Showing posts with label racquets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label racquets. Show all posts

Yonex Ezone DR 98 racquet review

(2018 update: added quick EZONE 98 comparison below)

I did quite enjoy hitting with the Ai 98, so have really been looking forward to try its successor. Let's jump right into it:

Specs

Length: 69 cm (measured on demo)
Frame width: 23 / 24 / 19 mm (Yonex)
Head size: 98 in² / 632 cm² (Yonex)
String pattern: 16 x 19
Strung weight: 325 g (measured on demo)
Strung balance: 322 mm (measured)
Swing weight: 324 (TW)

 Yonex Ezone DR 98 racquet for review

Thoughts on specs

Classic unstrung weight / balance combo of 310 grams / 310 mm. Otherwise harmonic package of head size, string pattern, and frame width (though the max part @ 24 mm starts to get a bit thick for a player's stick). Note the extra ~0.4 cm in length compared to the standard 68.58 cm.

Playing impressions

Not a flimsy racquet, nicely weighted and pretty stable. Frame is quite powerful. String bed is on the denser side, but still produced OK spin. Enjoyed the extra bit of length.

Benchmarking

Had a little bit of a plank-like feel similar to the Wilson SixOne's, though obviously not as hefty. Little surprised about that given the pretty whippy specs. The Yonex Tour F 97 specs are almost identical, however that racquet zips through the air noticeably faster, but is less powerful and has a denser string bed.

2018 update: the new version, EZONE 98, has become a tad lighter (5 grams) and a tad less headlight (5 mm). When I tried it, it felt less planky, a bit more whippy, and more comfortable. While the DR98 nicely bordered on being a player's racquet (maybe except for the 24 mm part of the frame), the EZONE I played moved another step away from that, most of all because it felt less stable. So between the 2, it depends on what you're looking for.

Here's a visual that indicates where the DR 98 fits into the current spectrum:



Recommendations

Player type: Good modern all-court racquet, probably geared towards aggressive baseliners. Should work well for both long or short swings.

String: Would probably put a control oriented, grippy poly in there, strung at around 24 kgs / 52 lbs. Maybe something like the Tour Bite or Black Code 4S. Hybrid should work well too, would put poly in the mains - a) for spin, and b) since the frame is already quite powerful.

Closing thoughts

Really nice racquet that'll work for a lot of players, subjectively one of the 5 most interesting ones currently on the market. Unless you'd like any of the specs much different, it's definitely worth a demo. Gotta have to like or at least get along with the Yonex head shape though.

To get a better idea how this (or any other racquet) compares to what's on the market today, check out the racquet spectrum.

The tennis racquet spectrum

These days, it's thankfully easy to look up specs for individual mainstream racquets. One good resource is Tennis Warehouse (RF 97 example), who also offer their Racquet Finder to find racquets within custom ranges.

However, I haven't found a nice overview showing the current spectrum of what you can buy, so I took a first pass at creating one. The below charts are derived from roughly 250 frames that have been on the market over the last couple of years. The list is not comprehensive, but the decent sample size should give us a good idea of how the world of tennis racquets looks like.

Weight & balance (mm)


Graph of tennis racquet weight and balance correlatation

This scatter plot nicely shows the correlation between weight and balance. Generally, the lighter a racquet, the more head-heavily balanced, and the heavier, the more head-light. The general correlation here is that for every increase of 10 grams, the balance point moves down by about 5 mm.

On the heavy, more head-light end we find some classic-spec frames, such as the Wilson SixOne 95 or Roger's RF 97. Fully loaded, the stock RF 97 can come in over 360 grams. The lightest racquet I found on the market is the Donnay Superlite 114 at 238g, which is the outlier in the bottom left. So the spread here is about 120g, or a possible weight increase of up to ~50%.

In regards to balance, the most head light racquets are classic player's sticks like Pete's Wilson Pro Staff 6.0 85, the Völkl Power Bridge 10 Mid, and the Vantage BC20, all balanced at around 310mm. At the other end of the spectrum we mostly find game improvement / comfort racquets, such as the Head Titanium Ti.S5 Comfort Zone or Wilson Hyper Hammers, balanced at and even above 385mm. So we're seeing more than a 75mm range, or about 10% of total racquet length.

In the chart, we find the biggest cluster at around 325g and 325mm - probably a proven combo for players who have developed sound technique, and would like a versatile racquet allowing them to hit any shot in their repertoire. Good examples here are the Wilson Burn 95 FST, the Head Prestige Pro, or the Yonex Ezone Ai 98.

There's also a bit of a cluster around 280g and 350mm, where we find racquets such as the Dunlop Biomimetic S 3.0 Lite, the Head Graphene XT Speed REV PRO, and the Wilson Burn 100 ULS. Easy-playing racquets that should help develop more fluid swings and/or get the ball into the court.

Again, the biggest takeaway here is the correlation between weight and balance. The combination of the 2 lead to swing weight:

Swing weight (kg cm²)


Swing weight distribution of tennis racquets on the market

The max value at 412 is the Gamma RZR Bubba. If you look again at the weight / balance scatter plot above, you'll find it out on its own at roughly 300g and 390 mm. This combo leads to the highest swingweight of any mainstream racquet I found.

Min: 282 - Völkl Team Speed Orange, 283g and ~334mm.

Average: 317 (e.g. Babolat Pure Drive, Dunlop Biomimetic F5.0 Tour, Prince Textreme Tour 100T)

Median: 316 (e.g. Yonex Vcore Tour 97 310g, Wilson Steam 105S)

Note: You can even go deeper here by looking at twist weight and recoil weight. Those measures are harder to get and may be more interesting for high end players who also care about optimizing their racquets.

Length (inches)


Length distribution of tennis racquets on the market

The standard length of 27 inches / 68.58cm is still the most popular, represented in ~3/4 of the racquets on the market.

The 27.0 - 27.5 range is somewhat popular too, mostly for game improvement racquets. Examples for 27.5 are the Babolat Pure Drive 110, or the Wilson Blade 104 that could be interesting for two-handers.

Notables in terms of length are the Head Graphene XT Instinct Rev Pro that is a bit shorter at 26.8 inches / 68.07cm, and at the other end again the Gamma RZR Bubba @ 29 inches.

Head size (in²)


Head size distribution of tennis racquets on the market

Max: 137 - again the huge Gamma RZR Bubba.

Min: 85 - that's the Wilson Pro Staff 85 you can still buy today. Followed by more recent frames such as the Yonex VCORE Tour F 93 (=> 93 in²) or the Head Graphene XT Prestige Rev Pro (also 93).

Average: 101 (e.g. Völkl V1 Classic, Donnay Pro One 102, Head Graphene Radical S).

