Pete's New Toy
Pete Sampras’ legacy in the sport of tennis is undeniable. The Grand Slam king will always deservedly be on the short list of the greatest players of all-time. But he was never a marketer’s dream. As demonstrative as his shot-making could be, Sampras’ approach to the rest of his game was borderline monkish. His was all business, right down to his understated outfits. While his results were worthy of respect and admiration, his detached demeanor didn’t push the needle.
Plus, Sampras was not a big believer in change. For his prime years he pretty much wore only one shoe – the Nike Air Oscillate. And for his entire career he used one racquet – the original Wilson Pro Staff 85. In fact, it had to be models that were produced in the island of St. Vincent in what use to be a Maidenform bra factory. As I said, the guy was precise. In his defense, why mess with a winning formula?
It’s pretty standard to see pro players switch to an updated version of their current stick. For instance, Roger Federer moved from the Wilson nCode Six.One to the [K] Factor Six.One. Andre Agassi used several different incarnations of the Head Radical. Whether some players simply opt for a paintjob is debatable, but they at least went through the charade. The racquet manufacturers that sponsor the players could get a bump from the endorsement.
Not so with Sampras. Wilson’s signature player at the time never budged from his weapon of choice. But now that he’s back competing – albeit on the senior circuit – Wilson might be trying to make up for lost time. In early 2009 the company will be releasing the new [K] Pro Staff 88, designed especially for Sampras. The update has the slightly larger head size and the addition of [K] Factor technology. Otherwise it’s still a heavy (13 ounces), control-oriented beast, like its ancestor. Sampras began playing with a prototype around this past March for his exhibition match with Federer at Madison Square Garden. After that he used a blacked-out version during senior play until the final version was approved. The list price is $230, and the models sold at retail will have the exact same specs as Sampras’ frame.
Because of how challenging it is to play with, Wilson is not expecting the frame to appeal to a wide segment of the tennis public. It’s also not part of what the company considers its core group of frames, so the [K] Pro Staff 88 was not submitted for testing for our spring racquet guide. However, our editor-in-chief, James Martin, did get his hands on one and took it for a test drive.
Here are his thoughts:
It has a rock solid, or "dead," feel to it. There's no need for a vibration dampener.
The 16x19 string pattern in such a small head size makes it harder to produce heavy topspin, but its control is exceptional. You find that hitting with slice is easier, too, because of the control and stability.
Volleys are great.
No getting around the fact that the racquet is heavy, with a sweet spot only slightly larger than the ball. If you're not used to taking a long, fast cut and putting maximum effort into the ball, the Pro Staff will exact its toll—tired arm, tired body.
Racquet definitely encourages, even demands, proper technique to get proper depth and pace, but when you hit the sweet spot with a long swing, you won't find a sweeter, more comfortable feel. And there's no worries about hitting the ball long, only short.