension better and can be easier on the arm than previous ones.

Tecnifibre

www.tecnifibre.com • 858-397-5712

New strings, new companies and more choices. As Paul Kid, Tecnifibre’s general manager, advises, “It is going to be important in the future to properly educate the player about string technology and to eliminate some of the marketing myths that have been propagated.” The key will be increasing the communication between players and stringers. The more information passed back and forth, the better the fit between strings and game. Constantly testing new materials to aid performance, the company recently launched the premium black X-Code multifilament string integrating polyester and polyurethane and Duramix HD in natural and red, manufactured as a multifilament reinforced with polyester to gain an important equilibrium between comfort and durability.

Unique

uniquesports.com • 800-554-3707

At Unique Sports, “We are always looking for the next best string and technology, one that can offer more spin, more playability, more feel and more durability,” says Vice President Kevin Niksich. Taking advantage of increasingly sophisticated European poly-polyether strings and improved shaping technologies, the company has introduced the pentagonal Big Hitter Rough — designed to maximize spin — as an addition to its Tourna line already featuring co-poly cousins Big Hitter Blue and Big Hitter Silver.

Wilson/Luxilon

wilson.com • 800-272-6060

“There are so many choices,” says John Lyons, Wilson’s global business director for accessories and Luxilon strings, “we need to simplify it a little bit.” In the case of the Chicago mega-brand, that means breaking down its strings into the categories of playability, durability or all-around, with the recommendation that most consumers will be selecting from the playability segment, assuming they are not constantly breaking strings.

Into that playability niche, Wilson has introduced the NXT Control, which is a mixture of nylon and polyester fibers (glued with PU formula), good for big hitters, but with the polyester feel and forgiveness of an XT string, says the company. Wilson is also very high on its new synthetic gut, Red Alert, which it says offers twice the durability of previous syn-guts. And for those players looking for a good all-around string, there is the Hollow Core Pro, a poly string with a nylon outer wrap.

Improving recreational players’ accessibility to the company’s Luxilon brand that has become so prominent on the pro tour, the company introduced Luxilon Adrenaline about a year ago. It has now followed up with the new, six-sided Savage, available in lime green, white and black, designed for the big swinger looking for Luxilon quality at a slightly lower cost.

Like most manufacturers, when Wilson adds a string to the line it doesn’t necessarily take one away. And so the market gets ever more complicated with ever better strings perfect for increasingly smaller niches of players. The message, says Lyons, is, “String can really fine tune a racquet.”

Yonex

yonexusa.com • 800-44-YONEX

One of the biggest concerns for manufacturers is making sure they get neither too far ahead nor behind consumer demand. Tweaking technology to a timetable can be a very delicate science. For instance, according to Derrick Applegate, national sales manager at Yonex USA, the company’s research and development team took nearly four years to find the best path from a multifilament to a polyester string. One of the results is the new Poly Tour Pro 125 HS, a flash yellow, highly durable poly designed to provide a comfortable feeling, reducing strain throughout the arm, says the company. Yonex also is introducing a slightly harder and more durable version, the Poly Tour Pro 130 HS, also designed to appeal to the consumer interest in a string with a softer feel.

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About the Author

Cynthia Sherman is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.

 

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