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Archive for July, 2011

PostHeaderIcon And the winner is… Head Youtek Speed MP 315 18×20!

finalThat is certainly a mouthful, right!

I went into this demo process knowing that I wanted to make a decision quickly in order to get the new racquet and start going through the funky transition process.  Already feeling pretty good about the Head racquet I had demoed the previous weekend,  I knew I had a good starting point for any new demo variations.  I went back to SFTC to pick up the Head again for more testing, and also to give the Wilson K Blade 98 a try.

I had reservations about the K Blade.  If you read my last “demo” post you might remember that Wilson racquets and I don’t tend to play nicely together.  And of all the pros I would ever think my game could favorably compare for racquet use, Roger Federer is definitely the low man on that mini totem pole.  But there I was, on Saturday, hitting with the K Blade 98.

The  racquet felt really good in my hand.  The head seemed a little small, but overall the feeling was a good one.  After some “shortball” warmup, we moved to the baseline and started hitting.  The first shots came to my backhand.  WHOA!  Hitting backhands hadn’t felt so nice and sweet in quite some time.  These were some of most solid backhands I have ever hit.  The sound off the racquet, the pace and depth.  It was very nice.  Then I tried to hit forehands… and the budding love affair quickly vanished.

I hit my forehand with a fair amount of topspin.  I need a racquet that allows for that kind of sweep up the ball without also needing pinpoint accuracy in order to hit the sweet spot.  THIS is not that racquet.  The sweet spot is just about the size of a tennis ball (or at least it feels that way).  If I hit the ball squarely it was okay.  If I hit the ball slightly off, it was a shank of epic proportions with shock down my arm to match.  Back to the racquet bag.

I picked up the Head and was immediately back in love, but with a slightly different twist.  The Speed MP 315 I demoed the previous weekend was a 16×19 string pattern.  This time, Lynnette at the SFTC pro shop gave me the 18×20 so I could see the difference, however slight, between the two.  It was pretty much perfect.  The 16×19 string pattern was good but this one felt ‘just right’.

Serves, forehands, backhands… all good.  It’s still a pretty big adjustment from my current heavier and more head-heavy Volkl racquet, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  This racquet requires technically sound and relaxed strokes.  As soon as you attempt to “hit harder” or go for the kill shot, it’s easy to over-swing and either shank the ball or meet the strike-zone ridiculously early (sending the ball straight to the bottom of the net).  With only a good relaxed stroke, all the rest falls into place.

I never imagined having something in common with Novak Djokovic’s tennis game, but I guess I do.  The millions of dollars and grand slam titles would be nice, but I’ll settle for a good racquet instead!  Now to order them, get them strung, and start getting ready for the 2012 USTA season. 🙂

PostHeaderIcon Sharing My “Racquet Demo Hell”

I typically suffer in silence when going through the process of demo’ing racquets (wherein as you are trying to find your next racquet your game slowly starts to deteriorate because of all the changes until you can’t even hit a decent shot with your old racquet). But one of my hitting buddies persuaded me to share my experiences here on my blog so that it might help someone else who is also suffering through this process (thanks Patrick). 😉

I’ve used a Volkl Tour 10 V-Engine since it first came out several years ago. Back then I needed a racquet that would force me improve my stroke production and technique. It was perfect. Well-balanced and good power/control with proper stroke production. It was the racquet for becoming the better player I wanted to be. But as I have gotten older (almost 48) with shoulder/knee surgeries in the past 4 years (both on my dominant hitting side) plus other various injuries, I need a racquet that suits my current game and body. I find myself struggling with both power and control as soon as I lose even a single pound of tension in the strings. After a rough USTA season I decided to suck it up and start the process of finding my new “The One”.

First up was the Wilson Blade 98 BLX. It’s the racquet seen in the commercials with Federer, Venus, and Serena. They push a couch onto court to help counsel a struggling player, telling them this racquet will help them get more feel. It’s great advertising! I especially like the Roger commercial. Who doesn’t like a commercial with two cute guys, right? Anyway… it was a no-go for me and my game. The racquet gives a solid feel on groundstrokes, but is much more head-heavy than my current Volkl. So I felt a distinct lack of control on all shots when I was pressured, especially coming in for short balls. Serving was difficult as well. Too much vibration, and no control on serve placement. If the serve landed in it was usually a good one with lots of weight behind it, but I couldn’t tell you how I did it. Not the feeling you want in a racquet. NEXT!!!

Next demo test racquet was the Wilson BLX Pro Tour. I was told it is the racquet used by Juan Martin del Potro. A quick trip to Wikipedia showed that he switched to The Wilson K Factor 6.2 after coming back from his wrist injury. I won’t give any commentary on the reasons why he may have switched from this racquet, but after hitting with it for 5 minutes I hated it on all fronts. Bad for my backhand, forehand AND serve. NEXT!!!

I’ve never owned a Babolat racquet, but after hitting with a friend’s last week I decided to demo one. I picked up the Babolat GT Pure Storm, and I hated it. Racquet felt pretty lackluster on the backhand, and every forehand hit the back fence behind my hitting partner. I didn’t even bother attempting other strokes. NEXT!!!

After round 1 of demos, I went back to the pro shop to get some more demos based on my feedback from the first batch.