Median: 100, such as the Babolat Pure Drive, Dunlop Biomimetic M 4.0, Head Graphene XT Speed MP A, Wilson Juice 100 / 100 S, Pacific X Fast Pro, the Prince 100 racquets, and many others. Probably the "sweet spot" in terms of head size these days.

Stiffness / flex (RDC)


Flex / stiffness distribution of tennis racquets on the market

Max: 75, e.g. the Asics racquets, such as the 109 or the Head Titanium Ti.S6. The Wilson Juice 100S is up there too, at 74.

Min: 45. Vantage frames come in pretty soft below or around 50. Some of the softer mainstream frames are the Head MicroGEL Radicals (~56), the Donnay Pro One GT 18x20 (57), the Babolat Pure Control 95 (58), or the Wilson Blade 104 at 59.

Related note: Wilson Triad racquets feature gel inserts between the head and handle, resulting in a very low stiffness measures (around 17).

Average: 66 (e.g. Wilson Six One 97 and 97S, Yonex VCORE Tour F 97 (290g), Head Graphene XT Instinct MP.

Median: 67 (e.g. Babolat Pure Strike 16x19 (Project One7), Volkl Super G V1 Midplus, Prince Textreme Warrior 107).

Other racquet properties


... to think of are frame width, string pattern, grommets, and price. So some quick thoughts for now:

Width: 22mm beam width seems is pretty standard these days. More classic frames can be as thin as 18mm (e.g. the Pro Staff 95S or Roger's "old" Tour 90). Donnay made a comeback a few years ago with frames that were 15mm thin in some places. The Asics 125 or the Wilson Hyper Hammer 5.3 Stretch OS come in at 28mm, and the Prince Textreme Premier 120 marks the high end at 30mm.

String pattern: Recently, more open patterns have emerged to promote spin generation - if you see a 16x16 combo, or even less strings in any direction, you've probably found one. Classic patterns like 16x18, 16x19, or 18x20 are probably still the most prominent. PowerAngle racquets are somewhat interesting in this context, since they're strung diagonally.

Grommets: Over the years, many manufacturers have played around with grommets too, mostly aiming to increase the sweet spot. This has been done e.g. by trying to reduce friction, giving the string more room to move, or inserting some elastic material. In the last racquet generation, Wilson drilled the holes parallel into the frame, which seems to have worked well for the SixOne 95 that I had played for a while.

Price: New top brand racquets usually cost around $200, last gen racquets tend to be reduced to around $100, and current discounted or 2nd tier brand racquets are around $150.

So there you go, for now. Maybe this can help you find the right racquet, save some money by buying a previous generation, and push the industry to innovate beyond the usual variables...

Happy to rework or tweak this based on feedback and interest. Cheers!

RF97 Autograph long term review

After about half a year of playing and North of 100,000 ball contacts with the RF, it's probably a good time to post an in-depth review. Remember that Wilson has been stating that the racquet was co-developed with Roger, and that he is actually playing with what you can buy. So here's your chance to feel like Roger, at least a little :) So how does his racquet feel, actually?

Specs

Official:

Length: 68.58 cm (official spec - more on this below...)
Head size: 626 cm² / 97 in²
Beam width: 21.5 mm
String pattern: 16 x 19

Measured on true-to-naked-spec frames:

Strung weight: 358 g
Strung balance: 314 mm
Strung swing weight: 330 kg cm²

Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph with orange Völkl Cyclone string

The 2nd generation RF97 is supposed to only be a cosmetic update, i.e. new paintjob. I have played both back to back, however not with exactly the same string and grip setup. The official specs are identical though:



Thoughts on specs, and some benchmarking

I put together a quick comparison between memorable Pro Staff models, and as you can see most of the specs are not that different:

Pro Staff RF97Six.One 95 16x18Pro Staff Tour 90Pro Staff 6.1 Original
Strung weight356349354356
Strung balance314316314315
Strung swing weight330330336326
Head size626613581613
Length68.5868.5868.5868.58
Beam width21.5221821
Main strings16161618
Cross strings19181820
Even string spacing around sweet spot?YesNoYesNo

Most notably, head size and beam width have increased, mostly resulting in more power (and less backhand shanks for Roger :P).

It probably makes most sense to compare the RF97 and the SixOne 95 a bit more, as those 2 are the most recent racquets in the lineup. The RF97 is even a bit heavier, by ~7 grams. There are only a handful of racquets in that weight range on the market, however for both racquets the official head light balance leads to a manageable swing weight.

The RF97s racquet head is a bit wider and starts a bit lower in the throat. Compared to the 16x18 SixOne 95 you get 1 extra cross string. I can't help but think I would have preferred a 16x18 bed, but hard to tell without trying it out... The string spacing is pretty even around the sweet spot, which I do like as it helps with both power and spin.

I currently don't have a precise enough measurement tool at hand, but by placing both beams side by side they *seem* almost identical in width, at around 21.5 mm. These days that's a good compromise between feel and power. If you hit with Roger's previous racquet, the Tour 90, or the current 95S, you'll appreciate the speedy feel and precision of an 18 mm frame, but you'll likely find that it's tough to hit the ball through the court.

With current Wilson frames, I'm right between grip sizes 2 and 3 (4 1/4 and 4 3/8). I changed my set of grip size 3 RFs to size ~2.5 by replacing the leather grip with the Babolat Skin Feel. That took ~10 grams off the frame and moved the balance point by ~6 mm towards the head, making it now a tad lighter but also a tad less head light than my SixOne 95. Overall still in very close range.

Warning: Wilson's generous manufacturing tolerances lead to very different racquets carrying the same name. In addition to the weight / balance / swing weight issues, I now found that 2 of my 6 frames are actually ~0.4 cm shorter (!). Never seen or heard of that before, so it didn't even occur for me to order and check for length. So ask for what you want and measure what you get. More info here.

Playing impressions

The mass and relatively open string pattern help produce a heavy, decently spinny ball. If you end up with a frame with higher swing weight than the official spec, your shots will get even heavier, but it will also be tough to get the racquet around. If you end up with a lighter swing weight version, the RF transforms into more of a serve and volley racquet. I found a true to spec frame to be a nice all-court racquet. I've had the pleasure (pain?) to hit with all 3 variants, and insisted on receiving the all-court spec that's printed on the frame.

Product-design-wise, I am still somewhat bothered by the relatively low-sitting throat and racquet head, and the throat being a tad longer than the SixOne 95. I blame that combo for the sometimes wobbly response I receive on hits outside the sweet spot.

I've also been struggling with my topspin backhand a bit. For the backswing, I put the supporting hand's index finger inside the frame and on the strings. On the SixOne, it ends up resting between the 6th and 7th hole. Playing with the RF, I found that my finger rests a tiny bit higher, which after a few million backhands might have some impact on the rest of the kinetic chain...

