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Posts Tagged ‘racquet review’

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review Wednesday with the Babolat Pure Strike and Pure Control Tour

babolat-overview-header

Two years ago, I participated in a video racquet review for the Babolat AeroPro Drive. We hit first with the (then) current version of the racquet, and then with the newer version that was to come out in 2013. I hated the first one, and hated the second one only slightly less. For me, it was a total Babolat fail.

Since then, I’ve had a strong bias against Babolat racquets as “stiff, unwieldy beasts offering minimal control”. Sure it’s worked well for Rafa, but I’m not Rafa. With that, I turned my racquet-review attention to racquets that could help more than just lefty spinners from Mallorca!

babolat-overview-articleFast forward to the final months of 2014 and the realization that, personal feelings notwithstanding, Babolat racquets have become increasingly popular with both adult and junior players, and I need to find out why. So for my final racquet review of the year, I wanted to see if there were newer models that could help me overcome my anti-Babolat bias.

As it turns out, there were two! I asked my friend Marla at City Racquet Shop which Babolat she’d recommend, and she gave me two: the Pure Strike 18×20 and the Pure Control Tour. Much to my surprise, I liked both, and LOVED the Pure Strike.

Though the AeroPro line might still be “unwieldy”, Babolat has clearly managed to come out with sticks that are good for everyone else not named “Nadal”. 😉

Check out my reviews for both of these great racquets by clicking the links below:

Racquet Review: Many Reasons to Love the Babolat Pure Strike

Racquet Review: Babolat Pure Control Tour Offers Good Spin/Pace, But It’s a Beast!

(A big thanks to City Racquet Shop for the demos. If you’re in the Bay Area and interested in demoing and/or buying either of these racquets, stop by and Marla will hook you up!)

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review: So Many Reasons to Love the Babolat Pure Strike

babolat-pure-strike-header

[Spoiler] The Babolat Pure Strike is my personal favorite of all the racquets I demoed in 2014. Why such high praise? I’ll start with groundstrokes, then work my way through all of the reasons why this racquet has successfully knocked the Wilson Pro Staff 100LS from atop the list for my next racquet.

Groundstrokes

babolat-pure-strike-articleSimply put, this racquet felt “right” from the very first groundstroke that I hit during warmups. In spite of its’ relatively light weight, shots felt solid, with minimal excess vibration. And pretty much every shot felt good (or at least decent) no matter where it hit the racquet face.

A buddy of mine made a similar observation after hitting with it, telling me that his shots sounded the same regardless of whether or not he hit the sweet spot. I’m not saying that you can’t still shank shots with the Pure Strike. But what it does show, in both instances, is a positive perception on how shots feel coming off the racquet. And in my book, “positive perception” will almost always translate to shot confidence.

With respect to my ground game, forehand shots felt the best. The racquet easily took to the natural spin on my forehand stroke, and gave me decent depth (and pace) with an easy, full swing. The ball sometimes flew long to the backstop, but settled back down as long as I stopped forcing the shot.

Two-handed backhands felt decent, and any deficits on that wing were more a function of my technique than the racquet. Because of the racquet’s light weight, it was a little difficult to keep the ball low AND get good depth on one-handed slice shots without a deliberate, full swing. Anything less sent the ball to the bottom of the net or flying high for an easy doubles put-away. (Note to self: no more “lazy” slice shots.)

Serve

The Pure Strike worked well with my serve.  I had great control on flat and spin serves, as well as easy pace. And the “solid feel” described above on ground strokes was also present on serve. Well-struck serves felt great, and off-center serves felt okay. This is a far-cry from the awful feeling, pain-inducing vibration included, that so often accompanies a shanked serve. I definitely give it high marks on this front.

Volleys

I don’t have the strongest volley game. And, regrettably, this racquet didn’t do much to help with that. With the racquet’s reduced weight, it was hard to get depth or stick my volleys. My volleys weren’t awful; they just required more work on my part to achieve good depth, pace, and placement.babolat-pure-strike-article2

Overall

I was actually surprised at how much I liked this racquet. At a time when I’m feeling good about my game but also struggling with some pain in my surgically-repaired shoulder, this racquet seemed to provide everything I need!

