Outlook 2014: Finding What Fits
The new racquets are pretty much guaranteed to help your players lift their games.
By Kent Oswald
In terms of retail store square footage, retailers have been saying there are too many racquets for quite some time. Based on getting the perfect stick manufactured for each player, however, there can never be too many. Technology keeps improving and each player has a unique game—even if forehands look similar between hitters, for example, backhands and serves surely won’t.
Susan DiBiase, marketing director for Babolat, puts it simply: “The role and experience of tennis is unique to the individual.” Each player, it seems, would best be served by a playing tool enhancing his or her strengths and covering over the weaknesses.
Along with most other industries, tennis is creeping ever closer to an age of racquet customization—Head’s “Custom Made” option (which lets players select everything from length to string pattern) is only the splashiest, most recent manifestation.
“[Customization] certainly seems to be something that different segments of players are interested in,” says Hunter Hines, Dunlop director of marketing and product development. “It’s become quite popular in golf clubs over the past several years, and I see it starting to trickle into tennis. There are a lot of factors that I think will be in play for determining how far it goes—cost, scale of player interest, etc., but I definitely see it being a bigger part of the future.”
In that future, players will know exactly what fits their game from video breakdowns provided by teaching pros or other feedback, perhaps from racquets such as Babolat’s Play Pure Drive (above), with its built-in sensors. Instead of relying on aftermarket customizations of weight and balance, they’ll go shopping with even more information and among manufacturers with even more robust ways of matching their needs.
We’re not there yet, but there continues to be leaps in applying the understanding of what players need with their racquets and, once again in 2014, the products being introduced are pretty much guaranteed to help players lift their games, with the only “disappointment” being how much they still have to practice on their own as racquets still can’t hit winners without a human connection, a future we hope we’ll never arrive at.
babolat.com • 877-316-9435
The French company is hoping to connect players with their racquet in a more advanced manner using the information from sensors embedded within the Play Pure Drive (same 27-inch length and 100-square-inch head as the “regular” Pure Drive) that provide real-time data, including measurements of power, spin, and where the ball hit the string bed. Additionally, the information is easily sharable via the internet, suggesting new possibilities among players. Print, in-store video, television and, of course, social media marketing will support sales.
For 2014, Babolat unveils a Pure Strike line. The 27-inch-long, 98-square-inch frame incorporates both square and elliptical elements into the graphite, with the racquet best paired with defenders expecting to use their opponent’s speed against them. There is a Tour version and three other options offering different string patterns, balances, weights and beam widths. They will also offer the new Pure Control line, with a heavier Tour version and a lighter version of the graphite/tungsten frames (with 98-square-inch heads and 27-inch-long bodies) for power players with long, fast strokes looking to gain extra command of their shots.
dunlop.com • 800-768-472
Expecting 2014 to be another year of gathering impact, Dunlop will introduce three racquets. The new F4.0 Tour, M4.0 and S4.0 Lite are all 27 inches long with 100-square-inch heads and graphite/biofiber composition. The new naming convention is designed to draw attention of the players, with “F” indicating designs that should be more appropriate for players with full or fast swings, “M” for medium/moderate swings and “S” for shorter/slower swings. Marketing and promotion efforts featuring the additions to the company’s Biomimetic line will be across all mediums and will include, of course, notice of the tour-level players who will be upgrading to the new racquets.
gammasports.com • 800-333-0337
Gamma adds two new, all-court, carbon-composite frames to its thin-beam, aerodynamic RZR racquet line. The 27-inch RZR 100M (100-square-inch head) and less stiff RZR 98M (98-square-inch head) will replace the T Series racquets. The focus for both while in design was on achieving the right the balance to encourage maneuverability, allowing players to generate a little more head speed at the baseline and extra touch at the net.
head.com • 800-289-7366
Head has revised its Radical and Prestige racquet lines, adding Graphene, an extra-strong layered carbon material, to the shaft for additional stability and rebalancing the frames for improved maneuverability. Affected sticks include the heavy hitting Radical Pro (98-square-inch head; 27 inches long), Radical MP, also with a new 16/19 string pattern, (98, 27), Radical S (102, 27) and the lightweight Prestige Rev Pro (93, 27). In the Prestige line new racquets include the Prestige Pro (98, 27) with the new 16/19 string pattern, Prestige MP (98, 27), Prestige S (98, 27), Prestige PWR, (107, 27-1/3), and lightweight Radical Rev (98, 27).