Comparing the RF97 and SixOne 95 side by side, the 97 produces more spin and a higher launch angle, however the 95 is both noticeably more stable and more maneuverable. The SixOne's benefits become obvious when returning fast serves, and especially on volleys. If I was exclusively playing serve and volley, I'd stick to the 95, still probably the best racquet on the planet for that purpose. However, the 97 better suits the modern baseline game while doing well enough on serves and volleys. Hence the RF97 is probably the better all-year, all-surface racquet.

Both the RF97 and the SixOne 95 can feel a bit planky - I've had similar a similar impression hitting with the Babolat Pure Controls, or even the Yonex Ezone DR 98.

And - as common amongst today's mass-produced frames - both feel quite stiff, making it hard on the arm to use stiffer strings. I'd love to pair the RF with the 1.25 Tour Bite, but even around 20 kg / 44 lbs I end up in pain after a while.

I have a video hitting with the RF here, which you might have seen in another post on the stick.

Recommendations

Player type: All-court players who have (or want to develop) refined long swings, want to feel some heft in their hand, and aim to produce a heavy ball.

String: I've been playing the RF with the orange Cyclone 1.25, strung at 21/20 kgs in the summer, adding a few kgs in the winter. The 1.25 mm Tour Bite was a great fit too, but caused some arm pain. I would generally lean towards a softer but still grippy string. If money is no issue, Roger's Champion's Choice string job works nicely too.

Closing thoughts

Despite the manufacturing tolerance issues and sometimes wobbly response, the RF97 Autograph turned out to be a really nice racquet. Subjectively I'd say it's still one of the 5 most interesting frames on the market. There's not much competition in that weight range, and despite the high gram count it's much more playable than you might think. If you have - or want to develop - smooth swings, and like the thought of producing a heavy ball with a good amount of spin, give it a go.

Prince TeXtreme Tour 95 review

Took me a while to get hands on this one, but the demo was worth the wait: playing with Prince's current Tour 95 reminded me a bit of the Wilson Tour 90 - a fun to play, fast, precise, can-do-anything frame.

The TeXtreme material was a very positive surprise to me. Out of the last 100+ racquets I've taken for a spin, I'd put the TeXtreme 95 in the top 3 of "most pleasant hitting sensation".

However, that wand-like feel also comes with a familiar tradeoff for these kinds of racquets: despite the solid mass of ~325 grams strung, I found it tough to put serious weight behind the ball, and to really hit through the court. In other words, the racquet helps create a pleasant game for both you and your opponent :)

One of these days, I'd like to string one up with a Hyper-G or Tour Bite at or slightly below 20 kg. I could see that solving most of the power issue, while keeping control at a sufficient level (partially thanks to the strings' bite). For the Tour Bite, TeXtreme is probably one of the few current materials that could swallow some of that string's harshness.

For now, I'd say if you enjoy constructing points and/or consider the person across the net more of a partner than an opponent, playing with this frame could be really a lot of fun. Maybe even hand your opponent the same frame to even the odds?

2018 post update: If you're looking for similarly maneuverable alternatives with more plowthrough, Wilson has re-released a relatively cheap (hoping price only, not material) Six.One 95, although only with an 18 x 20 pattern. I tried it and it plays nicely enough.

The (new) Yonex VCORE PRO 97 looks like another option on paper, though I found that it felt quite in the head. Didn't seem to make much of a plowthrough difference to me.

Not many player sticks left on the market! Maybe try one of the new Srixons?

What are pro racquets like?

[BETA POST to get the content out there, will build out if there's interest]

Now that we have somewhat of an overview of mainstream racquets, it's probably interesting to compare that to what the pros are playing with.

Most top level pros use frames built upon proven basis, so called "pro stock" frames. Those are then build up to the pro's liking. As a final step, they receive the paint job of a current mainstream racquet that needs endorsement.

That established conduct is quite misleading (unethical?), and *maybe* apart from the RF97, you cannot really buy a racquet similar to what your favorite pro is using. (There's also the underlying question if that racquet would be best for your game...)

So what are pro racquets like, roughly? In summary, they tend to be a lot heavier and a bit more headlight, resulting in a hefty swingweight premium over mainstream racquets. The frames are also significantly softer, i.e. bend much more on impact.

Here are the averages of key properties, based on information I have gathered across the web and from conversations over the years - probably directionally correct:

Male pro racquets / ATP

Weight: ~370 grams, +/-15 (vs. 309 grams across all mainstream)
Balance: ~315 mm, +/- 10 (vs. 334 mm)
Swingweight: ~360 kg cm²  (vs. 317 kg cm²)
Flex: ~60 RDC, +/- 10 (vs. 66) (guestimate, few data points)
Beam width: ~20 mm, +/- 2 (vs. 23.7)

Female pro racquets / WTA

Weight: ~327 grams, +/- ~30 (see averages above)
Balance: ~344 mm, +/- ~25
Swingweight: ~342 kg cm², +/- ~50
Flex: ~60 (guestimate, few data points - might be a bit higher than the men's)

So if you want to get a mainstream frame close to a pro frame without plastering it with tungsten or lead tape, there are not a lot of racquets to choose from. The closest mainstream frames are probably the RF97 (although that one is pretty stiff), or the 330g Yonex VCORE Duel G 97.

You may be able to somewhat emulate the pro racquet feel by building up something like the Prince Tour 95, a heavier Head Prestige (e.g. the Pro), or some of the other thin Yonex beams (e.g. the VCORE Duel G 97 (310g). Prince's old Rebel 95 might have actually been quite close, as it was quite hefty, headlight, and noticeably bent back on impact.

Handles are sometimes customized too, accommodating the pro's hand. Leather grips are still popular. Some pros then add the overgrip in unique fashion - Richard Gasquet for example only wraps it halfway up the handle. The overgrip that seems most noticeably on tour is still the original, light blue Tourna Grip.

Pros also tend to opt for tighter string beds to better control the ball at high speed. The most popular string jobs are hybrids of natural gut and a poly (often a Babolat VS in the mains, and some Luxilon string in the crosses), or a full bed of a firm poly such as the Luxilon Alu Power or the brand's 4G. The Solinco Hyper G is worth a mention too, as Sam Querrey for example chooses to play with the string without getting paid for it.

The softer and heavier frames make these relatively stiff poly strings easier on the arm than a firm and light mainstream racquet would. Due to strings having become stiffer, I would triangulate that the average tension has probably dropped a couple of kg's from 25 to 23 kgs (roughly 51 lbs).

Finally, if you'd like to have a frame built to your preferred (pro's) specs, take a look at Head's and Vantage's offerings.

