Gear of the Year: Some of our favorites from 2016

by: Jon Levey | December 24, 2016

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Babolat Pure Strike 98 (16x19)

With its sophomore effort Babolat decided to make a couple of significant changes to the Pure Strike. The beam has been enlarged in strategic locations to improve stability and power, particularly on off-center hits, which was a noticeable drawback of the original. And the string spacing has been widened on the crosses to offer more spin potential and pop. 
The result is an impressive upgrade. The new Pure Strike delivers on the promise of added juice and spin, but more importantly it has a more consistent and solid response. A broader, more forgiving sweet spot and sturdier backbone add up to a much improved hitting experience. The Pure Strike presents a compromise between the Pure Drive and Pure Aero—it doesn’t quite deliver the easy power of the former or the spin potential of the latter, but offers enhanced control and all-court versatility with a friendlier feel. 

Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph

The new Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph is a cosmetic change only—the specs and playability remain intact from the original. Like that model, the bigger face and thicker beam lead to increased power, putting it squarely in the modern power game, where its predecessors were endanger of becoming relics. Yet, it’s still got the Pro Staff formula of mass, stability and great plow through that add up to an ultimate all-court weapon for those players with game enough to wield it. The tip of the cap for this generation is the updated stylish, stealth look. The black matte finish, laser engraved graphics, textured feel and Federer silhouette on the throat make this racquet as unique in appearance as it is effective in performance. 

Yonex EZONE DR 98

Yonex’s EZONE DR 98 is a type of hybrid racquet—not quite a true player’s frame, yet it has enough of the feel and control typical of those racquets to appeal to players seeking those traits. It doesn’t produce the unbridled power and spin potential of some of the “modern” baseline sluggers available, but there’s enough of each to easily compete in today’s game. In other words, it’s an exceedingly user-friendly frame with an impressive blend of playing attributes. There isn't one aspect from stroke production to comfort and feedback, where it doesn't earn stripes. It’s a must-try for players looking to move away from—or not quite ready for—the rigors of a traditional player’s frame, but don’t want to sacrifice too much feel and command in the process.

Asics Speed Solution 3

To Asics credit, when they do update one of their well-liked models, such as the Speed Solution or GEL Resolution, the changes are generally incremental and subtle. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it). The new Speed Solution 3 feels and performs very similarly to its predecessor. The only noticeable difference being a more expansive polyurethane wrap on the upper for greater support. Anyone who found the previous version to have too much give, particularly on lateral movement, will appreciate the added stability. And because it’s more rigid in the upper, the forefoot doesn’t feel quite as roomy, resulting in a secure, slightly narrow cut. The combination of manageable weight, low-to-the-ground ride and streamlined profile make for very fast, assured movement.

Babolat JET

The standout innovation of the JET is the Matryx upper which fuses Kevlar with polyamide fibers to create something incredibly light yet supportive. It is as minimalist as you get in a tennis shoe. The cut leans toward narrow and this allows it to better mold to the foot without creating pressure points. It also promotes a cinched-in feeling of security. Perhaps not for players tough on their shoes, seeking ultimate durability, the JET is exceedingly comfortable with just enough backbone to handle aggressive movements. And, oh yeah, you'll zoom around the court.

Head Nitro Pro

With a size 12 weighing a sleek 14.3 oz. the Nitro Pro certainly fits the category of lightweight shoe. Yet, like the best offerings in the category, it’s still sturdy and stable enough to handle the most aggressive movements. The low-to-the-ground profile comes with a respectable level of cushioning. It’s a little firm to start—in fact, the whole shoe is—but breaks in fairly well with some court time. Over the years Head has shown incremental growth in their footwear, with each new model bettering the last. The Nitro Pro may be their best to date, and possibly the first that compares equally to the top shoes of the sneaker giants.

