Ever since Babolat introduced the Pure Drive racquet in mid-90s and the likes of Carlos Moya and Andy Roddick wielded it to grand slam victory, the racquet landscape changed significantly. Low-powered, flexible, thin-beamed racquets, long-the preferred weapon of advanced players, gave way to stiff, broad-profiled, and relatively powerful sticks, creating a new category of racquets called “tweeners,” for their ability to bridge the gap between “player” and “game improvement” racquets.
Coinciding with the advent of tweener racquets and eventual near ubiquity of Babolat racquets on tour and at local tennis clubs, was the slow but steady loss of market share of Dunlop racquets. Dunlop has a storied history in the game of tennis, with the Maxply Fort and 200G ranking among Tennis Magazine’s 2016 ranking of the 10 racquets that changed the game of tennis. Nonetheless, despite continuing to make excellent racquets, Dunlop’s fortunes over the last decade have waned. However, their recent partnership with Srixon has reinvigorated the brand.
Dunlop, like every other racquet manufacturer since the Pure Drive hit the market, offers their own version, and, among the many that I’ve tried over the last decade, its FX 500 is as good as it gets. The FX 500 feels comfortable in hand, nicely balanced, and devoid of some of the garish graphics that have afflicted racquets from other manufacturers of late.
Of course, what matters most is how the racquet performs, and the FX 500 was stellar, typifying the best characteristics of tweener frames. From the baseline, groundstrokes felt crisp but not jarring, with great stability and plowthrough upon impact. It was easy to generate spin, with topspin exploding off the court, or flatten out my swing and drive through higher balls. Regardless of what the point called for, every groundstroke felt comfortable, controlled, and eminently repeatable. There was plenty of extra pop available with the FX 500, but in my experience with the racquet, the power was unobtrusive. In other words, whereas some racquets force the hitter to reign in the power until desired, the FX 500’s power stayed unobtrusively in reserve.
Transitioning to the net, it was easy to drive or roll the ball deep into the corners off of my forehand, but it was slice approach shots off both sides that were particularly enjoyable and effective. Slices, especially backhands, drove through the court, staying ankle high and often forcing my opponents back on their heels. Once at net, volleys were crisp and it was almost effortless to place volleys off of both sides into the corners. The racquet, like many tweeners, doesn’t offer much in the way of feel, but was otherwise faultless at net.
The last area of note was serves, which has always been my Achilles, and a recently torn rotator cuff has only added to the struggle. Nonetheless, I’ve adapted by using an abbreviated backswing, sacrificing a bit of pace in favor of placement and the ability to keep playing. The FX 500’s maneuverability and available power made up for quite a bit of the pace I lost on serve since injuring my shoulder. Placement into the corners was easy, as was the ability to generate slice and topspin. While my goal on serving since injuring my shoulder and changing my service motion is simply to start the points from neutral, rather than being a liability, I found the FX 500 to give my serve just enough extra pace and spin to put me on the offensive quite a bit. I have no doubts that someone with good serve and a functioning shoulder would find the FX 500 to be a great serving racquet.
In the interests of being transparent, I have always had a soft spot for Dunlop racquets. My first “real” racquet was a Dunlop John McEnroe Ceramic frame bought from a long-defunct sporting goods store in the late 1980s. I have always found their racquets to be “sleepers,” easily overlooked among those offered by the big three, Wilson, Head, and Babolat, and their respective stables of big-name endorsees. Nonetheless, the FX 500 is an outstanding offering from Dunlop. It is the consummate tweener racquet, and with its black and blue graphics, a throwback in look and performance to the earlier iterations of the Pure Drive.