Quickly tweak weight, balance, swing weight

To put finishing touches on a racquet's playing characteristics, most folks apply lead tape. However, lead is not considered healthy to touch. In addition, if you need to reposition or trim the tape, the glue becomes an issue too - the tape can be tough to peel off, and then quickly loses its stickiness. You might also end up with residue / marks on the frame.

Tungsten tape is not supposed to come with those health concerns, but it's quite expensive, and you still have the glue problem. I found that if I'm lucky, I can reposition that tape once before it flies off with the next swing.

If you're 100% sure how much tape you'd like to apply and where, you're good. But if you want to experiment or finetune, why not use dampeners? They usually weigh 2-3 grams, and are easy to move around. Of course you can mix and match what you have, as long as you distribute the weight symmetrically.


I found that I liked the Tourna Pete Sampras dampeners for this purpose. They are small and soft enough to squeeze into tight spots.

If you want to tweak your racquet's playing *characteristics*, you want to experiment with weight around the 3 and 9 o'clock, 2 and 10 o'clock, and/or 12 o'clock positions:


Once you're dialed in, make sure to measure weight, balance, and swing weight for future reference. Maybe add a rating and notes too. Then you can cut and stick the tape of your choice to the frame. Voila!

Any of the above will obviously make the racquet more head-heavy / less head-light. A quick way to add more weight to the handle is to replace a synthetic grip with a leather grip, which can weigh up to 10 grams more. On the heavy RF 97 Autograph, that already changes the balance point by about 10 mm, which is huge!

Need more context or want more ideas? You can find related posts to racquets and customization here.

Why you might not have bought Roger's racquet

Alright, good news first. The Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph generally turned out to be an amazing racquet. Official weight and balance combo is spot on, head size seems right, spacing between the cross strings around the sweet spot is even (as opposed to many other PWS frames), it's got plenty of power but also provides good touch, and I like the graphic design too. And it's probably a collector's item.


Between different interviews, Roger has indicated that he has been playing his previous racquet, the Tour 90, close to stock spec. Maybe sometimes a slightly stiffer or softer frame, depending on playing conditions, but that was supposed to be it. After 127 prototypes and about a year of testing, Wilson and Roger came up with the RF97. He committed to the switch and has been playing great since. More power, better serving, less backhand framers - and maybe one can even give the racquet partial credit for the SABR :)

The RF97 was "meticulously play tested and developed by the greatest tennis player of all time", Wilson claims.  It gets better: according to the NY Times, both Wilson and Roger confirmed that the RF97 is what he's actually playing with. Amongst the top 100 players or so, who mostly use custom frames, that would be quite a rarity. And a treat for us consumers. Between the Tour 90 and RF97, weight, balance, and swing weight are actually pretty close - Roger probably wouldn't want to adjust his swings to a new racquet.

I first experienced the RF at the 2014 US Open. I didn't get a chance to hit with it, but holding and swinging it felt right. Very exciting! However, the racquet was almost impossible get a hold of after the official launch. Roger was playing well, and for the first few months it was *the* racquet on the market.

A few months later at a Wilson demo event at Stanford, I finally got a chance to hit with it. It felt rock solid, but I just couldn't get the racquet head around. Very disappointing! The racquet just seemed too heavy.

Most prominent resources found the same. Tennis.com for example tested a frame with 348 kg cm² swing weight. That's significantly higher than the ~330 I've seen resulting from the official specs (including string). Not surprisingly, the Tennis.com author wrote "Wow, it’s heavy.", "...the RF97 Autograph feels every bit it’s 12.5 oz measurement", and it was "a chore to swing". For comparison, Midwest lists 336 and Tennis Warehouse 335This guy was lucky though and ended up with 331.

After that Stanford hit, I dismissed the racquet. Fast forward a year, I took part in a PBI Camp at Stanglwirt, Austria. That gave me a chance to give the frame another go. Between coaches and participants (but not provided by PBI sponsor Wilson!), there were 3 racquets to try. And they all seemed very different...

During the camp, I got about 30 hours of demo time in. I found that I really enjoyed the lighter swinging frames. So I made a trip to the closest Tennis-Point store in Munich and sacrificed a Champion's Choice string job to get the naked specs of the racquet I liked. Turned out that it was slightly below the official spec of 340 grams and 305 balance, which result in a 299 kg cm² swing weight.

In the case of the RF97 (and similar "player" racquets), a true to spec frame does feel substantial and heavy when held, but due to its headlight balance it's supposed to whip around quite easily. With a true to spec RF97, I even find myself making contact or abandoning a swing path too early. For example, I couldn't see players like DelPo or Ana enjoying this frame - the racquet head would probably come around too soon for their long-arm swings.


Based on what I've seen, it's quite likely that folks have been demoing heavy-feeling versions of the RF97. Between the 20 or so frames I measured, the weight range was 6 grams, and balance differed by up to 11 mm. Put those 2 together, and you end up with a swing weight spectrum of over 20 points (measured in kg cm²). That basically means you could get a racquet that swings as light as the non-Autograph Pro Staff 97 or the 95S, or almost as heavy as an old-school Dunlop 200G.

All in all the situation is a bit unfortunate:
  • I probably spent more than 50 hours and more than a grand to figure all that out, just to end up with 3 racquets that match the specs that are printed on the frame.
  • In the process, I also (kindly) tortured 2 local tennis stores and put the folks at Tennis-Point.de to work. That also puts retailers in a funny spot, as they have to balance sales, customer experience, and cost on their end.
  • Many of us won't enjoy the fruits of the labor that Wilson and Roger put in to develop a spot-on racquet.
  • Wilson, who has such a winner on their hands, could be selling many more racquets and gain more excited fans and brand ambassadors. 
  • Roger, who has gone through the whole process and given his name and autograph for the racquet, probably wouldn't enjoy hitting with most of the racquets that end up on the shelves.

So what to do? Ideally the problem would be fixed at the source, by tightening up the manufacturing tolerances. If that's too costly and/or tricky for some brands, they could provide a spec range (as Technifibre does). And maybe print the actual specs on the frame, at least for higher-end models. Might also be worth thinking about charging more for more precision, and/or less for less precision. That way players who don't care can save some money, and players who do can spend a little more to save themselves a lot of hassle.

In the meantime, serious players should pay attention to the actual weight, balance, and swing weight of the racquets we're demoing, so that we make the right judgment and purchasing decision. I recommend asking for measures and/or measuring yourself. That'll educate you more about what you like, and create further demand in the marketplace for supplying racquets how they were meant to be. Your racquet should not be a blocker, but an enabler for your performance and development - right?

If you're ready to walk the walk, I have a few posts on measuring and getting matching racquets on this blog that may help you.

Keep enjoying game and gear, and try a true to spec RF97 sometime :)

Update: on a related note, here's my long-term review of the racquet.

Do I need the latest tennis racquet?