It provides great support for my ground game, works well with my killer serve, doesn’t hurt my volleys or backhand, and is a weight that doesn’t bother my shoulder. It works just as well with topspin as it does with flatter shots. And though I initially wasn’t a big fan of the red color, but have gradually grown to like it.

I realize that I said many of these same things about the Wilson Pro Staff 100LS, but there is a big difference between the two. The Pure Strike’s 18×20 string pattern provides for much better ball control than the Pro Staff’s 16×15 pattern. And for club players like myself, more (and better) control is ALWAYS a good thing.

This is, hands down, the best racquet I’ve demoed all year. If you’re looking for a new stick, give this one a serious look.

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.)

Racquet Specifications

Head Size: 98 sq. in. / 632.26 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 11.4oz / 323.18g
Balance: 12.9in / 32.77cm / 5 pts HL
Swingweight: 324
Stiffness: 66
Composition: Graphite
Power Level: Low
Stroke Style: Full
Swing Speed: Fast
String Pattern: 18 Mains / 20 Crosses
String Tension: 52-62 pounds

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review: Babolat Pure Control Tour Offers Good Spin/Pace, But It’s a Beast!

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I demoed the Babolat Pure Control Tour after an earlier hit with the Pure Strike. Though my impressions of it weren’t quite as positive as the Pure Strike, I still mostly liked it. It’s a good racquet, but is also a bit of a beast. Let me explain why while diving into my impressions of this racquet, and how it worked with my game AND my body.

Groundstrokes

babolat-pure-control-articleThough its’ strung weight is only 1/10th of an ounce greater than my current stick, the Pure Control Tour feels heavy. But with this heft comes greater pop on your shots. However, that pace is unfortunately offset by its’ 16×20 open string pattern.

Still, my forehand felt solid, with good pace and decent spin/control. But as with racquets like the HEAD Extreme, it’s easy to send the ball flying – though definitely not to the same degree. Admittedly, hitting with the low-power Pure Strike beforehand might have something to do with this. The same swing used successfully with the Pure Strike is much less successful with this racquet. Timing matters.

My two-handed backhand felt good, though it was too easy to over-hit. Conversely, my single-handed slice felt GREAT! I was able to get plenty of depth and bite on that shot much more easily than with the Pure Strike. This was a huge plus during the set of doubles I played during my demo period.

Serve

Well-struck serves using the Pure Control Tour were virtually unreturnable because of the spin and extra pop that this racquet provides. Unfortunately, I struggled with control and made a few more double faults than I would prefer.

The larger issue with this racquet, however, was the negative impact of the weight and vibration. My shoulder began to hurt after a few service games, and off-center serves caused vibration that further irritated my shoulder and elbow.

Volleys

babolat-pure-control-header2Another plus: volleys felt great. The Pure Control Tour gave me a ton of control and depth without popping the ball up, and leaving me vulnerable to my opponent’s passing shot attack. In this instance, the racquet’s heft was extremely helpful.

Overall

Don’t get me wrong. I liked the Pure Control Tour, and would probably have liked it even more if my shoulder hadn’t been bothering me as much. Apart from the shoulder pain, however, there are other considerations that make this racquet problematic for me and my game.

The Pure Control Tour is a great racquet to help take your game to the next level. At the age of 51 with two surgeries under my belt, I’m not looking to get to the next level. Though I’m always working to improve my skills, I need a racquet that supports the maintenance of my current level while also preventing injury. This is not that racquet.

If I were younger OR hadn’t had shoulder surgery, I would have given this racquet more time to impress. As it was, I had to cut short my demo due to increasing shoulder pain.

The Pure Control Tour is a great racquet if you are looking to take your game to the next level. If not, then you may want to consider some other options.

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.)

Racquet Specifications

Head Size: 98 sq. in. / 632.26 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 11.8oz / 334.52g
Balance: 12.63in / 32.08cm / 7 pts HL
Swingweight: 317
Stiffness: 63
Composition: Graphite & Flex Carbon
Power Level: Low
Stroke Style: Full
Swing Speed: Fast
String Pattern: 16 Mains / 20 Crosses
String Tension: 52-62 pounds

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review: I’m SOLD on the Wilson Pro Staff 100LS

The Wilson Pro Staff 100LS

The Wilson Pro Staff 100LS

Ladies and gentlemen, meet my next racquet!

