Prince has entered into the heavy spin game with their Extreme String Pattern (ESP) frames. The Pro Shop's resident tennis professor, James Golden, put the new Tour 100T ESP through its paces. Here's his assessment:
Drawn in by the prospect of a longer court and lower net made possible due to the copious amounts of spin created by a string pattern only slightly denser than hydrogen, I couldn't wait to get my hands on one of the new racquets Prince recently introduced for the spin-seeking crowd. My first go with one of the frames came courtesy the Prince Tour 100T ESP. It weighs in at 11.1 ounces strung, 6 points head light, a swingweight of 306, and a stiffness of 61. Prince has chosen a slightly less aggressive string pattern for many of its new Extreme String Pattern (ESP) racquets, with most having a 16x16 pattern, as opposed to the 16x15 pattern of Wilson Steam 99S, which was the first of this new breed of racquets.
The Tour 100T ESP utilizes ports, rather than grommets, at the 3, 9, and 12 o'clock sections of the racquet, providing a feel that is unlike any other manufacturer's racquet on the market. The feel is exceptionally soft—some might call it mushy—but after a little time on court, you come to appreciate the sensation that the ball seems to come to rest ever so briefly on your strings, ready to be catapulted with precision and massive spin towards its awaiting target. Its low swingweight makes it effortless to accelerate through the ball, allowing you to take full advantage of the racquet's spin potential. This point is critical, whether it be with the Prince or any other exceptionally open string pattern—given the higher launch angle of the ball due to the string pattern, it is imperative that you do not decelerate or become tentative at the point of contact, or else the shot will lack the requisite spin to bring it down into the court.
Committed to swinging confidently, I found the familiar sensation of being able to swing through the ball with comfortable, relative abandon—a sensation that I haven’t felt since my days of playing with the Volkl Powerbridge 10 Mid, a racquet that epitomizes the genre of plush control-oriented racquets. However, rather than just being rewarded with precision, with the Tour 100T, the result was a ball that hit its target and leapt from the court. At times during my hitting session, my playing partner was sure that a ball I had hit was going to sail long, only to land inside the baseline. Better still, though, there was power in reserve such that on several occasions I hit forehands that landed well inside the baseline and hit the back curtain with enough force to send an echoing boom through the tennis facility. I assure you, that is a sound of which I am not accustomed. My single-handed backhand felt solid and, similar to my forehand, benefited from the additional topspin. Slice backhands carved through the court, and approach shots drove aggressively into the corners, often yielding a weak reply.
While I was happy with the Tour 100T ESP from all areas of the court, one area that particularly shined was my serve. Slice, flat and kick serves all seemed to be just that much more effective. I was able to easily place the ball out wide and up the "T", and kick serves in the ad court were consistently getting up above my playing partner's shoulders.
Along with updating its racquets with ESP, Prince has also decided to reintroduce its double bridge throat, which was on display in the hands of playing great Patrick Rafter and his Prince Precision Response in the 1990s. The double bridge throat design essentially serves as an integrated vibration dampener. Fair warning, though—with the ports, double bridged throat, and polyester strings, if the feel were any more dampened, the Tour 100T ESP would feel positively anesthetized.
The Prince Tour 100T ESP is a great racquet and more than just an imitator in what is sure to be a market flooded by racquets with ever extreme string patterns and promises of spin. The Tour 100T ESP provides soft, consistent power, excellent control, and the court lengthening spin that draws us to such racquets. If you seek a fast, soft feeling racquet, the Tour 100T ESP is the perfect choice.
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