Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "tour bite". Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query "tour bite". Sort by date Show all posts

My top 3 strings in 2015


Well, first I thought this post should be titled "my top 3 strings *of* 2015". But turns out that my favorite strings have come out before 2015, and what really matters is what works best at any given time. Hence my top 3 string *in* 2015.

Over the last few years, a seemingly endless stream of polys have been hitting the market. On the one hand that's quite exciting: many new strings to - literally - play with, and there's always hope to find a game changer amongst them.

On the other hand, which ones to try? If you look at Tennis-Warehouse for example, you'll find over 300 single sets of poly. Other shops offer house, budget, and/or lesser-known-brands as well.

So how to navigate that market? Personally, I keep an eye out for announcements and reviews. I also check out the "string of the year" surveys, which usually bring 1-2 strings to my attention. From time to time, I search for "best string of 2015", "best poly", "best tennis string" etc. And finally, talking to other tennis folks at tournaments tends to yield some interesting insights too.

I then try the strings that seem promising and/or interesting. Over the last few years, that led to testing north of 200 string setups, so thought I'd share my 3 favorite to date.

What have I been looking for?


Most importantly, I wouldn't want to sacrifice on performance. So spin, power, and feel are equally important to me.

I don't care too much about durability in the sense of the string breaking. For years now, I've been cutting out polys long before they would have broken.

Obviously a drastic change in playing characteristics, e.g. due to tension loss, would not be great. If a string can give me 5 great, consistent hits, I'm happy.

Also, I definitely want poly. I've been playing polys for more than 25 years now, starting with the good old PolyStar Classic, and sticking to it for more than a decade. I've never really found a multi setup that delivered all that power and feel that many are raving about. Plus lack of spin would be an issue.

I don't care too much for hybrids either. I prefer a consistent feel on the string bed, and then there's also the mindset that one string should be able to do it all :)

In terms of gauge, I like strings around 1.25 mm, maybe +/- 2 mm. I haven't been getting a solid enough feel with thinner gauges, and not enough finesse out of strings once they get close to 1.30 mm.

So with that background, here are my current top 3:

Kirschbaum Pro Line II (red, 1.25 mm)


I found this one by accident. As apposed to many other tennis friends, I had never been fond of Kirschbaum strings. They all used to feel pretty dead to me. But then I found some good reviews on the Pro Line II and decided to gave it a try.

Out of the box, the string is soft as licorice. So that was fun and made it easy to string. On court, that translated to comfort, power, and feel. If strung too tightly though, the string can quickly become generic. I would probably shoot for a string bed tension around 22 kg / 48 lbs.


For the first while I was very excited about the Pro Line II, and even strung up a bunch of older racquets with it. After some time I found one key issue though - it just wouldn't grab the ball. No big surprise - it's soft and round with a low friction surface. I mostly noticed that on second serves, which would tend to sail about a foot long. Also, the string seems very sensitive to temperature. In heat, balls would just fly.

Overall though, if you'd like an awesome playing string, don't care much about a string's spin potential, and play in constant conditions, this might be a good choice for you. Also, due to its high comfort level it's probably one of the best strings for teaching. Note that I found the black version to play noticeably stiffer.

If you haven't, try it to benchmark power, feel, and comfort against strings like the Tour Bite...

Single set: http://amzn.to/1lCdoth
Reel: http://amzn.to/1ljO4Yw

Solinco Tour Bite (1.25 mm)


In many reviews over the last few years, the Tour Bite came out as the front runner in regards to spin potential. I felt the same - most bite I've ever put on the ball. That's not only great for ground strokes, but also very effective for drop shots, opening up angles, and creative shots like sidespin backhands.

Again though, when strong too tightly, the Tour Bite loses some of its qualities. You still get decent spin, but lose most power and ball pocketing. It also becomes very hard on the arm. I found it to be one of the stiffest playing strings out there. Solinco noticed that too and put out "Tour Bite Soft", which I tried too but didn't like as much.


