Head Turner: Sharapova's New Stick

by: Richard Pagliaro | May 26, 2011

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SharapovaHeadaction Maria Sharapova's bruising baseline power is amplified by a new black-and-blue accomplice on Roland Garros' red clay: the Head YouTek IG Instinct MP.

The 100 square-inch head racquet is 27 inches long, weighs 10.6 oz. (unstrung) and has a 16 x 19 string pattern, with a beam width of 23/25/21 mm. The balance is 1 inch headlight. The suggested retail price for the YouTek IG Instinct is $190.

Some retailers and tennis shops currently have demos of the racquet, but it won’t be available for purchase until August, giving Sharapova the opportunity to go deep in draws at Roland Garros and Wimbledon to showcase the new stick.

The eighth-ranked Russian wielded the Instinct in sweeping world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and 2010 French Open finalist Samantha Stosur in straight-sets succession to collect her 23rd career title in Rome earlier this month. Sharapova said she play-tested a few Head frames and worked with the brand on revising the right racquet weight for her flat-hitting style.

"I actually tried the Head frames end of October, November, and had a few different brands, few different frames," Sharapova said. "I picked that one out, and it was actually one of the new racquets and new technology that Head was working on. It wasn't a racquet on the market. I hit a couple of balls with it, and I think some players have a feeling when they've played a really long time that they know something works for them. I loved the feel of it. I loved how it helped me when I was on the run. There are so many things I really liked about it. Then we worked a little bit with the weight." HeadInstinct

Head is also introducing a lighter, 9.5 ounce version of the frame, the YouTek IG Instinct S. It comes in a 102-square-inch head and also has a 16 x 19 string pattern. This version retails for $180.

Innegra, which Head touts as "the world’s lightest high-performance fiber in the industry today," is integrated into the frame for shock absorption and improved stability. It also includes the brand’s d3o technology, offering stiffness or softer touch depending on the impact of the ball off the string bed. Additionally, Head says the racquet features "larger grommets in key areas" to enhance comfort. Selecting an arm-friendly frame may well have been a key consideration for Sharapova, who has battled shoulder and elbow injuries in recent years.

The three-time Grand Slam champion opened the 2010 season playing with a Prince EXO3 Black frame and appeared to be using that racquet when she won her 21st career title in Memphis (in February 2010). At Indian Wells, she suffered a right elbow injury that sidelined her for nearly two months. When she returned to the tour in Madrid in May, she was playing with an all-black frame devoid of the Prince stencil and lacking the patented EXO3 holes.

It is believed Sharapova made the switch to a blacked-out Head frame then, though she's said she didn't finalize her selection of the Instinct until last fall.

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