New tennis racquets are flooding the market each year. On the one hand that's quite exciting, but on the other their appearance triggers a cycle that reminds me a bit of Groundhog Day. The vast majority of racquets haven't shown to be breakthroughs over what's already been out there. So once the excitement wears off, we're mostly back to looking at the good old specs that we think best support our natural style and create effective strokes.

For example, the Wilson Pro Staff Classic's specs have lasted a quarter century, being reincarnated in the SixOne series along the way. A true-to-spec RF97 Autograph is not that different either. Material, grommets, grip dampening etc keep undergoing changes too - but they don't necessarily lead to better playing racquets, and most changes don't seem to stand the test of time. My favorite material for example still is Wilson's HyperCarbon, which came out around the turn of the millennium.

Tennis pros tend to stick to proven gear as well. Many pros play racquets based on a handful of stock frames, which are then tweaked to their liking. Ana for example confirmed that she hasn't changed her setup much over her career. At first sight, Roger's change from the Tour 90 to the RF97 seems quite drastic, however it's worth noting that both racquets are quite similar in terms of weight, balance, and swing weight. So often times, when a new racquet comes out, the pros stick to the old frame that gets a new paint job - unfortunately.

So what does that mean for us? Well, once we figure out what specs we like we can narrow down what's on the market from a few hundred to 20 or so frames. Or if you have an all-time favorite you go from there and demo similarly spec'ed frames, and maybe change 1 variable at a time. Either way, you don't necessarily need the latest and greatest.

From time to time though, I'd still try something different - maybe even extreme -  to question your assumptions, avoid missing out on the occasional step change, develop your game, or just get more excited about playing. For example, that crazy big, long, and swingweight-heavy Gamma Bubba found a surprising number of fans when it came out.

To help understand racquets are out there and what has and hasn't changed, I created a bit of an overview. And if you'd like to dig deeper, you can find plenty more about racquet specs here.

How to choose a tennis racquet

[BETA POST to get the content out there, will build out if there's interest]

1. Narrow down the options

Pick up as many racquets as you can (e.g. in a store), move them around, go through your swings, and then select a substet that appeal to you. And/or ask all your tennis friends who you can get a hold of if you may borrow one of their frames.

Pay attention to grip size too - they can feel different between manufacturers, models or even model years. In terms of size, factor in the overgrip if you use one.

If you're planning to identify a set of demos online, either start from the racquet of specs you know you like, or eliminate what you surely won't like - huge head size, super heavy, super light, dense string pattern etc. Tennis Warehouse for example offers a Racquet Finder (which I wish was a bit easier to use), and also shows similar racquets on each product page (RF97 example).

2. Try your favorites

Pick your favorite frames to demo, and maybe pick up 2 extremes that you think you won't like, just to get a sense for the spectrum and question your initial impression.

Any self-respecting tennis store will offer a demo program. You can also order demos online, e.g. at Tennis Warehouse, Tennis Express, or if you're in Germany for example, there's Tennis-Point.

3a. Found a clear winner?

Go for it. And enjoy it for the time being - if you discover that you don't like something, you can always adjust later. At least you got on court in the meantime :) If you just like to tweak your racquet a bit, you can find an idea here. If you're looking for a more drastic change down the line, select your future set of demos based on your current pick and adjust the spec(s) you're no longer fond of.

3b. Not in love yet?

Note weight, balance, swing weight, head size, string pattern, and any other spec that stood out to you. Even better, measure what you can. From there, figure out what you liked and what you didn't.
Then pick the next set of demos by keeping what you liked, and changing what you didn't. If you want to keep track and rate your demos, there's a template here's that you can adjust and use.

Hope this gives you some ideas so far. If you're an advanced player, here are some other things to pay attention to:

* When buying multiple racquets, get them matched to what you like and to each other. Over the years, I wrote a few posts about my matching woes - here's an example.

* If you're sensitive towards the grip, remember that there are different butt caps (somewhat easy to change) and grip shapes (not easy to change).

* If you know exactly what you want, you can order a custom racquet, e.g. at Head or Vantage. Fun playing around with this the Head customizer in any case :)

Triangulating weight, balance, and swing weight

Once I had decided to switch to the Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph, I ventured out to find 3 true to spec frames. As mentioned before, Wilson and some other brands' racquets come out of the factory quite differently. Technifibre for example recently increased their official tolerance from 5 to 7 (grams for weight and millimeters for balance), so basically a spread of 14 for each measure! At least they print that on their frames...



I had tested the RF 97 in different weight, balance, and swing weight combos for more than 30 hours, and found that even a slight increase in balance and swing weight over the official spec made the racquet feel as heavy as often reported. However, I loved the feel of a true to spec (or slightly below) frames. So I had no choice but to become a picky customer when it came to the measures.

Even if you only want 1 racquet, you may have found the weight, balance, and swing weight combo that works for you. There are a few situations in which you might have to triangulate a bit, for example:
  • you want to pick the right racquet(s) off the shelf at your local tennis shop, but they're not very keen removing the plastic wrap around the handle, cutting out the card board, stringing the racquet up etc
  • you fell in love with a demo or someone else's racquet, but they're not very keen on you cutting out their favorite string job, removing their grips etc.

Both of the above actually happened to me, so here's what I found as I was looking for a RF 97 with a true to spec 340 grams and 305 mm balance point in-store:

The cardboard in the racquet head...
  • weighs ~14 grams
  • moved balance up by ~8 mm (from 305 to 313)
  • increased swing weight by ~41 kg cm² (higher than the string value below - maybe due to air resistance?)

A (Champion's Choice) string job...
  • increased weight by 16 grams
  • moved balance up by ~9 mm
  • increased swing weight by ~31 kg cm²

The Wilson Pro Overgrip...
  • weighs ~4 grams
  • moved balance point by ~3 mm
  • increased swing weight by 1 kg cm².

The plastic wrap around the handle weighs ~2 grams, so you'll have to subtract that from your measure. The effect on swing weight is negligible though.

A 5 gram dampener increased swing weight by 2 kg cm².

A fully loaded frame with string, overgrip, and dampener weighed 340 + 16 + 4 + 5 = 365 grams. All that moved the balance point up by ~8 mm, so a true to spec model with a naked 305 mm balance point would have a fully loaded balance of ~313 mm. I still have to measure swing weight on that one - should be in the mid 330s...

Note that with ~340 grams, the RF 97 is one of the heaviest frames out there. So on lighter frames, cardboard, string, grip etc should have a higher relative impact on balance and swing weight.

You can find some tips on measuring weight and balance in this post. For swing weight, you'll need something like the Alpha Accu Swing 2, the Babolat Racquet Diagnostic Center, the Gamma 3 in 1 Racquet Test Center, or the Prince Precision Tuning Center. Luckily some tennis shops are starting to recognize the importance (and business opportunity?), and are investing in these machines. As a workaround, you can check out Racquet Tune, which features a swing weight calculator.

