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may 2005

Racket Review '05, Blinded By (Nano) Science

The first time I heard the terms nanoscience and nanotechnology applied to the tennis racket industry, I have to admit, the Mork & Mindy reruns came flooding back. How could anyone forget Robin Williams (in those ridiculous rainbow suspenders) as Mork from Ork — the loveable egg-hatched extraterrestrial who's sent to investigate Earth? At the end of each episode, Mork would file a report with his higher-ups. In closing, he would twist his ears and exclaim, "Nanoo, Nanoo," which, as we all know, is Orkan for "goodbye."

But while nanoscience might have been alien to me, turns out, its research and development have global implications as one of the most promising areas of technological growth and scientific advancement. President Bush has even authorized more than $4 billion for nanotechnology R&D through ’06. Who would have guessed that a Nobel Prize-winning technology with applications in everything from space exploration to healthcare to national security would prove useful in the racket biz?

"It’s tough to explain nanotechnology to consumers. It’s definitely been challenging for us," said Marc Pinsard, marketing coordinator for Babolat North America. "Many players are looking for light, stiff rackets. Nanotechnology delivers both. This combination is not so easy to find."

To understand nanoscience, you’ve got to think small. In essence, it’s the study of objects that are anywhere from hundreds to tens of nanometers in size — a nanometer being one billionth of a meter. And it appears that the possibilities are limitless. Nanotechnology might improve the delivery of cancer-fighting drugs; nanoscale carbon could be used to increase the power and speed of computer circuits. It also has a place in the tennis world.

Pinsard’s company first began experimenting with nanoscience in the late ‘90s. Using carbon nanotube — a material 100 times more rigid and six times lighter than steel, and 50,000 times thinner than a human hair — the French manufacturer created the sub-nine-ounce VS Nanotube Drive and VS Nanotube Power, two of the lightest, stiffest frames the industry had ever seen.

In May ’04, Wilson unveiled its own nanotechnology initiative with the nCode line. The premise was fairly simple. Most rackets are made of billions of carbon fibers, but at the nanoscopic level, voids still exist between the fibers, which create stress points and weaken the frame. When a racket is nCoded, nano-size silicon dioxide crystals permeate those voids to reinforce the molecular structure of the frame, thus strengthening and enhancing the overall stability and playability of the racket.

With others on board, including Yonex, which recently launched its Nano Speed RQ lineup, it appears that nanotechnology is not only the future but the here-and-now for racket manufacturing.


babolat

Aeropro Drive
Head Size: 100
Length: 27
Weight: 10.6 oz.
Retail: $180
Babolat Aeropro Drive  

• Since their introduction three years ago, Babolat’s groundbreaking Aeropros have been adapted to meet the needs of club-level players and touring pros alike. Aerodynamics is again the priority here, as Babolat trumpets the AeroPro Drive — a cutting-edge frame that combines Babolat’s Woofer and AeroModular technologies. Sections of the Drive are actually designed to simulate an airplane wing. The result is an increase in head speed due to a reduction in air resistance. If the meteoric rise of Spanish sensation Rafael Nadal (at 18, the youngest-ever Davis Cup winner) is any indication, the new Babolat Aeropro Drive may just be the ultimate frame for putting away balls from behind the baseline, whipping on-the-run forehands and catching up to would-be winners while still managing to generate heavy-ball pace.

“A well-crafted frame. Its unique shape lets you hit hard, powerful shots with less effort. The Aeropro racket that allows you to prepare your shots faster and generate more speed. Maneuverability, power and control will help baseline bashers dictate play.”

 


DUNLOP

M-Fil300
Head Size: 98
Length: 27
Weight: 10.8 oz.
Retail: $180
Dunlop M-Fil300  

•Although it’s a bit more forgiving than its predecessor, the 300G, Dunlop’s M-Fil 300 is still very much a player’s stick (think Amelie Mauresmo and Mardy Fish). M-Fil (multi-filament) is a technology that incorporates a unique 3D braiding process. Carbon, T-fibre and tungsten are built into the 300’s hitting zone to enhance the touch and feel of the racket where you need it most — at the moment of racket-to-ball impact. Stable and highly maneuverable.

“Ideal for advanced players seeking exceptional touch in a lightweight, control-oriented frame.”

 

 

 

 

 

M-Fil500
Head Size: 105
Length: 27.25
Weight: 10 oz.
Retail: $180

• Like its 200, 300 and 700 brethren, the M-Fil500 is 3D braided, although carbon, R-fibre and boron are the materials of choice here. Packages more reach and power than the 300 due to its 27.25 length and 105-square-inch head. This is a versatile frame for power-hungry game-improvers on the 3.5-4.5 NTRP scale.

“A nice fit for competitive club players seeking a balance of power and control from a lightweight, comfortable frame.”


FISCHER

Pro Tour FT
Head Size: 98
Length: 27.4
Weight: 11.5 oz.
Retail: $180

• When it comes to combating tennis elbow, the maestros at Fischer have some advice: Tune out. Inspired by the acoustic design of some of the world’s great concert halls, Fischer’s FTT (Frequency Tuning Technology) has all but nullified the negative effects of racket-to-ball impact by harmonizing irregular vibration patterns. How do they do it? A specially calculated matrix structure converts excess energy into higher velocity rebounds. The Pro Tour FT is geared for players with long, loopy strokes.

“Tuned for perfection. Surprisingly forgiving for a tour-level frame. Racket remains stable, even on off-center hits. Strokes stay accurate and effective. Ideal for spins and slices.”