I came out with two Volkls and a Head. The Volkls were updated versions of the racquet I have been using. They were the PB9 and PB10 racquets. I had high hopes for these. The pro at the shop mentioned that most people who play Volkl don’t really find satisfaction with other brands. So I thought these two sticks would follow in the same tradition and work perfectly on first contact. Result: not so much. The PB10 felt heavy from the first ball strike…much more than my current racquet. And stiff.

My hitting partner could only focus on how bad the vibrations felt from this racquet more than any other aspect. Also, if my goal was to find a maneuverable and forgiving racquet, this was not going to cut it. Didn’t even wait to try serves before switching to the PB9. It was better than the PB10, but still didn’t feel right. Forehands were tough to control, backhands had no feel. The weight didn’t feel good in my hand. It went back into the bag. NEXT!!!

Having suffered a major Volkl letdown (my last 3 racquets have been Volkls), I tried the last of the demos: the Head Youtek IG Speed MP 315. Novak Djokovic uses Head racquets. I wouldn’t pretend to think that my game is anywhere near comparable to his game. And I have never owned a Head racquet. So my expectations were pretty low for this racquet.

However, on first strike it felt surprisingly good. Really good. I have a long but quick stroke (too quick at times). This racquet allows for that kind of wind-up and still keeps the ball on the court. It feels good off both sides, and gave me good feel and depth on both wings. Serves were a dream. I felt like I could maneuver the ball all over the box with a ton of added slice. Volleys felt solid with good control, short balls felt good too. It didn’t take long to make up my mind on this Head racquet… I pretty much had what I was looking for.

Of course rallying is a very different experience from set or match play. The weight difference between my current Volkl and the Head is significant. The light weight caused some problems. Playing a set was a challenge in slowing down a swing speed that’s been programmed over 7 years. When the adrenaline starts pumping during match play, it’s easy to swing too fast putting the contact point way far in front of you (which sends the ball straight to the bottom of the net). That’s okay though. I should be able to adapt with time, right? 😉 Bottom line: I’m still stoked by the potential of this stick!

I will demo a few more models and report on those within the week. But the Head Youtek IG Speed MP 315 is definitely the frontrunner!
(SPECIAL THANKS to Lynnette and Keri at the San Francisco Tennis Club pro shop for their help in finding a racquet that suits my game.)

PostHeaderIcon Excerpts of Andre Agassi & Peachy Kellmeyer’s Hall of Fame Induction Speeches

I was looking for video from the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony last night but couldn’t find anything posted online until today. I hope you enjoy it, and I also hope that it resonates as much with you now after the fact as it did when I watched him do it live.


PostHeaderIcon The Agassi Effect

I met Andre Agassi. But it’s not exactly what you might be thinking.

After getting my copy of "Open" signed by Andre AgassiHe came to San Francisco for a book signing at Books, Inc. to promote his autobiography ‘Open’.  There was a long line when I got there about an hour and a half before Andre was scheduled to arrive. I didn’t mind waiting though. For a chance at seeing Andre up close it was a small price to pay.  There was one stipulation to the signing that was a major bummer. No picture-taking was allowed.  It’s like being told you can see the tree fall in the forest, but you can’t record the sound. Still, it was a chance to meet one of the greatest tennis players that has ever swung a racquet.

Andre was a little late because of bad weather and traffic across the Golden Gate Bridge, but we didn’t mind.

The line moved pretty quickly once he got settled in. After 30 minutes or so I rounded the corner past the initial rows of books in the store… and there he was. About 20 people were still ahead of me at that point so I had a few minutes to think about what to say to him as he signed my book. And really, what can you say to someone of his stature who you’ve idolized for so many years? I’ll put it this way: the end result was not the quality I expected. I got up to the table, looked at him with those large eyes I had seen so many times on TV staring down Pete, Roger, Goran, et al. Around his neck was the beaded necklace his son had given him years before (and which I’d also seen so many times on TV). And it hit me like a rock. HOLY CRAP IT’S REALLY ANDRE AGASSI! After all of that I think I said something along the lines of “Thank you so much for all you’ve done, and I’ve always wanted your backhand”. Pretty great, huh?

Instead of focusing on that embarrassing utterance, however, I’d like to focus on the much more eloquent words Andre used in his Hall of Fame induction speech today. He is well aware of the effect he has on people like me, and everyone else. From his younger days as a punk kid to now being the elder statesman, he has come to realize the role he can have in shaping our world for the better, using his power and influence to help and inspire others. Having just read his book (which outlines his profound transition from punk to elder) the week before that signing, the only words I could think of to say to him were “Thank you… thank you for being so open to us, showing us your highs and lows and your ultimate redemption”.

Today he proceeded to tell us all “You’re welcome” and a host of other things including:
“If we’re lucky in life, we get a few moments where we don’t have to wonder if we made our parents proud.”
“They (nurses and teachers) know already what it took me decades to find out: To shine in secret, and to give when there’s no one applauding,”
“It’s not to late to be inspired. It’s not too late to change. It’s not too late”

Congratulations Andre. And thank you for the inspiration of the backhand way back when AND for the continued inspiration to keep on the path of doing good and helping others.

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