So I'd go for the original Tour Bite, and string it quite softly (and slowly), maybe iterating from the low 20s (kg) / mid 40s (lbs). I found that a dampener helps too. I usually prefer playing without one, but with the Tour Bite I put a thick one in. That changes the feel from metallic to somewhat plush (!). In addition, a cushy grip and of course a forgiving frame can further help to take the uncomfortable edge off.

The best term to describe the Tour Bite might be "effective". It produces a heavy ball with massive spin. That not only creates problems for your opponent, but also keeps your shots in the court.

If you play a lot and/or mishit a bunch and/or string too tightly, your arm will probably start to complain. In that case you might want to string up a more comfortable alternative while you recover :) Or try a hybrid - Ana for example pairs the Tour Bite 1.3 with a Wilson Natural Gut.

In any case, great string to try and benchmark against.

Single set: http://amzn.to/1N1xLpQ
Reel: http://amzn.to/1Xtjdoz (16L = 1.25 mm)

UPDATE: I tried the Tour Bite in different gauges, which are all significantly softer - read about it here.

Völkl Cyclone (orange, 1.25 mm)


This summer, I did string up the Tour Bite too tightly and ended up with a sore arm. That led me back to looking for something between the Tour Bite and the Pro Line II.

I remembered the Völkl Cyclone, which many have found to be a great half-priced alternative to the Babolat RPM Blast. I had tried the black Cyclone on a demo racquet, and it felt a tad too stiff for me. I hence tried the orange one, and ended up really liking it.

The orange Cyclone has a bit of a plasticky feel, but delivers almost as much spin as the Tour Bite, almost as much power as the Pro Line II, and sufficient feel and comfort. You clearly hear the string snapping back after hitting a spin shot, which somewhat incentivizes putting even more spin on the next ball :)

There's also a yellow version - if you want to dive in, you can find my comparison of the 3 colors here.


The slightly more expensive Cyclone Tour is not bad either - it plays noticeably softer, but I found that it eats up too much power on impact. The ball just seemed to lose more and more momentum as it approached the opposite baseline.

So the orange Cyclone is my current string of choice. It's a solid (though not perfect) combo of the red Pro Line II and the Tour Bite. Indoors, I found that it plays best around a string bed tension of 22 kg. Outdoors I'm currently shooting for 20.5 kg, depending on conditions, balls etc.

Single set: http://amzn.to/1ljPi6d
Reel: http://amzn.to/1lCd5i3

If you decide to play test any or all of these, I'm sure you'll gain some valuable insights!

2016 string comparison

Taking the last string related post a step further, here's a comparison between some strings I consider interesting in 2016. Again, I made the highest value for each string property a 1, and the lowest a 0. Now we can somewhat easily see how they compare to each other:

(Click image to enlarge)

Interesting tennis strings in 2016, benchmarked by main properties

Takeaways:

The Babolat RPM Blast is pretty stiff, gives back a decent amount of energy, but doesn't do its name justice in terms of spin potential. Might be due for an update after almost 4 years on the market?

WeissCANNON's new Ultra Cable very much opens up the spin potential spectrum, making previous "spin monsters" like the Tour Bite or Cyclone look pretty average on paper. Based on my impressions it seems a bit spinnier, but not as much as the numbers suggests. It does eat up a bunch of power on impact. In general, I'm also starting to wonder at what point there are diminishing returns in terms of adding more RPMs to the ball...

The Tecnifibre Black Code 4S looks like a great all-round string on paper. I liked the original Black Code back in 2009. There's a short-term review here - felt pretty stiff, and gave me decent but not crazy spin. Tour Bite and Cyclone still seem grippier to me.

The Gamma Motos have received great reviews, which the numbers here seem to validate. In my tests, I haven't been able to dial in the tension yet. They seemed to lack power - when strung somewhat tightly they were all about control, and when strung somewhat loosely it was tough to get shots past the service line. Will give each Moto another shot though.

Solinco's Tour Bite appears to be noticeable softer in 1.20 than in 1.25, and should deliver a tad more spin too. I've played the 1.25 for a while but ended up finding it too firm in my RF 97 - so the 1.20 might be an alternative after all. UPDATE: comparison here.