Allbirds

The uppers on these incredibly light, airy and comfortable minimalist shoes are made of merino wool. Yes, wool. Unlike the itchy stuff populating your Christmas sweaters, this superfine fabric—20% the diameter of human hair—is remarkably soft and plush against your skin. You can certainly wear socks with them, but the seamless, sock-like shape is even better barefoot. Even though they’re called Wool Runners, they’re best worn for light activity. So instead of the same old slides or beat-up trainers, if you’re looking for something breathable to wear before or after a match give these a look.

Fila Heritage Peplum Jacket

If your performance wear leans toward retro and classy, you can’t go wrong with the reds, whites and blues of Fila. With its ribbing and striping at the collar, waistband and cuffs  we were particularly taken by the Heritage Peplum Jacket ($85). The light weight and thin profile make it comfortable and airy for pre and post match wear. Plus, the iconic stylings and tapering make for an overall flattering look.

 

Tory Sport Scoop Neck Cotton Tank

Tory Burch, the upscale women’s fashion designer best known for her signature shoes, recently launched into sportswear. (Earlier this spring the company opened a flagship Tory Sport store in the Flatiron District of Manhattan.) There’s a tennis-specific line which includes clothing and accessories as well as crossover performance wear, like the Scoop Neck Tank ($45). Besides the look, comfort and breathability of the tank, it also resists bunching during exercise. The pure pima cotton lays flat even under the most sweaty of circumstances.


2XU

Producers of medical grade compression and support apparel, 2XU is a favorite among professional athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It has a full line of head-to-toe performance wear from basic tops to recovery pants. The TR2 Compression Shorts ($70) offers support that's a noticeable cut-above what you typically find from the big name brands. And the Compression Flex Arm Sleeve proved a real help if you suffer from chronic arm pain. The cost is definitely high-end, but the company is so confident in the performance of its compression gear it offers a 1-year satisfaction guarantee.

Head Velocity MLT String

The most powerful string in Head’s lineup, Velocity MLT is a soft multifilament that’s arm-friendly without feeling overly mushy. The low-friction coating boosts durability and affords a good amount of spin-potential for a multifilament. The lack of string movement was also impressive. At an attractive price point ($10/set) Velocity MLT is a good value for players with arm troubles, non string breakers or as the cross in a hybrid.

Tecnifibre Pro Red Code Wax

This new version of the venerable polyester has—you guessed it—a wax coating. The addition is meant to increase string snapback for added spin, while decreasing friction for enhanced durability. It’s still plenty firm with an emphasis on control, requiring a healthy cut to produce pace. Available in 16, 17 and 18 gauge varieties, Pro Red Code Wax ($13/set) is a nice option for seasoned poly players looking for a low-powered option with some added durability and spin potential.

CrampsAWAY Sport

As the name not so subtly suggests, this thin vinegary liquid supplement is designed to eliminate muscle cramping. Citing research that dehydration and electrolyte depletion are not the primary causes of cramping, the makers of CrampsAWAY have created a proprietary formula that stimulates neuroreceptors in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract to restore the faulty firing muscle to its natural state. It can be ingested before activity, or at the earliest signs of cramping. Besides several Division I collegiate athletic departments, it has found an audience with endurance athletes, including tour players John Isner, Jack Sock and Steve Johnson, as well as spokesman—and admitted cramper—James Blake. It’s not cheap: Orders can placed on the company website for a single pack ($8), a three pack ($20) or nine pack ($50). But if you struggle with muscle cramps it’s worth the investment.

Volt Athletics

Created by a technology company specializing in sport performance training, the new app from Volt Athletics takes the guesswork out of working out. Backed by strength and conditioning coaches from some of the most renowned collegiate athletic programs, the cloud-based technology creates a personalized workout program based on the user’s preferred sport and competition schedule. Unlike other fitness apps that produce random workouts, each workout in Volt is individualized down to the specific weight, rep and rest period to increase performance and mitigate injury for the athlete. Ever hear pros talk about periodizing their training to peak at the right times? This does that for the weekend warrior. The subscription is $29/month—far less than a personal trainer—and you can try it free 30 days.

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