Center of Attention

by: Jon Levey | July 29, 2013

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Tags: The Pro Shop

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Upon first glance it may resemble something better-suited for wiffle ball or a carnival game. And while its origins are rooted in another sport, the Sweet Spotter is pure tennis equipment. Tennis coach and creator, Yann Auzoux, came up with the concept after one of his players left her softball bat at tennis practice. He started serving balls with the bat and realized he had to hit the sweet spot every time for an effective shot. A light bulb went off: What if he created a bat for tennis that required players to hit the sweet spot every time, while also improving racquet speed, power, and technique? Two years and many experiments later, the Sweet Spotter was born.

The adult version is a slightly extended 27.6 inches, with a circumference of 11.1 inches, and a grip of 4 3/8 inches. The bat is balanced like a player’s racquet—mirrored after the Babolat Pure Storm—and comes in two different weights: 11 and 13 ounces. There’s a kid’s model on the way that is shorter (25.6 in.) and lighter (9 oz.). The hollow tubing is designed so a clean hit in the bat’s sweet spot results in a distinct sound.

The moment you start hitting with the Sweet Spotter, you immediately notice that if your technique is off in slightest—you’re reaching too far for a ball, the swing is lazy, or your posture is compromised—the resulting shot will be ugly; a total frame job that bounces into the net or flies into the next court. You need to line up the ball properly so it arrives in your optimal strike zone, maintain good balance, and take a healthy cut to center the shot on the bat’s sweet spot. When you do it correctly, you know it—just like you would on a well-struck, fluid ground stroke. But don’t expect to rally with the Sweet Spotter, as even the good shots are difficult to control and can result in a line drive to the back fence. You need a playing partner and a bucket of balls to be fed for the repetitive benefits of grooving the stroke.

Another reward of training with the Sweet Spotter is that it’s quite effective at discovering and improving your weaknesses. For instance, I tested the Sweet Spotter with Doug, the head pro at my tennis club. He employs something of an eastern forehand grip and therefore strikes the ball more cleanly when the ball is around his waist. When the ball comes in higher he struggles to drive it as effectively. A tennis racquet is much more forgiving when a player misses the sweet spot, but the Sweet Spotter is not as sympathetic. Doug started out fouling off several high forehands straight up to the ceiling before properly adjusting his hitting zone to better center the ball on the bat. High balls were suddenly no problem at all. 

A similar thing happened on my two-handed backhand. I sometimes have an issue with brushing up too severely on the ball instead of driving through the strike zone. In a match, that could result in a ball landing too short in my opponent’s court; with the Sweet Spotter it’s a ground ball in the bottom of the net. I really had to get the racquet through the hitting zone to enjoy the proper feedback. The one caveat I would offer to two-handers is not to forget you’re playing tennis. On a few balls my left elbow got a little high, my swing changed into my best Crush Davis impression, and I put a few round-trippers over the fence. 

Obviously, improving technique will result in better shots, but thanks to the additional weight, the Sweet Spotter can improve a player’s power as well. The extra force needed to whip the racquet through the hitting zone naturally increases swing speed as well as works the tennis specific muscles needed to do so. This feels especially true on the serve. Players who struggle with inadequate racquet-head speed on the serve could really profit from a few weeks with the Sweet Spotter. Since you don’t have to be results-oriented—the serve can be a bullet to the baseline—you can focus on nothing but fluid acceleration and finding the sweet spot.

Improving the serve also only requires a court and a bucket of balls. As mentioned earlier, if you want to work on other strokes, you will need a playing partner willing to be a feeder. That’s probably not how everyone wants to spend valuable court time. But for teaching professionals and team coaches looking to have their players hone their strokes before or during practice, the Sweet Spotter can be a valuable instructional tool.

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