Freedom of Expression
Window or an aisle? Baked or mashed? No matter what decision we have to make, however mundane, everybody loves to have choices. It goes against our instincts to accept that one size can truly fit all. It’s in that spirit that Prince has set up “customyze it” on princetennis.com to allow players who use the O3 Speedport Black to create their own cosmetic. Well, not totally, but you can choose which colors to use on the O3-port inserts at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock on the racquet, plus the grip. With six colors at your disposal, there are over 2400 different combinations. You can’t buy the racquet on the website, but you can print out how you want your racquet to look and take it to an authorized retailer who can make it a reality.
Now this is only for the Speedport Black and it’s purely decorative. You can’t do anything to alter the playing characteristics of the frame. It does make you wonder, though, whether players would like to have more control over how their racquets look. Have you ever decided against buying a racquet you played well with simply because of its appearance?
And should racquet companies take it a step further? Should it be easier to custom-make your own racquet? It’s a fairly common practice in golf. Over the summer I got fitted for a new set of clubs. I went out on a driving range with a representative from a club manufacturer and he had me jump through all the hoops. I tried different shaft lengths and flexes, club face angles at address, grips, etc. It took a while, but I found a desirable combination. Of course the first time I took my new clubs on the course I wanted to break them in half.
Sure, sophisticated customization like this exists in tennis, but you’d have to find a real craftsman. This is the type of attention to detail that top professional tennis players take with their sticks. Most retailers do the basics – grip replacement or putting lead tape on the racquet face. I’ve been to Wilson’s headquarters and seen the subtle differences between the frames of the players the company sponsors. They know exactly what they want down to the very gram in weight (ounces aren’t precise enough), or 1/16 of an inch for their racquet handles (neither is the 1/8 of an inch increments on a customary grip). The slightest tweak to any of the racquet’s characteristics and they can tell the difference.
I don’t want to make it seem as though the regular consumer is devoid of choice. Racquet manufacturers often offering a frame in several different models. For instance, a Tour version that’s heavier, a Team version that’s lighter, or an extended version that’s longer. It does give a player more options, with obvious limitations. If you wanted a Wilson [K] Blade with an open string pattern, or a Head Radical with an extra quarter-inch of length it’s not going to happen.
Perhaps it would be too difficult to make racquets this way. Perhaps a golf club, with its shaft and head two distinct parts, is much easier to customize on a mass level. Still, it would be fun to have complete control over all the specs of your racquet. The exact weight, balance, grip, size, flex, and string pattern that you require. A tailor-made frame if you will. Until then, we’ll have to keep buying our racquets off the rack.