Question of the Day: Two Sticks for Net Rushers

by: Justin diFeliciantonio | August 15, 2012

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Bryan PowerTENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.

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Hello Justin! I have a question regarding grip change and racquet choice. I'm a 4.5 player who recently changed from a semi-Western/Western grip to an Eastern grip, primarily because I’m changing my game from baseline grinding to aggressive net rushing. In short, I feel like I need a bit more pace and drive on my shots. In the past, I used the Babolat AeroPro Drive GT, which was a good stick to grind with due to its spin potential. But I recently discovered that, with my Eastern grip, my control and precision was lacking at times with the Babolat. Since then, I’ve tried out my old Head Prestige MP Microgel, which feels much better in terms of control, probably because of its denser string pattern and slightly smaller head size. I've also tried out the Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 90 BLX. And while the 90 is harder to use, I feel like it helps me connect with the ball better than the Babolat.

How much of an impact will my racquet actually have on my game, now that I’ve transitioning from a spin-producing machine into a flatter-hitting, net-approaching player? Is my mind playing tricks on me? I’d appreciate a few racquet recommendations. Thanks for your time, and look forward to reading your take on this!Shenker

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Your mind is definitely not playing tricks on you, Shenker. As I wrote a few months ago, certain racquet specifications—notably head size, weight, balance, and beam width—befit certain playing styles.

For example, baseliners tend to prefer thicker-beamed sticks with modest balances (~<5 pts. HL), attributes that increase the racquet’s power from the back of the court, especially for players with Western grips. (Note: Players with Western grips tend to make contact closer to the racquet’s tip; the more the weight is distributed toward the hoop, recall, the higher up in the string bed the sweet spot will be.)

On the other hand, net rushers mostly wield sticks with thin beams and very head-light balances (~>8 pts HL). While these racquets may not be as powerful as others tailored to baseliners, they are more maneuverable and provide better feedback—invaluable qualities for a game predicated on quick reactions and deft placement. Also, such racquets’ sweet spots are  usually located near the center of the string bed, where players with more conservative grips are apt to connect with the ball.

So Shenker, in keeping with the above guidelines, and at your skill level, if you’re looking for something that can drive flat shots from the baseline and stick dipping passing shots at net, consider sticks that are hefty (11.5 oz.+), head light (~>7 pts. HL), and constructed with thin beams (~<23mm).

Within these specs, two models come immediately to mind: (1) the Prince Exo3 Rebel 95 and (2) the Head YouTek IG Prestige MP. Both sticks have head sizes that offer some margin without crippling maneuverability. And they also feature dense string patterns and relatively flexible profiles, which should give you the control and feedback you feel you’re lacking. (Note, though, that the Prince definitely plays an order of magnitude more flexible than the Head.) Finally, while they're capable at net, they won't leave you adrift at the baseline.

Any net-rushing readers out there who’d care to share their favorite stick? Thanks to readers who comment. I always read and appreciate the feedback.

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