For reference values, I recommend visiting Tennis-Warehouse.com, where the staff actually measures multiple frames and then posts the averages on the racquet description pages (RF 97 example). Note that not only weight, but also balance and swing weight are taken from strung racquets.

There are some more sophisticated tools and formulas out there to calculate all this, but hope this info and approach gets you thinking in the right direction. And most importantly, gets you 99% the racquet you want within 5 mins :)

Your next racquets, matched

My latest quest for 2 matching racquets has ended.  With purchasing 3 :)  After unsuccessful measurements in a couple of Golfsmith stores, I contacted both Tennis Express and Tennis Warehouse to see what they could do.

Tennis Express didn't do well on this one.  I generally like their selection and their affinity towards new media.  I have had smooth buying experiences in the past too.  They offer Google Checkout as a payment option, which is another plus for me.  Just enter your Google password, and payment and shipment details are taken care of.

When I called, the Tennis Express rep confused matching with customizing, and quoted me $35 per racquet.  I explained matching, and it appeared that the rep wasn't aware of the common manufacturing variances.  I was put on hold, and then they quoted with $25 per frame for matching.  That seemed a little expensive.  I still had the feeling the rep didn't know what I was talking about, so I decided to send an email and see what I get back.

In 2 short paragraphs, I outlined exactly what I was looking for: can you please match weight, balance, and if possible swingweight.  Here are the spec ranges I'm looking for.  The reply was a 2 liner without greeting and 2 typos, saying they "can weight racqeuts" and that the charge would be $10 per racquet.  Different charge than quoted before, at least a bit fairer.  But they answered a question I didn't ask, "can you weigh racquets?".  So that didn't instill too much confidence, and I kept looking for other options.

Tennis Warehouse did better in my case.  I emailed an identical request, and even though it took a follow-up from me 3 days later to get an initial reply, things ended up moving pretty quickly.  It turned out that they had forwarded the request to their racquet specialist.  He replied to my follow-up saying that he had measured hundreds of these frames and that it should be very possible to meet my spec request.  That was exciting to hear, and so I said "if you can find 3 matches I'll buy 3"!  Win-win situation.

Long story short, he found 3 frames, all almost identical in weight and balance, and they even measured and matched swingweight.  Within one day, they had found the racquets, strung them up with 3 different strings as I requested, pricematched a Golfsmith promotion, and shipped with Golden Gate Overnight.  The matching charge was $10, and they put a sticker with specs on each frame:

From Racquets

What does all this mean for you?  I'd say if you need 2 racquets or more, ask to get them matched.  Create demand in the market so that stores and manufacturers respond and don't keep selling racquets that look the same but play differenty.  When your string breaks at 5:5 in the third set of your team's decisive match of the season, you don't want to pick up a different racquet :)

I'm sure Tennis Express can step up their game by educating their staff and getting the right equipment and processes in place.  But from my experience, I for now recommend Tennis Warehouse if you're in the US and your local store can't match for you.  So identify the racquet you'd like to buy, maybe measure some frames to get an idea for the model's spec ranges, and then specify and communicate what you want. 

Me, I'll try the frames without customizing for a while and see how I like them.  Since I went for the headlight and lighter end of the variance spectrum, I thought I'd quickly need to put a few grams on the head, but so far so good.  Will keep you posted :)

The adventure of finding 2 matching racquets

I've always been tempted to play with Wilson Six.One Tour BLX (supposedly "Roger Federer's racquet"). The frame has always felt great in my hand and I know that it'll allow me to pull off every shot in my skill set. I also like the thin beam and the even string spacing in the sweet spot, in contrast to some other racquets on the market today.

So far, I've never been able to get it enough power and comfort with this racquet. I made the same observation with the BLX version, despite many players stating that it feels more dampened than its predecessors.

Well, it looks like all my string testing over the last few years is finally starting to pay off. I found the WeissCANNON Silverstring very comfortable and playable at low tensions. I strung up a demo @ 44/42 lbs / 20/19 kps (yep!) for a good combo of power and comfort, and had a couple of hits with it that I really enjoyed. Not quite perfect yet, but definitely close and tweakable.

The demo I had was also a tad too head-heavy for me, with a 322 mm balance point. So I think it's time to buy a pair and give it a shot!


From Strings

As I pointed out earlier though, finding 2 matching frames is not trivial, yet quite important. I haven't seen a shop yet that proactively matches frames, so you have to take the first step. Very few stores have scales, even fewer have balance boards, and I have only seen one store that had a swing weight machine (and that was in Germany!). 

So you're on your own, and best to bring your own equipment. You can obviously ask one of the major online stores to match it for you, but I'd rather set my own min / max limits and have a little more control over what I'm choosing. I went out today to find a matching pair of Wilson BLX Six.One Tours. Armed with my digital kitchen scale and Viper balance board, I was hoping to find a match that I'd be comfortable with. I already expected that I wouldn't find a perfect match, so I was aiming to find 2 frames that were pretty close, and on the lighter and more headlight end. 

The thinking behind that is that it's always easier to add weight than remove it, and to do so in the head. If a racquet is too light and headlight, you can just add some lead tape to the racquet head. If the racquet is too head-heavy, you have to mess with grip which is usually more tricky, plus it increases the overall weight. 

So I went and measured 8 frames in total. Since I didn't want to over-annoy the respective sales reps, I started measuring with cardboard and plastic wrap attached to see if I could find any that were close. As a second step, I would take the close ones and remove the cardboard for a more exact measure.

The card board and the rubber bands usually weigh around 14 grams, not too much tolerance there. The plastic wrap around the handle plus the price tag should also be fairly consistent around 2 grams. To reduce the error a bit further, I did try to center the card board on the frames before taking the measures. 

In the first store, I measured 3 frames, and all turned out too different: weight ranged from 355 to 360 grams (which is not too bad), however balance ranged from 305 to 320 mm - completely different racquets! The heaviest racquet at 360 grams was also the least headlight, at 320 mm. On the one hand, that makes it quite easy to add some lead to another frame to match it. But for my personal taste that'll make the racquets feel too heavy to swing (= swing weight too high). So no luck here. 

In the second store, I measured 5 frames. Weight was in a pretty ok range again between 355 and 360. Judging from this limited sample of 8, Wilson's quality control seems to be ok with a 5 gram range. But the spread in balance was again quite wide, ranging from 311 to 322 mm. 

I did find 2 frames that were promising with the cardboard on. Once I took it off, the weight was off by the same amount (~ 1 gram), however one balanced at 303 and the other at 308 mm. Somewhat close, but I thought I'd regret giving up too early. So for now, the search continues. Wish me luck!