These are strong words coming from a guy who has NEVER liked a Wilson racquet of any generation, but there you have it. From the first hit to the last (before I put it back in the shipping box), I loved how this racquet complemented virtually every aspect of my game.

So let’s dive right in for some detailed thoughts on this rare Wilson unicorn.

wilson-pro-staff-100ls-benchGroundstrokes

The 100LS is a fairly light racquet. It’s 10.6 oz. strung weight is a full ounce lighter than the 11.6 oz. weight of my current HEAD Speed MP 315 (18×20). Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of light racquets because I’m a big, strong guy with a tendency to swing too fast. But rather than feeling like a toy racquet, the Pro Staff 100LS felt solid in my hand during the swing as well as on impact with the ball.

The lighter weight also gave me added maneuverability on the court, allowing me to get to balls that might normally be too difficult to reach, and actually being able to do something once I got there.

With its’ 16×15 string pattern, the 100LS has been promoted as a racquet that will give you more spin with better control. I can’t vouch for the spin part since my stroke production already promotes spin. What I can vouch for, however, is the incredible depth and power of shot I was able to create with this racquet.

The benefit to my forehand was clear on the first strike. The sound of the ball coming off the strings was like a Howitzer. My already pace-filled shot became an even more powerful weapon with this stick. At one point while receiving during doubles, I hit a passing shot that virtually left a smoke trail as it whizzed by the opposing net man. I can certainly hit shots of that caliber with my current stick, but not with the same ease or frequency.

The benefit to my two-handed backhand wasn’t nearly as dramatic, but that was okay as long as there was no performance deficit. Initially, it was tough to get “touch” and/or depth on my backhand slice shots. That was remedied by a taking a more deliberate stroke with a slightly bigger backswing. Also, a reduction in string tension would probably provide better overall feel.

(A backhand side note: Though I normally hit a two-hander, I even managed to “rip” a couple of single-handed backhands with this racquet. The 100LS definitely gets bonus credit for that achievement!)

Serves

The Howitzer effect mentioned earlier with regard to my forehand was also present on my serve. Well-struck serves were unreturnable. Decently struck serves were still winners. Overplayed serves hit the back fence, so it was necessary to make sure that I maintained the proper grip (with a relaxed arm) in order to minimize double faults.

Volleys

The two words I would use to describe my experience at the net with the 100LS are forgiving and solid. The aforementioned maneuverability of this stick allows for those with less than stellar volley technique, like myself, to make solid volleys from less than ideal positions. And generally, the ball stayed down nicely. I even made more than a few stellar stick volleys, though the racquet ‘had me’ after the first one.

Overall

Though my HEAD racquets have served me well for the better part of 5 years, there’s simply no comparison. Forehand, backhand, serve, and volley: there was absolutely no part of my game that didn’t benefit from the Pro Staff 100LS! In fact, I would buy a couple right now if I had an extra couple of hundred bucks lying around.

Stiffness is the only potential problem I can see for this racquet. Too many mishits could be a recipe for tennis elbow in a player with a tendency towards either mishits or tennis elbow. I had a few mishits on serve, and felt the impact immediately in my arm; though not enough to make me stop hitting. As mentioned earlier, however, lower string tension (or a different kind of string) could help with this. The demo I used was likely strung midrange at 59 pounds, 7 higher than my current stick. Lowering the tension to 54 would give it a softer feel, and probably help cushion the impact of mishits.

This is a GREAT racquet, and will likely be my next racquet purchase. However, if anyone out there is a Wilson rep (or knows a Wilson rep) with 100LS racquets to spare, contact me and I’ll send you my shipping address. 🙂

Note: If you’re interested in this (or any) 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 Specifications

Head Size: 100 sq. in. / 645.16 sq. cm.
Length: 27.25in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 10.6oz / 300.5g
Balance: 13in / 33.02cm / 4 pts HL
Stiffness: 63
Composition: Graphite/Kevlar/BLX
Power Level: Low-Medium
Stroke Style: Medium-Full
Swing Speed: Fast
String Pattern: 16 Mains / 15 Crosses
String Tension: 54-64 pounds

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review: Two Frustrating Days with the HEAD Graphene Speed Rev

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Recently, I had a chance to hit with some of my co-workers. Since I hadn’t packed a racquet for the trip, I had to borrow one. That racquet was his spare HEAD Speed Rev.

