Tennis publications really LOVE the Tour 98 ESP! Tennis Head Magazine in the UK awarded it “Best for Power”, and it was awarded “Best Spin Racket” by Tennis Magazine. The ESP in this racquet’s name stands for “extreme string pattern”. Though I’m not sure I’d classify anything about this racquet as extreme, it’s an excellent choice for someone whose game responds well to an open string pattern.
Some players need more spin on their strokes. However, I’m not one of them. My natural stroke (on both sides) provides all the topspin I need. So when that stroke production is coupled with an open string pattern such as that on the Tour 98 ESP, the effect is generally an overall loss of control on my strokes.
Ball control was a little too “hit or miss” for my tastes. This was particularly jarring after having just hit with the Prince Tour Pro 98, an excellent control racquet. It gave my forehand decent spin, but minimal accuracy. The same was true with respect to my backhand. The overall result was an increased tendency to play balls down the middle rather than risk unforced errors by going towards the sidelines. It’s a safe strategy, but not always an effective one against better players.
The racquet only paid dividends when I began to swing for the rafters on both sides. The injection of racquet head speed helped with both spin and depth of shot. Backhand slices were unremarkable, but mostly because of the racquet’s low power. A full swing (and deep knee bend) was still necessary to get the proper depth and spin on the shot.
I won my final set of the day with a second serve ace to the ad court on set point. While hitting the serve, I honestly had no idea where it was going to land. Therein lays the problem with the Tour 98 ESP. I served competently, but with not much sense of control over ball direction. I struggled to move the serve sufficiently around the box, and also struggled to inject pace without sending the ball to the bottom of the net. And then an unexpected ace or service winner would come flying off my racquet. Frankly, it was a little maddening. I need to know that I can rely on my serve to bail me out of trouble.
I didn’t get the opportunity to hit many during set play, so I spent a chunk of time afterwards focused solely on volley feel and placement. Surprisingly, and in stark contrast to my ground game, I had great control on both my forehand and backhand volleys. It was easy to punch volleys deep, drop them short, or change direction on the ball with negligible ball impact. Thumbs up!
The open string pattern of the Tour 98 ESP poses a challenge for someone like me who already hits with spin. My winning efforts notwithstanding, spin without control isn’t the best combination for tennis success. Serves were effective, but unpredictable. And surprisingly, the best aspect of this racquet was increased control and feel on my volleys. And unfortunately, that’s not terribly important for someone who’s more of a baseliner.
In order to get a truer read on this racquet, I asked one of my buddies who possesses a flatter stroke to hit with it. His impressions were much more along the lines of what one would expect. It effectively gave him increased spin, and allowed him to go for more pace on his shots. He didn’t get a chance to play points with it, but was fairly positive about the time he did spend with it.
The Tour 98 ESP is a fine racquet, but it’s not for everyone. If you already hit with spin, this racquet won’t help you. In fact, it might do more harm than good. But if you have a full swing and a flatter shot, this racquet will definitely give you more spin, and more potential for pace/depth on your shots.
Note: If you’re interested in this racquet, take it out for a hit and judge for yourself. Racquet specs and marketing-speak are no substitute for knowing the strengths/weaknesses of your game, and how a racquet might help or hurt your goals.
(Racquet provided by City Racquet Shop of San Francisco.)
Power Level – 825
Headsize – 98 in2 / 632 cm2
Weight (g) – Unstrung 310 g
Weight (oz) – Unstrung 10.9 oz
Balance Unstrung – 12 Points Head Light
Swing Weight – 285
String Pattern – 16 x 16
Composition – 100% Graphite
Recommended Tension – 58 +/- 5lbs