Wilson BLX: evolution or flavor of the year?

The new Wilson BLX racquets have been out for a couple of months now, so time to see what BLX did to the classic frames and how a some of the new racquets feel.  You can read a couple paragraphs about the new material on Wilson's website.  I'm sure the marketing folks have been very excited creating a lot of hype around volcanic rock and gold fibers - but how do the racquets do on court?

For a first demo round, I picked the folowing frames:

From Racquets

Federer's weapon of choice has always felt great to me, until actually hitting a ball :)  I've been hoping for a softer version for a long time, so maybe this is the one!

As for the 6.1, I did enjoy my nCode for a couple of years and played some good matches with it.

The specs of the new black-yellow "Pro Tour" promised a pleasant hit.

Finally, Justine Henin's comeback frame seemed interesting to me too: some extra length and a relatively open string pattern, plus Justine came back with a more aggressive style of play and pretty crips volleys.

My impressions after taking the demos out for a couple of hits:

Wilson Six-One Tour BLX (Roger Federer's racquet, at least officially)
  • Same great feel as always when you pick it up.  Does not seem quite as stiff as the N and the K predecessors.  Great control, but can't see myself putting someone under serious pressure from the baseline with it.  If you have refined technique and like to win with control & finesse, this one might be for you.  Don't string it too tight and remember to keep a loose arm :)
Wilson Six-One 95 BLX (16 x 18)
  • Liked it a lot.  Even tightly strung it was comfortable to play with.  Might be the best volley racquet out there, rock-solid.  For me, it felt great for long baseline swings, like a one-handed backhand.  I did see someone with a compact swing hit the fastest forehand I have ever seen, so that seems to be possible too :)  As always, I appreciate the open string pattern for some extra bite, and an easier string job. 
Wilson Pro Tour BLX
  • Friendly feeling control racket, reminded me a bit of my beloved Hyper Carbon 6.5 which I played for a record ~5 years.  Personally, I'd prefer a more open string pattern, and I don't think I could hit winners from anywhere on the court.  However, I would enjoy casual hitting or teaching with this stick.  Don't think that Juan Martin del Potro can hit as hard with the stock version, so if he's playing something like this racquet, my guess is that it's very much customized and a lot heavier.
Wilson Tour BLX
  • Not bad.  Quite powerful and swings nicely.  When I pick up a slightly longer racquet I tend to find the sweetspot more easily, and no exception here.  Could imagine more baseline rallying or playing up to 4.5 guys with it.  Don't think it will be versatile enough for me stand up against 5.0+ players.  Might improve the game for folks with long swings and a baseline game, especially on clay or hard court.
    All in all, I agree with other opinions posted on the web that the new BLX frames dampen vibrations (and feel) a little bit more than the predecessors.  Personally, HyperCarbon still remains my favorite Wilson frame series - special feel, solid stability, and ample power.  I'd be surprised if Wilson kept BLX around for more than a year and built on it, but happy to be proven wrong ;)

      Do your racquets mix or match?

      You have at least 2 racquets, so that if your strings break, you have an identical frame to fall back on, right? That's what I was thinking for a good part of my tennis life. Until I started playing with racquets that looked the same, but felt very different. First, I thought it was misjudgment on my end, but then I started to realize that even a small difference in weight or balance had quite an impact on my game. I found myself marking my favorite out of 5 Wilson Hyper ProStaff 6.5s and playing with it all the time. And hoping that the strings wouldn't break :)

      One of my best friends who loves both gear and data was kind enough to walk us through how we can uncover (or proof!) whether our frames are different. So without further ado, here's the first guest post for forehand.TV:

      Us amateurs don't have easy access to racquet technicians that the pros do, and often times have to deal with poor racquet-to-racquet consistency for frames we buy off the shelf. Regentville tennis has a couple accounts with this problem with Wilsons in this post and this post.

      As someone who loves the sports gear more than the sport, and incredibly picky about getting precise specs, I was quite worried when purchasing new frames that although they are the same make and model, their specs would be quite off. I was finally upgrading from the legendary Prince Original Graphite, a racquet that I've been using for 15 years, to the Babolat Pure Drive Roddick. However, would Babolat's quality control pass my test, given that they have a much shorter history of making racquets compared to Wilson and Prince?

      Obviously, going by just "feel" of the racquet is not good enough for me, I need data. So I devised a few tricks that the amateur can use to spec their racquets.

      Weight:

      This is the easiest, just get yourself a digital scale that measures to fractions of a gram. Then, strip everything off your racquet (grip, grommets, etc) so that it is as bare as possible. In my case, I was very surprised to find the racquets were within 1.3 grams of each - very nice!

      From Gear

      Balance:

      There are a few ways to do this. A cool trick I learned on the Regentville blog is to slide the racquets onto a stiff rod of some sort, and just see how they hang relative to each other. You can also do this with a pen in a store, just to guestimate which racquets may be close in balance before buying them.

      From Gear

      It is just the camera angle which makes it look off, the difference in balance was not perceptible using this method.

      A slightly more precise method is to use a ruler and a flat level table surface, with a sharp edge. Hook the ruler or tape measure to the edge, and place the butt end of the racquet at a mark. Slowly push the racquet further off the table until it just barely begins to tilt on its own.

      From Gear

      Take a few measurements. Once I've gotten close to the balance point, I'll move the racquet in 1/16" increments and let go, dialing it in to the point where that small change will either cause the racquet to start tipping, or to stay on the table.

      From Gear

      Repeat with the other racquet to find its balance point. Try to keep everything identical, and to keep the racquet, table edge, tape measure, etc on straight lines or right angles to each other.

      It's important to note both of these measurement techniques are relative. They require the racquets to be compared to be the same model. While I can get a measurement of "12.5 inches" using the latter technique, it means nothing comparing it to, say, my Prince Graphite. Even if I were to compare a Pure Drive to a Pure Drive Roddick, the comparison would not be valid.

      I must have gotten lucky, as using these methods of approximation, my racquets showed the same balance. Only difference was one racquet seem to start tilting a bit faster, but the point which that occurred was the same.

      The adjustment I had to make was very simple. I put 1.3 grams of lead tape at the butt end of the light racquet.

      From Gear

      That is only about 0.5% of the total weight (even less once I add grommets, grips, and strings) and has minimal effect on the balance and almost no effect on swing weight (when placed at the butt end) of the racquet. For comparison, the piece of rubber many manufacturers use to finish the top of a grip weighs 1.5 to 2 grams.

      Swing weight?

