Gear of the Year: Some of our favorites from 2017

by: Jon Levey | December 08, 2017

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Babolat Pure Drive
With a cosmetic that returns more of its signature electric blue coloring, this Pure Drive also harkens back to its more powerful incarnations. The previous model introduced FSI Technology—a raised sweet spot with a denser string pattern for improved control. (Babolat determined from data culled from their connected Play frames that players most often make contact higher up on the string bed). It has now evolved into FSI Power which employs wider spacing in the cross strings and diamond shape grommets to boost pace, spin and comfort. It boasts a more muted, less connected feel than earlier versions, but the core elements of what has made the frame so popular are ever present and accounted for.

Dunlop/Srixon Frames
For the past few years, Dunlop has released more power-oriented, thicker, firm frames, such as the iDapt and Force models. But its recent acquisition by Srixon’s parent company has opened the doors to new technology and led to a return to the company’s DNA of thinner beams and classic feel. The first two frames we got our hands on—Revo CX 2.0 and 2.0 Tour—show a welcomed comeback to form for the venerable brand. They’re lighter than more traditional player’s frames of the past, but are loaded with feel and precision. Yet, because of their weight and favorable balance, are great platform racquets for customization if extra mass is needed.

Head Adaptive
Built for discerning players and do-it-yourself tinkerers, the Head Adaptive racquets come with the options of four grommet choices (two different string patterns with two different weights), four possible lengths and two differently weighted butt caps, all to fine-tune the playability of the frame. Altogether there are 32 possible playing combinations to experiment (and have fun) with. So far, Head has introduced Adaptive in two of their racquet families: Speed and Instinct. A tuning kit ($30) with the customizing parts is sold separately.

Wilson Blade SW104 Autograph
Anyone wondering whether Serena Williams would actually play with the new Autograph frame that bears her name need only swing it. After just a few strokes with the Blade SW104 the racquet’s prime directive becomes abundantly clear: no quarter. Faithful to Serena’s aggressive style, the frame’s raw power is designed to hammer serves and batter groundies that give opponents whiplash. A racquet made for one of the singular players in the sport’s history, it probably shouldn’t surprise that the specs of the SW104 are rather unique. A 104 square-inch head size, 28-inch length, tight-ish 18x19 string pattern and 342 swingweight add up to a substantial, powerful stick that takes some effort to get around. Players it will appeal to is likely to comprise a small community. But for that select audience, it’s sure to please.

Yonex Extended Length Racquets
Using a frame with a little extra reach isn’t for everyone. They’re typically trickier to maneuver and the timing can be an adjustment. But once the conversion is made, the added leverage can reward shots with improved power, spin and plow through. (The reason why longer than standard length frames are  popular on the pro tours). Yonex applied the principle to two of its franchises—EZONE DR and VCORE SV—putting out 27.5 inch racquets with some impressive results. The 98s in these lines were particularly notable, with the former providing more control and a softer feel (also TENNIS Magazine’s Editor’s Choice for Best Baseliner Frame) and the latter ramping up the pace and rpms.

Asics Gel Court FF
With its GEL Speed Solution franchise being one of the premiere lightweight performance offerings, it would seem that Asics wouldn’t need to expand its presence in the category. But not only is the GEL-Court FF a worthy addition to the field, it may give all others a run for the title of best in class. The latest technology in the shoe—also featured in the company’s running lines—is FlyteFoam: Reinforced organic fibers designed to withstand pounding and reshape more efficiently than typical EVA to provide optimal lightweight cushioning in the midsole of the shoe. In fact, it’s the lightest midsole Asics has ever produced.

Babolat JET
It would seem impossible, but Babolat has somehow managed to make the second generation of its JET shoe even lighter than the first. And being nearly two ounces lighter than any other recent release, the JET continues to move the goalposts in the lightweight performance category. The Matryx upper of the JET is a combination of Kevlar and Polymide threads that manages to balance comfort, flexibility and low weight with impressive stability. The cushioning and softness is sufficient for hard court play, and the Michelin rubber outsole provides a good balance of grip and glide. But if you play predominantly on soft surface, the full herringbone pattern of the Clay model (left) outsole offers enhanced traction and more controlled sliding. It’s a must for fans of speed-oriented shoes designed specifically to grind on the dirt.

Every string has its own unique tension. That’s the science behind the Sergetti stringing process. You give them your preferred racquet, strings and tension—and about $30—and receive back a customized tension sheet for your equipment. Resulting from 12 years of research, more than 50 variables factor into the tension numbers such as frame distortion and friction between strings while pulling each cross during installation. An electronic machine and two-piece stringing are required, as is a little extra patience with the constant tension changes. The tensions vary from 30 to 70 pounds down to the tenth, and can fly in the face of convention. According to tests done by a third party (Exova) the result of the Sergetti method is a sweet spot that encompasses 70% of the string bed, versus the 12% provided by conventional stringing. Some of the intended benefits are increased power, comfort, stability and tension maintenance with less torsion, shock and vibration.

Volkl V-Torque Tour
Volkl has long been known for producing some of the more comfortable, arm-friendly frames on the market. But they also make underrated strings, with the Tour versions of their polyester models some of the most forgiving in the category. The V-Torque Tour has a twisted, six-sided shape that grabs the ball with a firm grip and rewards big swings with heavy spin production. Although not classically soft, it’s got a more comfortable response and better pop than a typical poly. As such, it’s not quite as durable—I got just about two weeks out of a set of 17g—but that does take the guesswork out of whether the string has gone dead. And while it lasts, there’s no doubting the performance.

It looks like a power tool, but the TheraGun is a clubhouse staple for numerous pro sports teams and athletes such as Bryce Harper, Kyrie Irving and Dustin Johnson. Lightweight, portable, battery-powered and easy to use, the reciprocating motion of TheraGun’s AmpBIT attachments creates localized vibration to stimulate intense blood flow to treat sore muscles, chronic pain and improve mobility. The frequency of the device is calibrated to interrupt the brain’s pain receptors, reducing discomfort during treatment. It did wonders for alleviating my chronic elbow pain. The G2PRO ($599) is pricey, but since it’s like getting a concentrated, deep tissue massage in a fraction of the time, after just a few sessions it practically pays for itself.

According to the co-inventors of Hotshot—a Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist/endurance athlete and a Harvard neurobiology professor—cramping starts in the nerve, not the muscle. The proprietary formula in the drink (6-pack for $35) is designed to stimulate receptors in the mouth, esophagus and stomach that send signals to the spinal cord to inhibit repetitive signals to and from the cramped muscle. Research at Penn State University and numerous field studies have shown significant reduction in muscle cramp intensity and duration for athletes using Hotshot when compared to placebo. I’ve had my issues with cramping, and used it during grueling two-a-day singles matches at USTA sectionals and felt no pain. The 1.7 oz. (50ml) shot is best consumed cold and has a quasi-medicinal peach liqueur flavoring. It can be taken before a match to lessen the chances of cramping, or at the first signs during play to minimize the discomfort.

Wilson Custom Racquet
You can’t use it to change the playing characteristics of your Blade, Burn or Pro Staff, but Wilson Custom Racquet—offered on the company’s website—can certainly change the way it looks. 18 possible frame colors. 20 such shades for the 3 and 9 positions and the logo on the racquet. Throw in four different paint finishes and the same number of bumper and grommet options and the design possibilities offered by the platform are virtually endless. Finish with a 12-character personalized inscription on the throat and it’s easy to make your new Wilson frame truly all your own.

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