In the world of tennis, the accomplishments of Roger Federer and Serena Williams stand out. So it’s only fitting that Wilson’s brand-new design strategy has the autograph racquets for both players appearing far different from the rest of the industry. Using an elastic paint on both the Pro Staff RF97 Autograph for Federer and the Blade SW104 Autograph CV, Serena’s first autograph racquet, Wilson married minimalistic optics with unique texture. The Black Velvet matte paint offers a soft, light-absorbing finish designed for a tactile experience, the first use of this style of paint in the racquet industry.
“If you look at Apple,” Hans-Martin Reh, Wilson’s racquet sports general manager, tells Tennis, “if you touch and feel the product, you will see that from a design perspective the way it feels in your hand is part of the design of this brand. Just imagine going onto the court and how often you touch the racquet. How often do you touch the throat area, an experience that is unconscious? This experience is part of the new thinking behind the Wilson design DNA.”
Based off Federer’s favorite on-court outfit of the “black tuxedo” during the 2007 U.S. Open, Wilson replicated this all-black design by adding gloss at 3 and 9 o’clock and the elastic matte paint through the rest of the frame, void of any color. The Serena design has some of the same touches, but also some specific to the pinnacle of the new Blade line. While silver lettering fills the other offerings, the SW Autograph has the Blade name and her signature embedded in gold, her favorite color.
More than just gloss versus matte—the elastic, textured paint involves a different curing process that takes 15 times longer and forced Wilson to evolve its manufacturing process, all for the sake of design—the paint allowed for this intricate detailing, the small nuances that allow a consumer to discover more when holding the racquet up close.
“It is that attention to detail,” says Jason Collins, Wilson’s lead product manager. “You aren’t going to see it from ten feet, but once you have it in your hand it has a powerful impact. Every person who has picked up the RF 97 starts looking for the cool features.”
It is this desire to stand out on a wall of racquets overloaded with detail and technical information that spurred the design of Babolat’s new Pure Strike line as well. Unlike the powerful colors for its other lines, like the Pure Drive and Pure Aero, the brand-new Dominic Thiem-led Pure Strike (16x19) comes in a nearly uncontaminated all-white cosmetic.
“White is pure, disruptive,” says product manager Vincent-Baptiste Closon, “and brings a status and identity to the players carrying it. It’s for unfettered players who know exactly what they want and do not conform to the norm. Babolat consistently wants to reinvent itself, to create its own signature, being different and always offering something unique.”
With a desire to “dare something” on the black-based world of tennis and appeal to a younger demographic, Babolat launched an “audacious cosmetic” based on positive tester feedback received for the bold design of the frame’s prototype (dubbed ProjectOne7). “Dominic Thiem enjoyed it a lot and was even willing to change for the Pure Strike prototype cosmetic in the middle of his season,” Closon says.
The company, says Closon, wants an aesthetic “unique” for its users, showing both performance and personality. “We design racquets meant to catch your opponent’s eye before starting a match, because aesthetics of your frame carries your own identity on court,” he says.
So as racquet companies continue to ratchet up the level of performance technology, it is now with a heightened appreciation of how the aesthetic—both optical and tactile—can improve the playing experience.