      Well, this is one thing I could not assess to a confidence interval that meant anything, so I didn't try. However, I'm lucky to live in NYC, home to RPNY, a shop that does a lot of customization for touring pros. They were nice enough to measure my racquets when they were brand new (never strung, plastic still on grip, original grommets). Specs below:

      Racquet #1: Weight - 317.3 grams, Balance - 315 mm, Swing weight - 297 kg cm², Stiffness - 72
      Racquet #2: Weight - 316.9 grams, Balance - 314 mm, Swing weight - 297 kg cm², Stiffness: 72

      (FYI - stated spec for Pure Drive Roddick's is 315 grams and balance at 315 mm. The plastic wrap on the grip is about 2 grams. These frames were dead on spec)

      Wow, that's pretty damn good! The difference in the delta of the racquet weights with my measurements and RPNY's can be attributed to variances in the grip, plastic wrap, and/or the grommets differences between the two racquets.

      Color me impressed, and very lucky. I basically have two identical racquets. Am I skilled enough to require this precision, no. Am I happy, yes.

      Out of curiosity, I additionally weighed two extra Pure Drive Roddicks in the store, and they came out to 319.0 and 315.9 grams. While I didn't measure balance (which is harder to correct at home than weight), I'm still very impressed with Babolat's consistency and quality control based on this little sample.

      A mixed batch

      Tried a few more racquets I've been curious about:

      From Racquets

      Wilson K Factor Kobra Tour
      • Actually re-demoed the Kobra Tour because I had to admit to myself that I liked it the first time around, despite the wide-body frame and its looks. But, it's very easy to play with. What's special about this frame is that it's both head-light and light in general. So I switched to it for a while for playing on not-so-great courts in San Francisco, which made the hits more enjoyable. In the first tournament I played with it though, I found that it's tougher to get the good guys in trouble with it.  That's where I started missing the weight and finesse of a player frame like a Wilson 6.1.
      PowerAngle Pro
      • Not the prettiest racquet on the block, but when do you get to try a diagonally strung stick with player racquet specs? Really enjoyed this one, unfortunately the string broke after ~30 mins. Spin came easily and we definitely saw some interesting bounces on court. Frame did not feel stiff at all despite the high rating on the Tennis Warehouse page.  Took about 5 mins of getting used to, and would love to demo it again.
      Babolat Pure Storm Ltd GT
      • Another racquet that just feels great when you pick it up and swing it through the air.  I was a little disappointed on court though - I was hoping I could generate some power and spin despite the small head and tight string pattern, due to the head-light balance and overall weight of the racquet. So it seems more geared towards rather flat, long swings.  It does offer decent control and allows you to find good angles. If I remember correctly, I liked the predecessor a bit better. I'm still considering buying one so I can just hold it :)
      Head Microgel Prestige Pro
      • Been looking at demoing this racquet for a while - specs seem great for me on paper. Head-light balance, soft frame, open string bed. And of course Prestige heritage. On court it felt nice, however I wasn't able to generate as much spin as I was hoping for, and I was neither able to go for really big shots, so this was a no-go, unfortunately.

        Taming stubborn grommets

        If your racquet gets strung quite often, you'll likely see your grommets start wearing out after a while. At that point it's a good idea to invest a few dollars and replace them, so your frame will remain protected and your string won't break near the holes due to increased friction. Grommets are quite easy to get from places like Tennis Warehouse for $6 or so.

        If you would like to replace the grommets yourself, you might run into a few little challenges. So here are a couple of tips for replacing your grommets to save you some time.

        First of all, you can carefully use a dull knife as a lever to remove your existing grommets. If some of your grommets got torn apart on the inside of the frame and give you a hard time, use a string cutter or strong scissors to cut them off. Once your existing grommets are gone, make use of the opportunity and clean your naked racquet frame from any dirt that has accumulated over the past months (or years)!

        For your new grommets, you might experience one of the following scenarios:

        1 - You're lucky and they snap right right.

        You're pretty much done :)

        2 - They fit pretty well - you see the holes peaking through and they just need a little extra encouragement.

        Try pulling 2 strings at the same time to snap them in all the way. Start by hand, then with lower tension. When the plastic starts making its way through, try carefully pulling individual strings, again first at lower tension, and when things look good, pull as normal.

        3 - No matter how hard you try, you can't seem to fit your new grommets through all the frame holes.

        This happened to me recently and it can be quite nerve wrecking! It was not a problem at all to replace the side grommets, however I was not able to fit the top band. I tried starting from either side, from the middle, pulled the middle of the band, worked the plastic, heated up the plastic with a hair dryer (probably not a good idea!), pulled the holes in by hand and then with a stringing machine, tried to push them through with an ale, cleaned out the frame holes etc etc. All in all, I spent 2-3 hours on this, and finally gave up. This was extra frustrating since I frequently replaced grommets in a sports store many years and never had a problem.

        After emailing Tennis Warehouse, they informed me that they had issues with fitting some Prince grommets, especially on the Speedport Black (I play the Tour). I didn't want to give up nor wait for new grommets, so I asked a couple of my most gear-savvy tennis buddies. They recommended warming up the grommets in the oven for a few minutes, and then quickly working them into the frame. At first, I was a bit concerned about releasing toxic gases in a closed environment that is frequently used for making food :)

        But I did give it a shot and started slowly - I went for less than 5 minutes at 200 degrees fahrenheit, placed the grommets on some alu foil in a way that they could "breathe", and frequently checked to make sure there was no funny smell or even melting going on.

        From Gear

        After a few minutes, I took out grommets out and pulled them trough the holes by hand with a couple of strings - and FINALLY, after some back and forth, they all came through!

        From Gear

        I then aired out the oven for an hour or so just to make sure, and then proceeded with scenario 2. I was quite excited that my trial and a lot of error eventually paid off!

        High hopes for the new YouTek racquets

        Looking at the specs of the new Head YouTek racquets, I was quite excited and hoping that I would finally come closer to finding the perfect frame. Head size, weight, balance, string pattern, frame width - everything looked great for the 2 new player sticks.

        So when I finally got the YouTek Speed Pro (Novak's racquet) and the Head YouTek Speed MP, it was easy to be disappointed :) They both felt ok, however the Pro was good but missing something, and the Speed didn't feel like anything special to me.
        For the Pro, I appreciate Head's effort of putting out a real tournament frame with head-light balance. As you can see, Head indicates its intentions with leather grip, which is experiencing a comeback on player racquets. But just as Novak said during press conferences even months after switching, the frame travels through the air nicely but is just a little bit off from swinging truly great. If Novak hasn't customized his Pro a lot, he's definitely putting in a lot of effort to get spin on the ball. And maybe too much compared to other sticks.

        No big surprises for the Speed - a decent control racquet, but nothing that blew me away. Maybe the tennis shop didn't string the stick to its advantage, but it felt a bit dead to me, especially compared to some other Head racquets I've played in the past. I had the feeling that it was not worth for me to restring it and give it another go, unfortunately.

        So worth trying out, but I gotta keep on searching!