We recently chatted with ATP No. 32 Kevin Anderson from his home in Chicago. The South African native and University of Illinois alumnus spoke about his string and tension preferences, why he uses the Head Prestige racquet, and how he customizes it. (Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II of Gear Talk, in which Anderson reveals the gadgets he uses to keep himself fit for the tour.)
Anderson's Racquet Specs (Unstrung)
Racquet: Head Prestige Midplus, European model
Weight: 351g / 12.38 oz.
Balance: 30.75 cm / ~5 pts. HL
Grip: Size 4
Justin diFeliciantonio: What string are you currently using in your racquet?
Kevin Anderson: I use the Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power Rough. For the Rough there’s just one gauge option: 16L.
JD: Why do you use that string over, say, the regular, non-textured Alu Power or any of Luxilon’s newer strings?
KA: Well, I’ve been using it for a while now. Geez, probably like five or six years. And I like the string a lot. I haven’t tried all of the new Luxilon strings, which are a bit softer. Actually, though, I like the firmness that the Big Banger Rough gives me. I think some players find that it hurts their arms a little bit. I haven’t had that same problem, so that’s why I’ve stuck with the Rough. And apparently, with the Rough, you get a little bit more grip on the ball. I’ve just always gone with that. I do have a pretty tight string pattern, so breaking strings isn’t an issue for me; I think the smooth version of the Alu Power might last a little bit longer. But I figured if that’s not a problem, might as well go with a string that gives me a little bit more grip on the ball.
JD: How many years did you say you’ve used Luxilon?
KA: I used it during my last year of juniors, in 2004. And then when I went to college [at the University of Illinois], I used the Wilson Enduro Pro, which was of a similar nature. Then, when I turned pro in 2007, I went back to Luxilon and have been with them since.
JD: When you turned pro, did you go through a testing process where you tried out various brands?
KA: No. I had gotten a sponsorship from Luxilon, so they were giving me strings. And I was really happy with their product, and continue to be.
JD: Are you ever curious about experimenting with different string types and brands?
KA: Perhaps. That’s always tough to say. I know there’s a lot of strings out there. And it’s just a personal feeling. I’m happy with the strings. I like the way they feel. I can string them pretty loose and still get a good sense of control. If I’m happy with it, I don’t feel the need to go out and look for anything else.
JD: How loose do you string?
KA: Generally, I’m in the high 40s [lbs.]. If it’s really hot, like it was in Miami, maybe low 50s, which a few years ago was quite loose. But I do hear that some players are stringing even looser these days—in the low 40s. With those loose strings, it gives you so much give. The ball really responds well to the racquet. Sometimes in a match when things get tight, you want to feel like you can swing out on the ball and still have control. I definitely don’t want it too tight. But it’s not a nice feeling when you feel like you can’t swing out on the ball.
JD: Has your tension changed over the course of your career? Has it gotten steadily looser?
KA: I’ve always been someone who’s strung a little looser. Even 10 years ago, when a lot of people were stringing in the high 50s, low 60s, I was always on the lower side. I don’t like the feeling of having a racquet where you’re swinging and getting that dead feeling. A lot of players really like that feeling. I like something with a little more give.
JD: You were ahead of the time.
KA: I guess, yeah. [Laughing] Judging by current events.
JD: About that feel—of wanting a little bit more give—does that transfer over to your racquet? Do you like a racquet that plays similarly?
KA: Yeah, I’ve been using the Head Prestige now since 2005. I started using the old iPrestige, the grey one; one of my teammates had the racquet. And I don’t think Head was actually making that racquet at that time. I actually tried quite a few racquets in college before I turned pro. And again, I think it goes back to how I feel about the string. The Prestige doesn’t have the biggest sweet spot, but if you do hit it in the sweet spot, it’s as powerful as any racquet. I remember trying some of the Babolat racquets—and I actually used that blue Babolat going into college—and if I hit the ball well, you really noticed the difference in power. But if you hit it just a little bit off and swung normally, the ball flew a little bit. Especially sometimes when you hit a good serve and your opponent hits a good return and you’re feeding the ball back—with the more powerful racquets, it feels like you have to slow down your swing speed. With the Prestige, even if I’m not centering it dead in the middle, I still feel like I can swing out quite a bit on the ball. On the other hand, if you don’t hit it in the middle and you aren’t swinging hard enough, you’re gonna be in a bit of trouble. But with me being taller with bigger swings, I don’t feel a lack of power. It’s a very firm, solid racquet. And the Luxilon strings offer a nice combination.
JD: Do you customize your racquet?
KA: I do, yeah. I did tinker around quite a bit with lead tape, and I finally got something that feels pretty good. Now Head does all that at the factory. You know, the first step is making sure all the racquets are the same, because when they come off the assembly line, they’re always a little bit different. With all the lead tape, my racquet is heavier than the model you’re going to find off the rack. It’s got most of its weight in the throat of the racquet; it’s not too head heavy. I don’t like the feeling of a racquet that’s so head heavy I can’t maneuver it around so well. But I still want some weight with the racquet. So that’s why I add more weight in the throat and the handle as opposed to the head.
JD: How often do you tinker with your racquet?
KA: I haven’t done it for a while. I think I’ve been using the same specs now since about December 2010. During the off-season then, I tried a few different weights. Now I’m happy with the way it feels.
JD: How did you come to decide on the specifications you’re currently using?
KA: That’s always a personal thing. Obviously the weights give you a different feeling. When I changed my racquet, I think I was a little stronger than I had been before. So I felt like I could go up in weight.
JD: Do you plan to make further changes anytime soon?
KA: Perhaps. If anything, I might add a little bit more weight. But it’s ok for now. And I think if you’re happy with what you have, there’s no point in changing. But there’s always a battle. Some players are constantly changing racquets, fiddling with them. It’s not that I’m not specific with my racquets, but I feel that I’m not as obsessed with some of that stuff as many of the other players are.
JD: So fiddling constantly with your equipment could be distracting.
KA: You know, I think some players like the feeling of making sure that they’re doing everything to the best that they can. But I think there’s a point where it starts interfering a bit. At the same time, you have to be happy with the racquet. There’s nothing worse than going out there with something that feels off.
JD: You said you made some changes in December ’10. Could you describe the process you went through?
KA: It can be a pretty lengthy process. You have your six racquets. Before you string them up, you put on lead tape with the help of a diagnostic machine, which gives you those important measurements of swingweight and weight and balance. So I was down at IMG Bollettieri and in their pro shop did the six [racquets] all differently—some with more weight, some with more swingweight. I played around with it. There wasn’t too much variance in those measurements; the racquets were pretty close together, because I had a sense of what felt the best. And so I just went out there and played a little bit with each racquet. If I liked one, I would change it a little bit and keep going until coming up with something that felt pretty good. The process definitely took me awhile, like a couple weeks. It can be a pretty frustrating process, because it’s not like a specific thing. It’s something that you have to go back and forth with. And you never really know what it is until you play a match. But I thought I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing, and I was able to come up with something that I’ve been happy with since.