TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions every Monday and Wednesday in the Mailbag. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I play at a 5.0 level. For the past 3 years, I've played with the Wilson K Factor Six.One Tour 90. I've been hearing that frames wear out after a couple of years and was wondering if I should stay with the K Factor (buying newer frames of that model), or switch to the newer BLX version. Is there a significant difference that would help my game? I know most people caution against playing with a small head size of 90 sq in., but I've been able to manage it quite well. However, might there be a better stick out there? I play relatively flat with an eastern grip, but I still manage to get spin with a bit of a wrist flick at the end of my forehand. Playing with polyester strings also helps produce spin. (I string Babolat Pro Hurricane Tour at around 50 to 55 lbs.)—Amir R.
Good question, Amir. It’s true that racquets weaken each time they’re restrung or make contact with the ball. As this occurs, they become progressively less rigid and less adept at transferring energy back into the ball. In common tennis parlance, the racquet plays “softer.” Some players, in fact, actually prefer the feel and performance of such a frame. But all things being equal, an older, softer racquet is less powerful. This is why many racquet technicians recommend that serious players who play frequently (i.e., multiple times a week) and restring frequently (i.e., multiple times a month) consider switching to new frames about every two years.
Onto your question: From what I can tell, there are but small differences between the Wilson K Factor Six.One Tour 90 and the BLX version. According to Wilson, the BLX iteration includes new technologies—more specifically, basalt fibers and the Amplifeel handle system, which are the company’s latest stabs at filtering out unwanted vibrations. Truth be told, these technologies likely change the racquet’s feedback profile, and may warrant giving the new stick a try.
But as for specifications, the two racquets are almost identical. Technically, the BLX iteration has a slightly thinner beam (by 0.5mm) and a lower swingweight, both of which may make it marginally easier to swing through the air. But these differences, at least those of weight and balance, are well within accepted manufacturing variances. Indeed, there may be Tour BLXs out there that, for example, have swingweights above that/those of your K Factor/s.
Somewhat of a tangent, but still word to the wise: It’s always a good idea to measure racquets’ specifications yourself before purchasing. You may well find that, spec-wise, that stick you picked off the rack weighs in quite differently from its catalog description. Certainly, this is one advantage to purchasing racquets at your local specialty pro shop, especially a shop that owns a racquet diagnostic machine—you can pick out the racquet(s) you want.
The bottom line, Amir, is that you should invest in some new sticks, whether they’re engineered with K Factor or BLX technologies. In an ideal world, you would compare and contrast the two racquets’ presumably different feels by demoing both new. But it may prove difficult to find a new K Factor to demo. Demo the BLX a bit, and go with what your gut tells you. And while I don’t think it’s unfeasible for a player of your caliber to use the Tour 90, it may be worth giving some more forgiving racquets a try. How about a racquet with a bigger head but a similar weight/balance/swingweight profile? How about the Wilson Six.One 95 BLX?
Finally, I’d recommend you try dropping the tension of your Pro Hurricane to the high 40s. (I realize I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this count.) You may find the string performs better—with more “give”—at lower tensions. And remember, stringing a 90 square inch head at 50 lbs. is not the same as stringing, say, a 100 sq. in. head at 50 lbs; the former’s strings will play stiffer. Why? For one reason, the lengths of the strings are different. As Rod Cross and Crawford Lindsey explain, in Technical Tennis, “At the same tension, longer strings are softer than shorter strings…A 60-pound string 10 feet long is very easy to push sideways, but if it is only one inch long, it will be very difficult to push sideways.”
When it gets really sunny out, I have trouble seeing the ball. It’s particularly difficult to see when I’m serving facing the sun; the ball just disappears. Could you recommend me some tennis sunglasses out there that’ll cut down on glare and help me pick up the ball better?—Ariel J.
Thanks for your question, Ariel. Give Bolle’s line of sunglasses a try. The company makes a tennis-specific lens called Competivision, which they say, in addition to cutting down glare, accentuates the optic yellow of the tennis ball so you can pick it up more easily. Other brands to try are Solar Bat and Oakley, both of which manufacture sunglasses and lenses with glare-reducing, tennis-specific technologies. When shopping, pay attention to how the sunglasses fit your face; most companies carry a wide assortment of frames that adjust to different physiognomies. Some sunglasses are even prescription-lens friendly. The Bolle Parole and Vigilante styles, for example, can be purchased with a prescription adapter that fits inside the glasses. Especially if you require vision correction, check with your optician. They’ll be able to recommend a lens and frame that’s right for you.
I’m looking for a stringing machine. Do you recommend a machine with a crank system or an electronic constant-pull mechanism?—Albert I.
Hello, Albert. If you can afford it, purchase a machine with an electric constant-pull tensioner. Compared to a crank or spring tensioner, the electronic mechanism will string at more accurate and reliable tensions.