In addition, Head’s new Custom Made program will offer customization services via the company’s website for the Graphene Speed or inline Speed, which will allow players to personalize the weight, length and balance of their racquets.
pacific.com • 800-892-5901
Continuing to refine and enhance the technology it acquired from Fischer in 2009, Pacific is incorporating the next generation of basalt fibers, BX2, into its frames. The results are racquets that are slightly lighter, a bit firmer, vibrate less and generate more power than their forerunners, says the company. According to Tom Parry, global player services director, “If it is not ‘broken,’ then why fix it? The tennis court remains the same dimension, the ball is virtually the same, and so players still seek performance products that meet their own unique or specific personal requirements [and] we will continue to provide them with the same.”
Among the featured models are the BX2 X Feel Pro.90 Vacuum (90-square-inch head, 27-inch length); BX2 X Feel Pro.95 (95, 27); BX2 X Force Pro (98, 27); BX2 X Force (98, 27); the lighter tour level racquet from Pacific, the BX2 X Force LT (98, 27); the BX2 X Feel Tour (100, 27); a racquet designed to complement the games of competitive women, the BX2 Finesse (102, 27); and the oversized, ultra light, extra-forgiving BX2 Nexus (118, 27-3/4).
princetennis.com • 800-2TENNIS
In re-establishing itself as a dominant force in the market, Prince is pursuing a number of different initiatives. It’s opened the Prince Innovation Center at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., as a home to Prince’s new Racquet Services Team, which will handle equipment customization for high-performance juniors and tour-level players. It is also directing traffic to the microsite iamprincetennis.com for people interested in product videos, social content, technology information and help selecting a racquet.
As for the racquets themselves, they feature ESP technology, which offers a high spin-generating string pattern and double-bridge vibration dampeners throughout the Premier (shorter, slower strokes), Warrior (moderate to full strokes) and Tour (longer, faster strokes) lines. Highlighted models include the 115L ESP (115-square-inch head, 27-inch length), 105 ESP (105, 27-1/4), Warrior 100 (100, 27) and lighter 100L, Tour 98 ESP (98, 27) and 100T ESP (100, 27). In addition, to reach out to all segments, particularly nostalgic boomers, Prince is focusing on racquets with a retro look and feel by leveraging the company’s history with graphite frames.
volkltennis.com • 866-554-7872
Continuing to amplify the ball-striking efficiency and reduce vibration with its line of high-tech carbon nanotube frames, Volkl has upgraded the grommet system and handles in its latest models. The German company introduces Organix 1 (115-square-inch head, 27.8 inches long), Organix 3 (110, 27.8) and Organix 10 in a new mid-version (93, 27). Volkl also is highlighting the new Super Gs (racquets combining the new grommet system and a bio-sensor pin in the handle that improves feel), including the Organix 4 (105, 27.6), Organix 6 Super G (100, 27), shade heavier Organix 8 Super G (100, 27), and control-oriented Organix 9 Super G (98, 107). The junior market will receive the Super G technology in the form of the Organix 8 Super G Jr. (102, 25).
wilson.com • 773-714-6400
Wilson will continue to build its lines around the new Spin Effect Technology, with its tweaked frame geometry and open string pattern allowing the mains more snapback. It is technology for both World No. 1 Serena Williams, who wields her Blade (98-square-inch head, 27-inch length), and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, who will be powering the new Wilson Juice 100S (100, 27), with its enhanced grommet system. Among the year’s promotions Wilson will be rolling out at all levels of the game will be announcements of additional changes among its top racquet endorsers.
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.