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Wednesday, September 11, 2013 /by

Spin Is In
I mean really in. Power is passé and spin is all the rage. Wilson and Prince are opening up string patterns, while other companies are trying to manipulate their racquets’ weights and configurations to promote spin production. There are fewer new frames being produced with 18x20 patterns—once coveted by players for their enhanced control—in favor of ones with greater access to spin.

Since lighter racquets are deemed easier for increasing racquet head speed, thereby adding more rotations to the ball, weight is continuing to drop. Longstanding players frames have been put on diets. The 12 oz. racquet is going the way of the 4 5/8 grip, which some retailers see so little demand for, they are no longer carrying frames with the dimension. One can only assume this is not an evolutionary phenomenon of increasingly smaller human hands, and simply a reflection of what’s been the trend on the pro tours: Smaller grips allow more wrist freedom, which can mean a more severe brushing motion and—wait for it—added spin on the ball.

Polyester Is Cool
Well, maybe still not in suits, but in strings it’s hugely fashionable. With all this emphasis on spin, polys are continuing to gain in popularity. The widening of string patterns means more string movement, making the durability of polyesters even more desirable. Plus, their inherent non-abrasiveness will make the extra room to “snap back” into place—boosting spin—another added perk.

Playing with an open string pattern also makes a stiff string like a poly feel more forgiving. Still, companies are trying to produce more arm-friendly polys to appeal to wider audiences; namely those players who like a soft nylon, but believe they need to be hopping on the polyester bandwagon. Certain retailers and companies I spoke with are befuddled by this. Nylons had been the sector leader for years and the better choice for a majority of recreational players who don’t possess the requisite swing speed needed to enjoy the benefits of a control/spin string like Luxilon.

Still, brands and sellers have to supply what their audience demands. But the step forward in softness has often meant a step backward in tension loss, which was a major problem with polyesters to begin with. Solving that seems to be the next step in polyester development.

One of the interesting side effects of the shift to polyesters is it has opened the door a little for the second and third-tier manufacturers to make inroads in the category. According to one company executive I spoke with, it's much easier and less expensive to make a polyester well than it is a good multifilament nylon. They can roll out different options, and experiment with varying compositions in the hopes of hitting a home run. Several brands mentioned how the popularity of a polyester in their lineup gave a significant jolt to their otherwise struggling string business.

Smart Racquets
It’s far too early to tell if the Babolat Play Pure Drive will be a game-changer. But the idea of a racquet being connected to a player’s smartphone, computer or tablet that can relay performance stats is hugely attractive. There’s also a communal aspect in that Babolat Play users can share their info with each other, but for coaches and serious players, the data itself—how many forehands did I hit?—will be the real draw. Tennis retailers are hoping players embrace the concept the way participants in other individual sports such as running and biking have done.

And so is the competition. While Babolat stands to profit directly, there is a sense that a rising tide will lift all boats. This is new technology for tennis; it could be argued the first genuinely new racquet innovation in quite some time. If it’s a success for Babolat, it won’t be long before other manufacturers adopt it. They will have the incentive of knowing there’s a demand for the feature, not to mention the fear of losing their current customers to a Babolat frame. And as the technology becomes less expensive, it will become more affordable for companies to make and consumers to buy. Ironically, many are looking at this much like the smartphone business: The iPhone set the pace, but many other imitators flourished in its wake.


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