Racquet Technology Pushes On
Racquet manufacturers are still spending on R&D, and in 2011, many expect consumer interest to focus on mid-size frames.
By Kent Oswald
Wholesale racquet shipments were expected to end 2010 at levels below 2009, although when final figures are released, dollar sales should be slightly higher year-over-year thanks to the pricing on individual models. The difficult economic times were certainly responsible, as many players did not seem to be in the mood to trade up. However, 2009 was also a banner year for increased and renewed player participation, according to USTA and Tennis Industry Association figures, so the news may not have been as bad as it first appears. In any case, the TIA Dealer Survey is predicting a year-over-year sales increase of near 3 percent.
As in other product categories, the growth is likely to be between the lines. Players want power, but they want comfort. They want something new, but not too far afield from where they are now. Oh, and for the money, they want to fall in love with the racquet so, unfortunately, finding the right balance for a manufacturer is not just a matter of putting more weight on one end or the other.
Despite the tough economy, research and development dollars are continuing to be spent on much more than just making the sticks more fashionable (although they do look good). Technological growth is taking place throughout the category, with many brands expecting the most consumer interest to be created with mid-size frames.
babolat.com • 877-316-9435
It certainly doesn’t hurt Babolat to have the faces of their racquets be Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters. However, market share is still based on how well the racquets play and how successfully the company has managed to gear its racquets to a wide range of playing styles. This year, Babolat adds the 100-square-inch head Pure Storm Team to its line. The racquet — slightly larger than its siblings — features GT Technology for additional power through the frame and the company’s Woofer system connecting strings and frame for additional feel and comfort through the arm. The company also is unveiling the Babolat Overdrive, a 110-square-inch lightweight frame featuring its Cortex technology and designed to provide pop for club players through a very comfortable swing.
head.com • 800-289-7366
While Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf might be the most famous names aligned with Head racquets — as they spearhead the marketing of the Star Series recreational player line of frames — the main man for the company will be Novak Djokovic and his performance with the YouTek IG Speed MP 18/20. The racquet line is designed to provide power and control for long-swinging big-hitters and includes not just the Serb’s racquet, but the new slightly lighter IG Speed 300, the tad longer IG Speed MP 16/19 and the 1-ounce lighter IG Speed Elite, all with 100-square-inch head sizes. In January, Head added Maria Sharapova to its team.
pacific.com • 941-795-1789
Pacific acquired Fischer Racquet Sport Division in 2009 in order to “find the perfect ‘string-holder,’” in the words of Global Player Services Director Tom Parry. For 2011 the company will add the X Feel Pro 95 (with its 95-square-inch head) and X Feel Tour (with a 100-square-inch head and about an ounce lighter) to its tapered beams Tournament Series. Both have BasaltX fibers, providing feel, stability, comfort and power through the frame and a 16/19 string pattern, says the company.
princetennis.com • 800-2TENNIS
The lead story for Prince is the consolidation of its EXO3 franchises with the Bryan brothers playing with the EXO3 Rebel, and John Isner and Vera Zvonareva playing the EXO3 Black. The line — which adds an EXO3 Tour Light transitional option to the performance group accompanying the game improvement EXO3 Silver, Blue and Red racquets — features Prince’s “energy bridge” technology, suspending the string bed from the thinner beamed, more flexible frame in order to reduce arm strain and create a bigger sweetspot.
dunlopsport.com • 800-768-4727
Dunlop continues its Biomimetic (“imitating nature“) racquet line roll-out. The frames will be highlighted on tour with pros Nikolay Davydenko (Biomimetic 200), Fernando Verdasco (Biomimetic 300) and Dominika Cibulkova (Biomimetic 600 Light). The racquets, says Dunlop, feature a textured shark-like skin to reduce wind turbulence, a shaft modeled on the strength provided by bee honeycombs to reduce vibration, and grips inspired by the tack, feel and pads of gecko feet for a greater sensitivity.
volkl-tennis.com • 866-554-7872
Volkl has once again rolled out new technology to meet the changing needs and desires of players for its namesake and Boris Becker racquet lines. The all-new Organix line features frames with additional power supplied via carbon nanotubes-surrounded-by-cellulose-fibers technology; greater vibration absorption in the handle; and Optispot, a system that in testing aided players in seeing the ball more often into their racquet’s sweetspot, says the company. Frames range from the Organix 4 (105-square-inch head, 27.6 inches long, 9.7 ounces unstrung) to the Organix 10 325g (98-square-inch head, 27 inches long, 11.5 ounces unstrung).
wilson.com • 800-272-6060
Wilson moves into 2011 with 14 new BLX racquets, featuring frames using volcanic basalt fibers to provide lighter, more powerful construction, the company says. The premier series includes the Blade Tour BLX, Blade 98 BLX, Blade Team BLX and Blade Lite BLX, a new transitional racquet the company says is for serious juniors, in particular. There are also Player frames for younger players or others seeking lighter racquets; a model developed in conjunction with Justine Henin, the new Tour Limited BLX measuring 27.5 inches long, as well as game-improvement versions. And, suffice it to say, Roger Federer will again be heading team Wilson on tour, using the Six One Tour BLX.
yonexusa.com • 800-44-YONEX
The big news for Yonex is Caroline Wozniacki debuting the VCORE 100S (with its stretched-out sweetspot) as her racquet of choice, along with Ana Ivanovic switching to the company’s new E-Zone 100 at the 2010 US Open. In addition to recapturing a bit of glamour (not to take anything away from Yonex team members David Nalbandian or Maria Kirilenko), the company is aiming to provide racquets to a wider range of hitting styles and demographics, including power players and those focused on control.
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.