The Völkl Cyclone looks like a great all-around string and still plays like one. My subjective findings regarding the Cyclone Tour are confirmed in the numbers: it felt very comfortable, but swallowing most of my built-up momentum on impact. The spin rating seems off - it definitely did not appear more spin-friendly to me than the standard Cyclone or the Tour Bite.

I've played Kirschbaum's red Pro Line II for a while, and found that color to be as soft as licorice (vs. the black one). So assuming Tennis Warehouse measured the black one here, ending up with a relatively high stiffness measure. Both definitely lack a bit of ball bite for me, for example causing my second serve to sail just a bit long.

Loved a loosely strung Silverstring to counter the stiffness of the Wilson BLX Tour 90 for a while, but was also looking for a bit more more ball grab there. In this group, it marks the low end of the spin spectrum, it however is relatively soft and bouncy. Now I'm quite excited about experimenting with the Black 5 Edge, which should also provide a good bit more power.

The classic Luxilon Alu Power is still somewhat low powered, paired with a low spin rating. It might still be an option if you hit out hard and flat like DelPo, and see your string as a tool to keep your shots in the court.

The now popular (and expensive) 4G marks the high end of stiffness and energy return, but also with low no spin potential due to little ball grip. I didn't include the 4G Rough here since the spin potential rating isn't much higher either. So that string is really about crushing the ball, which Serena seems to like - as Wilson likes to point out :)

So that's a bit of an overview for you. Personally, I'll stick with the orange Cyclone for match play, while experimenting with the Black 5 Edge, the Moto Soft, and the Black Code 4S in practice.

Thanks again to TW for publishing their string performance database. I again chose a reference tension of 51 lbs. You can find definitions of the properties here.

Solinco Hyper-G review

I've now used the Hyper-G for the last couple of seasons in practice and 100+ competitive matches, so I thought a quick long-term review is in order:

I remember at first, I didn't believe the hype. Supposedly Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, and active pros like Sam Querrey, Donald Young were quite excited about the Hyper-G and were using it voluntarily.

Initially, when I tried the string short after its launch, it felt like a mixture of muted and plasticky. After a few more tries later on I started getting used to it, and gave it a go at a clay court season prep tournament. Despite slow, uncomfortable conditions (wet, cold, windy), the string produced good pop and pretty sound all-around results.

Switching back and forth with the Tour Bite for a while, it was apparent that the Hyper-G by couldn't get close to the Bite's grab on the ball, but was much more powerful. Over the years, I've tried stringing up the Tour Bite very loosely to make up for its lack of power, but always felt I had trouble getting the ball through the court.

Also, the Tour Bite reaches a point where it gets tough on the arm - maybe over 22 kgs string bed tension (so ~ >24 kgs pulled). The Hyper-G stiffens up too, but maybe around 1 lbs higher, but does not hurt as much :)

Compared to the average string, the Hyper-G can produce a good amount of spin, so that ended up being the compromise for the last year.

Wilson Pro Staff RF97 with Solinco Hyper-G

The biggest positive surprise came when I picked up Hyper-G racquets that I hadn't used for months. They still played very nicely, subjectively sometimes even better than fresher string jobs. So while I cut out any other poly after 5 hits max, the Hyper-G can probably stay in twice as long. If you don't play as much and/or are not as picky, you might be happy getting it restrung once per season (so 4 times a year).

Bottom line, the Hyper-G is still in my top 3, along with the Cyclone and the Tour Bite. At the end, the orange Cyclone still wins for me since it grabs the ball better. When it comes to matchplay, you trade that off with a quickly degrading life span, both in terms of tension and ball grab. So after 2 competitive matches, it's due for a match-day restring.

How to think about price? Well, depending on the market, there seems to be a ~20 - ~50% premium compared to the Cyclone or comparable strings like the Gamma Moto. Its priced similarly to comparable Tecnifibre strings and the oldie (and for some goldie) RPM Blast... unless you're e.g. in the US. If you intend to keep the Hyper-G in your racquet for a while, your "cost per decent-feeling hit" might come out cheaper than most of the competition.

