The rising star was a familiar face in a rousing Australian Open return.
In her fourth round match, world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki found herself down 1-3 to 46th-ranked Anastasija Sevastova. The 20-year-old signaled her status as a promising player last year, when she became the first Latvian since Larisa Savchenko Neiland to win a WTA title. She ended the year inside the Top 50 for the first time.
Sevastova ended her match with Wozniacki on the losing end of 6-3, 6-4, but she tested the top seed with some audacious shotmaking that streamed from a star-struck frame. Wielding a customized version of the Kneissl White Star racquet, Sevastova provided the brand with the familiar star logo—it resembles a space shuttle at launch—and rectangular head a platform on the Grand Slam stage.
The new Kneissl Star series of frames include the White Star (weighing 300 grams with a 98-square inch head, designed for tournament players); Red Star (weighing 290 grams with a 98 square-inch head); Black Star (weighing 290 grams with a 100 square inch head) and Blue Star (weighing 290 grams with a 110 square inch head). The racquets are not currently available in the United States, but Kneissl says the line is scheduled for launch in April.
Back in the day-glow days of the 1980s and 90s, Kneissl was almost as common on the pro tour as MTV was in teenagers’ homes. Grand Slam champions Ivan Lendl and Thomas Muster played with Kneissl—the Austrian brand developed a Muster signature racquet called “Tom’s Machine” in 1995—and players including 1985 Wimbledon finalist Kevin Curren, Barbara Schett, Sergi Bruguera and Savchenko Neiland also played with its sticks.
The company’s roots are on the slopes—founded in 1861, Kneissl started the first serial production of alpine skis in Austria in 1919—but made its mark on tennis in 1978 by creating the synthetic frame it called the “White Star Pro.” A restructuring of the company occurred in 2003, and Kneissl continues to manufacture skis and racquets.
Kneissl execs say they are not planning to sign more prominent pros in the near future, preferring instead to build the brand up by focusing on Sevastova and a new line of frames, which should be launched in about 10 weeks.
“About 30 years ago Kneissl had some very good players,” Kneissl’s Thomas Petzold says. “Mainly men on the pro tour. Ivan Lendl began his career with a Kneissl racket. Boris Becker played with a Puma racquet, which was constructed by Kneissl. But those days are long ago; our situation right now is that Kneissl focuses on Anastasija, to give her the best racquet that fits to her game. Because we are a small company, we cannot afford to support more players.”
The brand touts that the one-piece construction of its frames provides comfort; Kevlar tendons in the head promote stability; and its string-tuning technology will give players the option of choosing 16 or 18 main strings, “without holes being left free or string spacing being different.”
Will the White Star rise again?
“Kneissl has a great history; people remember Ivan Lendl playing with Kneissl,” TENNIS racquet adviser Bruce Levine says. “They sort of disappeared in the U.S. market for a while. They were known as an innovative brand so it would be great to see them back as a tennis presence in America.”