Gear Talk: Wilson's John Lyons, Part 3

by: Justin diFeliciantonio | September 13, 2012

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In part three of my interview with John Lyons, Wilson’s Global Product Director for racquets and strings, we spoke about some of the finer details of the snap-back effect and Wilson’s new SpinEffect technology. (For part one of the interview, click here. For part two, click here.)

Justin diFeliciantonio: So by changing the arc and flight of the ball, topspin is changing the game.

John Lyons: It is. Because players are loading the ball up with more spin, there’s more arc and clearance over the net. Singles players aren’t coming in as often, due in part to how the extra spin spreads the angles you can hit from the baseline; no one’s worried about hitting it low over the net. And if you’re at the baseline, and I don’t have to hit the ball close to the net, the more arc I hit the better.

JD: Have you submitted a patent application for SpinEffect? Has anyone else done research on the snap-back effect?

JL: Yes, we’ve applied for a patent on it. We’re the only ones with the TrackMan Doppler radar technology. But as for firing balls off of a stringbed and recording high-speed video of it, the ITF has done such a test; about a year or so ago, the ITF was trying to investigate how different strings affect spin. They were interested in measuring nylon versus polyester versus gut, as well as slippery versus non-slippery strings.

JD: I’m very curious. Have you employed the TrackMan to measure the RPMs of tour-level players? How does their spin compare with that of recreational players?  

JL: Actually, we did test several pros who were playing a Challenger event outside of Chicago, not far from where the Wilson headquarters are. They were borderline Challenger, main-draw players. So let’s say a good club-level player is hitting at, depending on the speed and angle of their swing, between about 800 to 1300 RPMs. These tour players, on average, were just above 2000 RPMs. We haven’t yet been able to test Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, so we don’t know if the top players are getting even more rotation.

However, there have been some rudimentary attempts using high-speed video—and manually counting each rotation of the ball—to determine Federer and Nadal’s RPMs. I don’t know if they’re accurate or not, but if I remember correctly, the numbers I saw showed around 3000 RPMs for Nadal. One interesting claim was that Federer spins the ball more on his slice backhand than Nadal on his topspin forehand. If you think about it, it makes sense. If you hit topspin, the ball’s rotating toward me; and if I slice the ball, I don’t have to reverse its rotation. On the other hand, if your ball’s coming in with topspin, and I want to hit topspin back, I have to first stop the rotation of the ball and then rotate it back in the opposite direction toward you.

JD: Who does the SpinEffect string pattern help more? Recreational players or those pros who are already hitting with so much spin?

JL: We’ve found that a 16x15 string pattern has a more dramatic effect on players of average ability, actually. There’s still an effect for better players, but our research shows that it’s not quite as pronounced for them, as they’re already swinging so fast and causing the strings to snap back.

JD: Will there be any players on tour using SpinEffect racquets in 2013?

JL: I do believe we’ll have players using the S eventually. The pros are looking for any advantage that they can get. But it’s going to take time; it’s likely not going to be in the Australian Open this January. The adoption of racquet innovations most always starts off with younger players. They try it and get used to it, and then as those players come up, the technology makes it on tour. Currently, we do have players testing it, and the conclusion our tour guys seem to have is that SpinEffect might help the women generate more rotation. Certainly not all of them, but some of the younger women have slightly slower swing speeds, whereas the guys all swing very fast. This doesn’t mean the 99S is a girl’s racquet, but I think we might see it on the women’s tour first.

JD: I know you’re saying the 16x15 pattern performs differently. But have any of your playtesters commented that it feels different than conventional patterns?

JL: They have. It does have a distinctive sensation, at least initially, because the ball launches off the racquet differently. It’s just like when the first oversize or graphite racquets came out: They felt weird for players unaccustomed to them. This is one reason that we’re going to sell a Steam 99 and a 96—both without SpinEffect—in addition to the 99S and 105S. Players who still want a traditional feeling string pattern will have somewhere to go in the Steam family.

JD: We haven’t really talked much about the oversized version, the Steam 105S. That’ll also have a 16 by 15 pattern, right?

JL: Yeah, it will. Compared to the 99S, the 105S is lighter by about 15 grams. It’s also generates spin more dramatically, because the head is larger, it swings faster through the air, and the strings are spread out further, which allows them to move even more. We’ve had some players on the 105S increase their spin production by 500 or 600 RPMs.

JD: But for both the SpinEffect racquets, to really see a difference you have to string with a monofilament, correct?

JL: The snap-back effect, yes, it’s definitely maximized by a monofilament, a Luxilon-type string. You don’t see the effect with nylon or gut strings. They just move…but don’t snap back. That’s why players who play nylon or gut, they’re always straightening their strings between points. Which is why we’re hypothesizing that it’s the snap-back—the recoil of the string at a faster speed—that has more to do with the additional spin than how far the string moves out of place. At this point, however, we can’t say for sure.

JD: What about stringing a hybrid? If you put, say, gut in the mains and Alu Power in the crosses, is there snap-back action? And is it accentuated by the 16x15 pattern?
JL: We’re recommending Luxilon 4G, our new monofilament engineered for tension maintenance, for the 99S and 105S. But there is some preliminary evidence that hybrids snap-back similarly to full stringbeds of polyester. We can’t say for sure, because we haven’t done enough lab testing yet. But according to initial playtests and lab work, yes, it could be that you can still experience the added spin benefit with an S racquet strung with a hybrid.

JD: That would be encouraging news—to be able to play with a softer stringbed and still get a good deal of spin out of it.

JL: Yeah, we were trying to think through some of realities and myths of spin. And it appears initially that—and again, I can’t make any definite claims, because we just haven’t tested enough people yet—it appears that there isn’t much drop-off in spin going from a full bed of poly to a hybrid. We’re not recommending hybrids with the S yet; we still feel like the effect is best maximized with a monofilament. But that would be an interesting turn of events, if the data confirms that hybrids spin the ball comparably.

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