Head Size: 99 sq. in.
Length: 27 in.
Weight: 11.9 oz.
Balance: 5 pts. HL
RA Rating: 63
Beam Width: 15 mm /18 mm / 17 mm
String Pattern: 16x19
One of my favorite expressions when describing racquets—which I’ve stolen and adapted from The Untouchables—is never bring a knife to a gunfight. Basically, it’s a metaphor for whether or not the frame is weapon enough to stand up to, and hurt, serious competition. One look at the updated, ultra-thin and flexy Donnay X-Dual Gold (2014) and it may seem like you’d be wielding a butter spreader. And while it’s certainly not a bazooka, the Gold is not a dull blade, either.
The first thing I noticed about the frame was the incredibly plush, cushy response. The flex, which feels even lower than its RA number, coupled with the string setup I used (Volkl Cyclone Tour mains, Gamma Glide crosses) made for some of the softest feedback I’ve experienced in any recent demo. I found almost no unpleasant vibrations on off-center hits, as the dampening from the Xenecore technology does wonders. The closest comparison would be the Prince Tour 100 (16x18), but this Donnay isn’t quite as mushy as EXO3 frames, and offers a bit better feel. Anyone with arm troubles who likes flexible frames in this weight class should definitely consider it.
Then there’s the thin beam. It may look like a flyswatter when compared to most of its competition, but the Gold is surprisingly solid. While it doesn’t have that firm, crisp feel at contact that many modern frames do, the mass and flex in the hoop absorb hard-hit shots and slings them back deep with a relatively short swing. Plus, the narrow profile allows the Gold to cut through the air easily, blessing the user with excellent maneuverability and swing speed.
Which, at times, can also be a curse. Given how comfortable the frame is at contact, and easily it whips through the strike zone, there’s quite a temptation to come out of your shoes on groundstrokes. While I can get away with that approach with other frames, the results were quite erratic with this Donnay. Forehands were particularly hit-or-miss. Some of this could certainly be attributed to string selection, which was probably too powerful a combination; next time I would opt for a full bed of poly, strung several pounds tighter. But as tester, Mark Avedikian, brought up in his review of the Donnay Pro One Mid+, the frame seems to have a “hot spot” that can send the ball for a ride.
(Although I didn’t get a chance to experiment with it, a nice option with Donnay frames is that you can alter them with a customization kit (sold separately). You can sub out the butt cap for a 5g or 10g replacement to add more overall weight to frame, as well as make it more head light. There are also 3g weight slides that can be used on the hoop to add more power and stability. This could help tailor playing characteristics to suit individual preferences.)
As I got more dialed-in to the frame, I found that fluid, relaxed swings with good weight transfer were far more effective. My shots didn’t necessarily have the pace I ordinarily get, but depth came easily. The 16x19 string pattern offers a nice level of spin, and the narrow beam lets you really carve and bend the ball. It’s especially inviting on slice backhands, which are extremely fun and effective to hit with the Gold. The racquet as a whole promotes variety of shot in order to create opportunities or draw errors. (The closest frame I can compare it to in terms of playability is the Volkl Powerbridge 10 Mid). So instead of grinding my opponent down, or trying to hit through him, I tried to summon my inner Stepanek to manipulate and confuse him.
As such, I found myself constantly trying to find ways to move forward. Not only did it pressure my opponent, but volleying was probably my favorite thing to do with the frame. The smooth handling gets the racquet into position with ease, and the versatility means you can either drive and accurately direct the volley, or employ more creative options—the feel and touch you can find with the racquet are exceptional. I could see accomplished doubles players with soft hands doing plenty of damage with this stick.
Like my ground strokes, serving was a bit of a mixed bag. When I just tried to fire away the power was there, but I didn’t find the consistency I normally enjoy. However, when I looked to vary locations and play with more location than pace—being a pitcher and not just a thrower—I had much greater success starting points in my favor. And I don’t know if it was the torque created by the flex in the frame, but my kick serves had tremendous life; more so than I even get with my usual frame.
All in all, I found this Donnay a fun and unique frame to play with. Unlike many of the racquets I’ve tested recently, it possessed the uncommon dichotomy of responding best to restrained technique coupled with creative, aggressive tactics; instead of bludgeoning an opponent, you cut him to pieces. The razor-thin beam width and soft flex is an acquired taste that clearly won’t be for everybody. But matched with a clever shot-maker who prefers that type of feel over wider, stiffer options, and the Donnay X-Dual Gold will most certainly shine.