Outlook 2012: Racquets — The cost equation
While manufacturers build racquets that adapt to players’ games, the economy is still a formidable opponent.
By Kent Oswald
While final figures weren’t all in at press time, year-end data from the Tennis Industry Association suggested that from 2010 to 2011, total racquet shipments were likely to drop about 6 percent in units and 7 percent in dollars, to 3.56 million racquets shipped and $98.8 million (in wholesale dollars). Unfortunately, that would continue the downward trend since the 2008 record of 4.53 million racquets shipped and 2007’s record sales of $121.42 million at wholesale.
Manufacturers continue to deliver products that adapt (and help more players adapt) to the changing game that requires players to become ever more physical and aggressive. But racquet makers do so facing rising prices for their frames’ materials, so they must carefully calibrate price points, as sales of $200-plus frames have dropped sharply. And they need to remain conscious of consumers who often feel overwhelmed by all the racquet choices.
babolat.com • 877-316-9435
Although not shying away from their status as premier proponents of today’s increasingly more physical and aggressive game — certainly not while continuing to feature Rafael Nadal as their leading endorser — Babolat also asked its R&D folks to offer an enhance feel. The result is Cortex Technology in its new racquets, which the company says filters vibrations from handle to head, but in a way that can be matched to individual playing styles.
For Pure Drives, the company embraced the cosmetic philosophy of “light design," featuring bright flashes of color energizing a darker background. The line includes the Pure Drive/Pure Drive+, Pure Drive Lite, Pure Drive Roddick/Pure Drive Roddick+ and oversized Pure Drive 107. The company incorporated the Cortex Dampening System into dual shafts of its new C-Drive line of lighter, larger head racquets: the C-Drive 102 and C-Drive 105.
donnayusa.com • 877-DONNAY7
Donnay, looking both forward and backward, introduces the Pro One OS as an updated version of the models Andre Agassi and Conchita Martinez used to conquer Wimbledon. Nearly two years in development and with help from lead endorser James Blake, the racquet improves on the original with a weight reduction, and attention to control, touch and feel achieved through use of the company’s XeneCore technology. The other racquet debuting this spring is the company’s head-light, power-generating Formula OS Ext, a wide-body taking its inspiration from the thicker-beamed 1990s version of the Donnay Pro One.
pacific.com • 941-795-1789
Taking the position that less really should mean more, Pacific will be adding one frame this spring. To complement the X Force and X Feel series, the company introduces the X Fast Pro, designed for aggressive players and with an emphasis on a rigid, stable throat to generate maximum energy with the return, although not at the expense of the “feel” the company developed with its other racquets, says Pacific.
dunlopsport.com • 800-768-4727
Dunlop, having seen double-digit growth with its premium racquet sales since unveiling its Biomimetic frames, was set to release two line extensions in January 2012. Instead, they were able to snatch up a few more sales by moving the launch of the 400 and 700 series forward a few months. The 400 frames are based on insights from bone structure to offer power and stability and wing design to cut down on wind drag. The company says the racquets deliver more power, spin and stability. Included are the Biomimetic 400 Tour, the Biomimetic 400 and Biomimetic 400 Lite. The 700 series, emphasizing power and comfort, features 3Dom grommets — based on the idea of cartilage as the padding surrounding joints and designed to create greater freedom of movement for the strings — and debuts with the oversized Biomimetic 700.
head.com • 800-289-7366
Head has simplified the presentation of its lines. The communication strategy is to be clear on the branding of each series (i.e., Prestige, Radical, Extreme, Speed, Instinct, and Star) so as to channel the player first to where he is most likely to find the specific weight, feel, and price among the company’s racquets to match their game. Launching, as the world’s attention turns to Australia, are the company’s new YouTek IG Radicals and YouTek IG Prestiges.
The featured technologies are Innegra (a carbon hybrid composite improving stability and increased shock absorption) and D30 (a "dilatant foam" in the shaft that adjusts based on the swingspeed). Leading the new Prestige line is the Robin Soderling-favored YouTek IG Prestige MP. Others in the series include the YouTek IG Prestige Pro, YouTek IG Prestige Mid and YouTek IG Prestige S.
The face of the Head Radicals is Andy Murray, who will play with the YouTek IG Radical Pro. Other racquets in the line include the YouTek IG Radical MP, YouTek IG Radical OS, and the YouTek IG Radical S.
wilson.com • 800-272-6060
For Wilson, the 2012 theme is “feel.” The BLX technology infuses basalt fibers into the racquets’ composition, headlining the program with the current master of touch, Roger Federer, whose signature is on the Pro Staff Six.One 90 BLX aimed at all-court players. The company is offering the Pro Staff Six.One 95 BLX in both a 16 x 18 and 18 x 20 string pattern, and the Pro Staff Six.One 100 BLX. Players with power-centric games will be encouraged to take a look at the Juice Pro BLX, Juice 100 BLX, Juice 108 BLX and Steam 100 BLX.
princetennis.com • 800-2TENNIS
Prince, too, refined its racquet story for retailers and consumers. The primary technology continues to be EXO3. The company says it found tremendous success and consumer favor with the string suspension system running through holes instead of grommets, creating an expansive hitting zone. The adaptations in terms of communication include design executions that offer a clean and consistent aesthetic upon first glance, but are actually intriguingly intricate when viewed more closely. The New Jersey-based company also reduced the number of racquets in its performance lines, trying for a “narrow and deep" line of performance racquets that make it easier for retailers to support the entire collection.
Among the lines to focus on in 2012 is the new EXO3 Warrior line devoted to the power player. Racquets include the EXO3 Warrior 100, EXO3 Warrior and EXO3 Warrior DB Team.
The company is also rolling out its Rebels, with smaller heads, thinner beams, and emphasis on control. These include the EXO3 Rebel 95, EXO3 Rebel 98 and EXO3 Rebel, Team 98. They have also updated the Tour line for players with all-court games, highlighting racquets, including the EXO3 Tour 100, that will be offered with both 16 x 18 and 18 x 20 string patterns, the EXO3 Tour Team and EXO3 Tour Lite 100.
volkl-tennis.com • 866-554-7872
Volkl simplified the life of its retailers with the decision to release only three to five new frames per season. In 2012, the company is adding to the Organix series introduced last spring. Those racquets, whose carbon nanotubed DNX material is infused with a cellulose-based material for additional power, dampening and feel, will be joined by the Organix VI OS, Organix VI MP and Team Blast. While the racquets continue to feature the feel particular to the brand, their look, in a bow to fashion, will feature a return to the darker colors of years past.
yonexusa.com • 800-44-YONEX
Yonex subtly redesigned the oval’s traditional shape with the new Ezone series, providing extra thickness at the “four corners” and a Quad Power System to improve frame stiffness and allow players to generate more power from the expanded sweetspot. Former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic will play with the Ezone Xi 98. Other racquets in the line include the Ezone Xi, Ezone Xi Lite, Ezone Xi 107, Ezone Xi 115, Ezone Xi Team+, Ezone Xi Team, Ezone Xi Power and Ezone Xi Rally.
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.