For more thoughts around strings, click the "string" label below.

You can also dive into my string jobs over the last ~10 years, including ratings and impressions, here.

Solinco Tour Bite gauge comparison

After playing the Tour Bite 1.25 for a good while and occasionally ending up with arm pain, I started looking at the 1.20 and 1.15 mm versions, as they are significantly softer / less stiff. I ended up ordering all 3, and strung up my 3 SixOnes @ 21/20 kg for a direct comparison:

3x Wilson SixOne 95 with Solinco Tour Bite in different gauges

My playing impression was that both thinner gauges are playable, even for someone like me who's been committed to 1.25 mm. I was mostly concerned, but also curious about the 1.15 mm. That one surprised me by not feeling as tinny as I had expected. Overall, the 1.15 immediately appeared familiar and quite predictable to me. The only noticeable downside was that it swallowed a good amount of power, which I first noticed by watching my overheads dying off a bit, versus going though the court.

As one would expect, the 1.2 mm does fit between the 1.25 and 1.15, however it doesn't sit straight in the middle. Compared to the 1.25 you get an over-proportionate drop in stiffness, but in terms of feel it seems to stay closer to the 1.25 than move towards the 1.15. This is confirmed by TW's string data:

Gauge (mm)Stiffness (lb/in)Spin Potential
1.15161.75.8
1.20181.26.3
1.25237.75.9
1.30202.96.7

According to TW, the 1.15 is actually 1.18 mm thick, the 1.2 is 1.23 mm, and the 1.3 is 1.34 mm. That also helps to explain why the 1.2 felt close to the 1.25, and the 1.15 didn't feel too thin.

So how to choose a gauge? Some thoughts:

* If you *are* looking for stiffness, the 1.25 is clearly for you. Subjectively, the ball grab is the strongest I've experienced so far, producing not only vicious spin, but also providing confidence in match play.

* If you like thicker gauges, the 1.3 can give you a boost of spin, and I would assume power too. I could see the 1.3 doing well in a Pure Drive, or some other >= 22 mm beam frame with an open pattern.

* The 1.2 now seems like a compelling all-around option, and thus maybe the best Tour Bite to try first. It's probably most interesting for all-court players wielding a player's stick, for example a current Prestige Pro, Blade, Pro Staff.

* The 1.15 might be an interesting option for finesse players - it might do well in a 18x20 control frame such as a classic Prestige or - loosely strung - in control-oriented Yonex like the VCORE Tour F 97.

So that's some directional info. I have been blasted off the court by a 1.15 a couple of times, meaning other combos are surely possible as well. My takeaway from this comparison is that I'll likely give the 1.2 another go sometime in the near future...

RelatedComparison of interesting strings in 2016

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?

Völkl Cyclone color comparsion (2018 update)

Opinions seem differ on this, but I found that string color can significantly affect string performance. For example, the Kirschbaum Pro Line 2 feels nice and plush in red, but pretty stiff in black. So how about the Völkl Cyclone, one of the most popular polys out there, and (again) my current string of choice?

In general, the Cyclone has been considered a great half-priced alternative to the (overpriced?) Babolat RPM Blast. You probably came across this post since you appreciate its spin to price ratio, while being pretty well rounded otherwise as well (as opposed to the spin chart topping Ultra Cable, for example).

Ironically, despite making a gear shaped string, that's been on the market for years, while most players have been looking for spin strings... Volkl is still not saying anything in regards to spin on the packaging!

The Cyclone is still available in black, yellow, and orange. Serious players would probably choose by playing characteristics, but then there's also aesthetics, and price.

Between the different colors, I found that prices can differ up to about 30%. So for example, should one just buy the cheapest one?

Volkl Cyclone on Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph in yellow, black, and orange

Here's a quick comparison of playing characteristics of the available colors - but first, the setup:

Racquet: Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph

Tension: 23/22 kgs (~51 / 49 lbs) via a Wise Tension Head, constant pull

Gauge: 1.25mm / 17, which has always been my top choice.

