The Pro Shop

Monday Mailbag: Balance Trends, Wet Poly, Frame Life

Monday, April 16, 2012 /by

TENNIS.com 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.

RainI’m currently using the Head Liquid Metal Radical Midplus, which I have personally customized to a weight of 350 grams (~12.35 ounces) and a balance of 11 points head light [HL]. I’m also currently stringing my racquet with Solinco Tour Bite 17 at 59 pounds. I have two questions: Is 11 pts. HL extreme for balance? Should I be stringing a co-polyester like Tour Bite at 59 lbs?—Shane

Thanks for your questions, Shane. I wouldn’t say that 11 pts. HL is prohibitively extreme. But it’s definitely out there on the HL end of the balance spectrum—more so for singles than for doubles, as doubles players typically prefer a more maneuverable racquet and strike the ball lower in the string bed (i.e., volleying).

A quick refresher for readers out there who remain a bit fuzzy on the concept: Balance is a measure of how weight is distributed along the length of a frame. Put bluntly, if most of the weight is distributed toward the tip, a racquet is head heavy; on the contrary, if most of the weight is distributed toward the handle, a racquet is head light. All things being equal, a HL racquet will be more maneuverable than a HH racquet. Additionally, a HL racquet’s sweet spot will be located lower in the string bed than that of a HH racquet. (One final note: “Pt.” stands for 1 point, which represents a 1/8th inch difference between the racquet’s actual balance and its midpoint.)

Returning to your question, Shane, my estimation is that, as more and more singles players employ today’s power baseline game—which involves using Western grips and making contact with the ball nearer to the racquet’s tip—the mean balance point has dropped closer to even. Which would make a spec. like 11 pts. HL a bit of an outlier. While balance points vary wildly, per differences in playing styles and personal preferences, it’s not uncommon for professionals with modern, power-baseline games to use a racquet balanced in the neighborhood of 2 to 6 points head light.

As for your string tension, 59 lbs. is very tight for a co-polyester like Tour Bite. While it wasn’t unusual for players to string poly in the 60s a decade ago, today's players are realizing that the material performs better—i.e., imparts more spin on the ball, shocks the arm less, and plays with a bigger sweet spot—when strung in the range of the high 40s to mid 50s (lbs.). I recommend that you drop your tension 10 percent and see what happens.

I currently use MSV Focus Hex 17L (1.18mm), a co-polyester string produced by Mauve Sports. What I would like to know: Will a little rain damage my string? And if it happens, what should I do?—Misha, Canada.

Thanks for your question, Misha. I recently forwarded your concern to Roman Prokes, Andre Agassi’s former stringer and owner of RPNY Tennis, in New York, NY. Roman assured me that, “synthetic materials like polyester are not susceptible to damage by rain.”

I have been playing with the Wilson nTour Two nCode racquet since it came out a few years ago. I love them, but recently started to wonder: When is a racquet old? Is there any way to test them?—Fabio

Good question, Fabio. Every time you hit the ball or get your racquet restrung, the carbon fibers that make up the frame weaken. As this occurs, the racquet becomes less rigid and, accordingly, less powerful. It can be difficult to determine when it’s time to throw out your old frame and adopt a new one; a racquet’s wear does not necessarily show as cracks or stress markings on the frame’s exterior. Generally speaking, if you’re a decent club player who plays 3-4 times a week, you should get new sticks at least every two years. All things being equal, a new frame will feel a bit stiffer and play livelier.

(As for your second question, it is possible to test your racquets’ stiffness using a fancy piece of equipment called a Babolat Racquet Diagnostic Center. Ask around the specialty pro shops in your area; there may be a Babolat RDC available near you.)

For some fun perspective on how much of a difference a new frame can make, consider that the average pro player, according to Prokes, goes through about 70 to 80 racquets a year. “Pro players will change out their racquets at least every 3 months,” Prokes says. “And top players will change even more frequently. Andy Roddick uses 150 racquets a year, on average about 12 new racquets every month. Andre Agassi used to go through 200 racquets a year. These guys are exceptions, of course. But the idea is to switch before you feel a difference. If you’re a pro, you don’t want to get caught in the cycle of saying, ‘I can’t switch to a new racquet. I like the feel of the softer frame.’”

I recently read your review of the year’s best frames in the May 2012 issue of the magazine. I am a USPTA- and PTR-certified teaching pro, and would like to purchase the Asics 125 for one of my students. The problem is: I can't locate the racquet anywhere. None of the online retailers carry the racquet yet; not even the Asics store in New York City has it. Where should I look to buy this racquet? Thanks for your help.—Donald Hull

I’ve received a number of inquiries like yours, Donald, about the availability of Asics’ new 2012 racquets. The fact of the matter is that the racquets haven’t yet been distributed to online retailers or specialty pro shops. According to Max Brownlee, owner of SP Tennis, the company that represents Asics Tennis, the three game-improvement racquets should hit stores at the end of May. For more information, feel free to call their toll free number: 1-855-244-2979.

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