TENNIS.com gear editor Bill Gray and his technical advisers will answer your equipment questions every Friday. Click here to send one of your own.
Sharp eye you’ve got there, Nancy. Sharapova was indeed yielding a logo-less stick with no stencil on the stringbed in Paris. But while they may not have Paris, both Prince and Sharapova say they’re still going steady. However, Sharapova is using some “experimental frames over the next few months in practice and actual competition,” according to an e-mail response from a Prince representative, adding that it “may actually include her testing frames and technologies that we currently do not carry in our line.” Her longtime racquet sponsor declined to elaborate on what frame(s) she used at the French Open and wouldn’t confirm that the racquet she used in Paris was even a Prince model: “Sorry, can’t comment on any products/technologies that Prince is having Maria test as part of our playtest program with her,” the rep wrote. But as you can tell from the photos at right, the frame doesn't look like the Prince EXO3 Black that Sharapova launched for the company at this year’s Australian Open; it doesn’t have the sculpted grooves of Prince’s EXO3 Energy Channel technology on the sides of the head.
I’m looking for a maneuverable racquet because, as I get older, I’m hitting the ball a little late with my current 12-ounce player frame. What’s more important, the actual weight of a racquet or its swingweight?—Jon
Swingweight wins by a long shot in determining a frame’s maneuverability. It’s not determined by its pick-up weight alone, but a combination of that plus racquet length and balance. A racquet that feels like a bird in the hand when you first pick it up (its stationary weight) can feel like you’re dragging around a tiger by the tail when you put it in motion (its swingweight). If a 9-ounce racquet is longer than the standard 27 inches and has an extreme head-heavy balance, it won’t feel as light through the air as your 12-ouncer if it has a regular length and a head-light balance. Case-in-point: The beefy 12.2-ounce, 27-inch, 7/8-inch head-light Head YouTek Prestige Mid has 3 percent less swingweight than the 10-ounce, 27.3-inch, 7/8-inch head-heavy Head YouTek Five Star. In short, that means the Prestige, with its lower swingweight, has more maneuverability than the Five Star.
Are some racquets sold at Walmart better than others?—Carsten
Carsten, Walmart’s racquets aren’t the “real thing” next to the costly premium frames with all their high-tech bells and whistles. It’s like comparing an abacus to a calculator—both will help you balance your checkbook, but one will give you much faster and more convenient results. Most of the racquets at Walmart are dumbed-down frames constructed out of aluminum. They’re OK if you just need a racquet for a two-week gym-class program, but they won’t stand the test of time if you take the game up long term.
So what’s the best of the Walmart lot? I took the Wilson Federer Signature Oversize out for a test drive and it reminded me of the Tata Nano, a tinny, mini car they sell in India for something like $2,500. Like the Nano, the $19.95 Federer special, with its 110-square-inch head and light weight got me from Point A (hitting the ball) to Point B (over the net), but without the spin, depth and comfort I’ve grown accustomed to with premium racquets. The best part of the mini playtest was when I missed a shot and was able to break the Federer Signature Oversize into smithereens with just a short stroke.
Is it good to put a dampener on my strings?—Ronnie
Sure, if you want to hear a resonant “thunk” instead of a “ping” on contact. But rubber string dampeners are too small to absorb the impact and lessen frame vibration. Besides, bad vibes are pretty much a thing of the past with all the creature comforts in today’s racquets. Of course, there are exceptions, like the Wilson Federer Signature Oversize above.