Black Cyclone - Surprisingly the softest of the bunch. Playing-feel-wise, it's probably the most similar to the RPM Blast, even though the Blast is much stiffer. Does not snap back as loudly as the other 2. Seemed like the most powerful too.

Yellow Cyclone - To me, the most generic feeling - I remember nothing really stood out to me. When I tested, it seemed to sit right between the comfort and power of the black and the spin of the orange Cyclone. If you want an allrounder, this might be worth a try.

Orange Cyclone - Most audible snapback, suggesting it's the most spin friendly, and feels like it to. Still appears somewhat plasticky to me, maybe the least powerful of the 3. Combined, that makes it the most predictable, which is why I stuck with orange for a while (and came back to it in 2018 after playing the Hyper-G for a couple of seasons).

Price-wise, around $100 / €100 for a 200m reel seems fair. I've seen some colors offered for as low as €90. In the US, the current market price seems to be ~$120. That's still only half of what the RPM costs over there, however starts to creep up on other popular choices such as the Solinco Tour Bite
or Hyper-G (~ $160). So if I was Völkl I'd probably make sure to keep that gap...

Compared to some of the competition, I'd say less spin but more power and comfort than the Tour Bite, a bit more spin but less pop and worse long-time playability compared to the Hyper-G, and softer playing than the black Moto and certainly the Black Widow.

Finally, quick note that a review and comparison of the V-Torque, V-Torque Tour, and V-Star is next on the list, probably happening sometime later this summer (2018). Also, I had already tried the Cyclone Tour a few times, and found it softer, less spinny, but mostly sucking a bunch of power on impact!

More regarding other stings in this comparison.

If you'd like to dig into the Cyclone topic some more, you can take a look at my 50+ Cyclone stringjobs with ratings and commentary...

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.

The "Champions Choice" string job

Just a few lines about the popular (and quite expensive!) "Champions Choice" string job - a hybrid of Wilson's own gut and Luxilon's Alu Power Rough.

Of course Roger made it famous. Like a few other top pros like Novak and Andy, he has the gut put in the mains for power. If you want to prioritize spin, you'd put the Rough there (since the racquet head mostly brushes up on the ball sideways).

I've had a few hits with it, mains in the crosses, and can confirm that it gives a bit of a power premium over a full bed of a poly. Maybe 10-20% based on your poly? Other playing characteristics were alright. Didn't get the impression that it could keep up in spin production with the likes of the Hyper-G, Cyclone, and surely not the Tour Bite.

While these days, you usually cut out polys before they break, the Champions Choice job says goodbye somewhat quickly, especially on surfaces like clay or HarTru. Would give it somewhere in the range of 5-10 hours. So that adds to the expense.

If you'd like to mimic Roger's setup, note that he still uses Power Pads (leather inserts) on the throat grommets and even puts in a few string savers slightly north of the sweet spot...

You can probably save a bit of money and get similar results by buying another proven gut and pair it with the Tour Bite. I read somewhere that Ana played a setup like this for a while.

Personally, I've tried and tried, but putting 2 different strings in a racquet is just not for me! 

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.

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 ;)

      WeissCANNON Ultra Cable review

      Gauge: 1.23mm


      Tension: 21/20 kgs (~46 / 44 lbs) for clay court at moderate temperature, strung with Wise Tension Head, slowest speed, constant pull

      Racquet: Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph

      Estimated number of ball contacts to date: 1,000



      Stringing
      : Tough! String is so edgy it would slip through the clamps (despite tightening), and at times even through the tension head. Also cut into the fingers a bit. The sharpness reminded me a bit of the Dunlop Black Widow, which however wouldn't slip, and seemed stiffer.

      Playing: Spin is pretty good, but not as extreme as the rating would suggest. It did feel like the string eats up a good amount of power on impact. That made it somewhat comfortable, but didn't allow me to hit a heavy ball. I switched back to racquets strung with the Tour Bite and the Cyclone for comparison, and found both strings to deliver more power, provide more solid feedback, and produce a similar amount of spin.