Though I went into the hit knowing fully that this racquet was lighter and stiffer than my current Speed MP 315, with an open string pattern, I figured that it probably wouldn’t be too dissimilar from my own for a decent hit. I was wrong.

To be fair, this was a shotgun wedding of sorts. I needed a racquet, and this was the only one available, open string pattern and all. (Note: open string patterns and I don’t get along.) Still, it was a frustrating two days of tennis, with singles on the first day and doubles on the second.

Read why in my thoughts on the HEAD Graphene Speed Rev.

head_youtek_graphene_speed_rev1Groundstrokes

This racquet is light and stiff. When you combine those attributes with an open string pattern (16 x 19), you get a solid choice for a player with a slow to medium swing, and one that allows for someone with a flatter stroke production to create more spin.

I am NOT that player. The Rev’s light weight made it feel like a toy in my hands. Slowing my swing with such a light stick was nearly impossible. Additionally, the stiffness of the frame never allowed the ball to stay on the strings long enough for good ball control. And as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of “open string pattern” racquets, I struggled to find any semblance of control with my normal topspin-heavy stroke production.

After an hour of (singles) hitting, I managed a trace amount of control, but no more. That went away, however, when I played doubles and swung as I typically would during competitive play. It’s no exaggeration to say that I never knew if my shots would land in, or hit the back fence. Even when shots did stay in, they had no depth as they landed near the service line.

Volleys

Volleys were “hit or miss”… mostly “miss”. Without sufficient punch volleys died into the net. Even with decent volley technique, I struggled for placement and deliberate depth of shot.

Serve

My serve is probably the strongest part of my game. With that knowledge, I will admit that I double-faulted (long) whole games away in doubles. There were occasional aces and mishits that landed in. But for the most part, it was simply embarrassing to witness such basic lack of control from my best weapon.

Overall Impressions
The fellow official I borrowed this racquet from is a teaching pro who hits a ton of balls every day over several hours. By his own admission, this racquet makes it easier for him because of its’ light weight. And because it’s made his job easier, he’s readily adapted his game to the racquet’s capabilities.

I’m not quite that adaptable. But even if I were, this racquet wouldn’t make my game better. In fact, it might make it a whole heckuva lot worse! The loss of serve, shot depth, and general lack of ball control would remove this racquet from any serious consideration for purchase.

So there you have it. My friend the teaching pro likes it very much, but I would never consider it for my game, or recommend it to anyone who craves better ball control. So what’s my advice on this frame? If you’re looking for a light racquet to give you easy pop, spin, and maneuverability, give it a shot. It’s a solid racquet from a solid company. For all others, I’d suggest looking at the Speed Pro or MP.

HEAD Graphene Speed Rev Specs

Head Size: 100 sq. in. / 645.16 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 9.2oz / 260.82g
Swingweight: 300
Stiffness: 63
Power Level: Medium
Stroke Style: Medium
Swing Speed: Medium
String Pattern: 16 Mains / 19 Crosses
String Tension: 48-57 pounds

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review Wednesday with the Wilson Steam 99 & 99S (VIDEO)

The Wilson Steam 99 and Steam 99S

The Wilson Steam 99 and Steam 99S

steam-sideI’ve never been a huge Wilson racquet fan, but wanted to spend a couple of days with the Steam 99 and Steam 99S to see if they could change my mind. No dice! Still not the sticks for me. But I did find lots to like about the Steam 99; less so with the 99S.

Check out my preview video above, then check out the full reviews by clicking the links below:

The Wilson Steam 99: A Solid Choice For Power, Spin, and Control

The Wilson Steam 99S: Promises Spin But Delivers Frustration

Racquets provided by City Racquet Shop of San Francisco.

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