Monday Mailbag: Pro Staffs, Pros' Sticks, and Tennis Elbow

by: Justin diFeliciantonio | March 06, 2012

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Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions every Monday in the Mailbag. Click here to send in a question of your own.

WilsonI currently play with a Wilson Pro Staff nCode nSix.One 95. I really like the feel and control the racquet provides, but as I am now 35 and don't play as often as I would like, I find it to be a tad hefty. On the other hand, I cannot stand the ultra-light racquets that many of my fellow club players use. Can you recommend another racquet that plays similarly to the nSix.One but is a touch lighter?QRock

Ah, the nCode nSix.One, my trusty old stick from college. Thanks for stirring up the memories, QRock. Yes, the old Pro Staff nCode nSix.One 95 was indeed on the heftier side—weighing in above 12 ounces with a head-light balance of 10 pts. and a swingweight in the 330s.

But lucky for you, you don’t have to look very far for a more forgiving but still familiar replacement. The latest version of your racquet, the Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 95 BLX, is easily a “touch lighter” than the Pro Staff sticks of years past. Check out the Six.One 95’s new specifications:

Head Size: 95 sq. in.
: 27 in.
: 11.5 oz. (strung)
: 10 pts. HL (strung)
: 306 (strung)
Beam Width
: 18mm
String Pattern
: 16 x 19

As you can see, the Six.One 95, while retaining its classic head-light balance, has been weighted down by more than half an ounce. Which should provide you with a more maneuverable feel and added racquet-head speed through the hitting zone. 

However, if the Six.One 95 is still too hefty for you—i.e., if you’re looking for a Pro Staff under 11 oz.—try out the new Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 100 BLX. (Which we recently reviewed in-depth here.) Its specs. are as follows: 

Head Size: 100 sq. in.
: 27 in.
: 10.6 oz. (strung)
: 3 pts. HL (strung)
: 297 (strung)
Beam Width
: 19-22-21mm
String Pattern
: 16 x 18

The Six.One 100 is an ounce lighter than its bigger brother. It’s also, note, more evenly balanced, which suits it best to all-court players who spend the majority of their time on the baseline.

Just wanted to say I really enjoy your articles and I'm very eager to see more of your work. If could ask one question though: At the Australian Open, Jim Courier asked Roger Federer on-court about his racquet, but Federer was pretty vague in his response. Since the new Pro Staff BLX racquets were released, Federer has switched to the Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 90 BLX, correct? Or does he use an extremely customized frame with just updated paint jobs to match the current models?—Adam Myers 

That’s a tricky question, Adam, to which I don’t have an answer; sorry to say, I don’t have any insider information to add to the discussion. From what I understand, when Federer was a junior, he used Pete Sampras’s racquet of choice, the Pro Staff 6.0 85. (You can see the young Federer with the late Peter Carter holding the classic stick here.) When he turned pro, he switched to a racquet with a larger, 90 sq. in. head. And now, according to Wilson, Federer uses the newest version of the Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 90, which has been updated with BLX technology for vibration dampening and an Amplifeel handle for greater comfort. 

Hi Justin. Recently I’ve had trouble with my elbow. I went to the physiotherapist and after only a few sessions I started to get some relief. My therapist, however, told me to change my racquet. Problem is, he doesn’t know which I should use. My racquet set-up is the HEAD Microgel Extreme Team, with Wilson Sensation strung at 54 pounds. It seems no one knows which racquet I should use, and I’m starting to get confused. I’m a casual, 3.5+ player with two years of playing experience who likes to train everyday. What can I do to prevent my tennis elbow from flaming up again?—Francis Nanco

­Before taking my answer into consideration, Francis, make sure you see a licensed physician and/or a different sports physiotherapist and try to extract more specific advise about which racquet you should use. I’m obviously not a medical professional, and the following advice I dispense should be taken as such.

Bearing that in mind, let me defer to the words of Rod Cross and Crawford Lindsey, as written in their highly-respected book Technical Tennis (Racquet Tech Publishing, 2005). The following is what you can do, Cross and Lindsey say, to reduce the shock on your arm:

“How can you reduce the force on the arm? The simplest way is not to hit the ball so hard. Hitting the ball in the throat area, rather than near the tip, will also reduce the force. But most players prefer to hit the ball in the middle of the strings or near the tip. In that case there are five things you can do to reduce the force on the arm, one at a time or, better still, all at once. They are:

  • Use a heavier racquet [~>11.5 oz.]
  • Use a head heavy racquet [~Evenly balanced]
  • Use a more flexible racquet [with a beam width ~<21mm]
  • Lower the string tension [<55 llbs.]
  • Use a softer, thicker grip [made out of synthetic materials, not leather].

By doing all of these things you can halve the force on the arm without affecting the speed of the ball off the strings. Most players these days prefer racquets that are light, head-light, stiff, use strings at high tension, and swing their racquet as fast as possible. It probably explains why more players suffer from tennis elbow and other arm problems today compared with the old wood racquet days.” 

I would add to Cross and Lindsey’s advice, Franco, that you should begin stringing your racquet with natural gut strings—like Babolat’s line of VS. While Wilson Sensation is softer than polyester strings, natural gut is even softer and will be even easier on your arm. Sorry to say, natural gut is expensive, as much as ~$40 a set. But as long as you’re not a chronic string breaker, cost shouldn’t be significantly prohibitive; natural gut holds its tension much longer than synthetic strings, anyways. (And hey, it’s your arm we’re talking about here.) Finally, I’d advise that you begin to take lessons from a certified teaching professional, if you’re not already. Changes to your form on the court may also lessen the stress on your elbow.

UPDATE: I was also surprised when I read Cross and Lindsey, in Technical Tennis, recommending a head-heavy racquet for reduced shock. I, too, had always internalized the conventional wisdom that headlightness was friendlier on the arm. (I did not misread the text; check it out and see for yourself.) Can anyone provide an in-depth, scientific justification as to why a head-light balance absorbs more of the shock upon impact? (After all, head-heavy racquets have more of their weight distributed toward the racquet's hoop and tip, where the impact is actually taking place...)—JD 

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