      Personal takeaway: Switching to the Ultra Cable would sacrifice too much power without overcompensating that with additional spin. Wouldn't enjoy stringing it frequently either. Will stick with the orange Cyclone for now. 

      General thoughts: I can't shake the impression that the Ultra Cable might have been developed to top the "spin potential" list. Tennis Warehouse calculates spin potential using string-to-string friction and ball grab, both of which seem to be very high - subjectively as well. I'm not sure whether many players would stick to the string for the long run. Appreciate the effort though - the Ultra Cable is probably going to push other manufacturers to come up with competitors, and maybe WeissCANNON's next iteration will be a long-term winner...

      Too see how this string performs in context, check out my comparison of interesting strings in 2016.

      Tecnifibre Black Code 4S review

      Gauge: 1.25mm / 17

      Tension: 21/20 kgs (~46 / 44 lbs) for clay court at moderate temperature, via Wise Tension Head, slowest speed, constant pull

      Racquet: Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph

      Estimated number of ball contacts to date: 750



      Stringing: String feels quite soft, not as edgy as the Dunlop Black Widow, somewhat similar to the WEISSCannon Black5Edge, not as soft as the red Kirschbaum Pro Line II.

      Playing: Stiffer than expected after the stringing experience. String did settle in after a couple of weeks on the racquet, making it a bit softer. Good ball grip, but not too crazy. Subjectively less spin production than the Tour Bite or Cyclone, but more than the RPM Blast. 

      Personal takeaway: In the current setup still too stiff for me. Will stick with the orange Cyclone for now, and might give the 4S another try @ 20/19 kgs sometime. 

      General recommendation: Might do well in a powerful frame, such as the Babolat Pure Drive or the Yonex Ai or DR series, strung in the low 20 kgs / high 40 lbs. A dampener should take some of that stiffness away. Do note that you pay a ~50% premium over the Cyclone, which may be offset to some extend by better tension maintenance. 

      Related: Comparison including benchmarking of interesting strings (from 2016, but still seems relevant in 2018 as I haven't seen a real step change yet!)

      New Prince Exo, plus Sampras and Federer racquets

      I was very curious to try the new Prince racquets and Wilson's new Sampras racquet, and still wanted to give the Federer racquet another try, so I went to Paragon in New York and picked them up ($5/racquet/day). In general, I am currently looking for a head light, flexy racket that accelerates my swings and generates a lot of spin.

      I'm currently playing the Prince Speedport Tour - the head size seems right for me, and I like the open string pattern. But it's on the stiffer end of the spectrum and could swing a bit more easily. So I was curious if Federer's nCode Tour 90 would be too stiff for me, whether I could generate enough spin with the dense-patterned Rebel, and how good the Graphite would feel. I picked up the Sampras as a "must try", given the history of its predecessor.

      From Racquets

      Here are my thoughts:

      Prince EXO3 Rebel 95
      • I like the flex, you can really whack the ball. The bending of the racket actually seems to take away from spin generation, so a little bite in the string bed is advised. Grip looks nice but was so abrasive that I needed to stop testing the racket. I think I'd love this frame if it came with a 16x18 string pattern.
      Prince EXO3 Graphite 93 Mid
      • Head accelerates nicely due to the balance, but overall there was nothing I loved about the racquet. Too generic-feeling.
      Wilson K Factor KPro Staff 88 (the Sampras racquet)
      • A rifle. Great for flat, classic strokes, and serve and volley. Will be hard for topspin hitters to generate spin with this racket, and it would be quite exhausting.
      Wison K Factor KSix-One Tour 90 (the Federer racquet)
      • Specs are perfect for me, except for the stiffness. Not as stiff as its predecessor, but would be really nice if the production frame came a bit softer. Heavy on paper but swings nicely if you relax your arm and let it do its thing.
      All in all a fun experience, but I think I will to keep on looking for an upgrade. I'll be testing the new Head "YouTek" racquets shortly, and will share my thoughts here.