Twin Tec 1250 FTI
Head Size: 118
Length: 28
Weight: 8.8 oz.
Retail: $240
• The ultralightweight Twin Tec 1250 FTI — with its Aircarbon frame and trampoline-like 118-square-inch stringbed — provides enough pop to satisfy even the most demanding weekend warrior. Geared toward recreational baseliners and doubles specialists with short, compact strokes.

“High-tech comfort for novices and club players in need of some added muscle.”


HEAD

Flexpoint Radical
Head Size: 98, 100, 107
Length: 27
Weight: 10.4 oz., 11.5 oz.
Retail: $200
Head Flexpoint Radical  

• Head may have an answer to the age-old question facing the racket industry: How do you harness controllable power? Head’s Flexpoint approach consists of precisely engineered holes and dimples (which reduce beam height by 25 percent) strategically positioned at 3 and 9 o’clock on the racket head. This allows the frame to flex upon impact and, in essence, caress the ball. Dwell time is increased, therefore control is maximized. Andre Agassi prefers the larger sweetspot of the 107-square-inch Flexpoint Radical Oversize, which gives him an unparalleled ability to take the ball on the rise and dictate play from virtually anywhere on the court, while Spaniard J.C. Ferrero swears by the 100-square-inch Radical MidPlus Tour.

“The Flexpoint Radical is the Holy Grail of rackets — a well-balanced touring pro’s frame that puts you in charge of your shots.”

 

 

 

Flexpoint 6
Head Size: 102, 112
Length: 27.33
Weight: 9.7 oz., 9.3 oz.
Retail: $250
•Not everybody hits with the precision of an Agassi or Ferrero (see above), so Head has introduced a Flexpoint frame for the rest of us. We still get all the Flexpoint technology in a more forgiving, lightweight frame that packages power and control.

“Solid feel and touch at the net. Easy handling and great maneuverability for club competitors.”


PRINCE

03 Silver
Head Size: 118
Length: 27.75
Weight: 8.8 oz.
Retail: $300
•O3 (pronounced “O-three”) is the latest innovation from the company that brought you the original oversized racket in the ‘70s and the Longbody in the ‘90s. Prince has dramatically increased the size of the sweetspot again without increasing the size or length of the racket or changing the weight. By transforming traditional grommets into giant O-Ports, Prince has created what it’s calling a “Sweet Zone.” The O-Ports also act as wind tunnels to reduce aerodynamic drag, creating a fast and maneuverable frame that produces a faster swing speed for more aggressive play. The 03 Silver is a sleek, aerodynamic frame that allows you to hit your best shots more often.

“Recommended for players who want maximum power from short, slow stroke styles.”

03 Red
Head Size: 105
Length: 27.25
Weight: 9.9 oz.
Retail: $250
• The arch, as they remind us in those omnipresent Volkswagen commercials, is the strongest structure known to man. Prince has taken that knowledge and applied it to racket engineering. The O-Ports on the new O3 Red are essentially two arches fused together. These O-Ports stabilize the frame, providing total string freedom for a livelier response across the entire stringbed. This eliminates the dead zone that traditional grommets can create, giving players more consistency, greater stability and more confidence to go for their shots. In addition, the O-Ports’ aerodynamic design provides a faster swing speed, enabling players to reach more balls and win more points more often.

“Recommended for players with moderate to full strokes who look for a blend of power and control.”


VOLKL

Catapult 4
Head Size: 105
Length: 27.5
Weight: 9.7 oz.
Retail: $190

• Volkl’s Catapult 4 is a good fit for Catapult fans seeking a more traditional round head shape. This characteristic combined with Catapult springs at 3 and 9 o’clock produce a nice blend of power and control. The geometry is consistent with the Catapult 1, 2, and 3, but the 4 offers 30 percent more power and control for advanced players who demand balance.
“The Catapult 4 is ideal for players in the 4.0 to 5.5 range."

Catapult 8 V-Engine
Head Size: 100
Length: 27.25
Weight: 10.2 oz.
Retail: $190

• Volkl has blended two successful technologies into one racket to produce a ‘tweener frame that does it all. The Cat 8 V-Engine is engineered to satisfy the demands of a variety of players. The Catapult spring and V-Engine yoke construction generates a power/control blend that stabilizes the frame on off-center shots. The highly maneuverable Cat 8 offers big-time spin potential (thanks to a16x18 string-pattern) to players with full strokes who demand a blend of comfort and performance.

“The perfect weapon for an all-round game. User-friendly weight, balance and ease-in-handling. Geared toward for 4.0 and above players.”


Tour 10 Mid Plus
Head Size: 98
Length: 27
Weight: 11.5 oz.
Retail: $180

• There may be those in the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it camp who question Volkl’s tweaking of the acclaimed C10 Pro. But in the Tour 10, Volkl has taken the frame to new heights. The biggest difference can be found in the throat of the racket. The traditional look remains, but Volkl has beefed up the technology for greater performance. This is a serious racket designed for tournament performers who demand today’s technology combined with traditional feel.
“Control is king with the soft, flexible Tour 10. A thin-beamed, pro-level stick that puts you in the driver’s seat.”


Tour 6
Head Size: 100
Length: 27
Weight: 9.9 oz.
Retail: $150

• Ambitious, goal-oriented players will be smitten with the weight, balance and maneuverablity of the Tour 6 — a tweener frame that offers easy handling and lots of pop. An open string pattern makes it easier to generate spin, while the stiff Power Placement Frame (PPF) adds some muscle.

“A tournament racket for a new generation. Designed for 3.5 players and higher."


WILSON

nTour
Head Size: 95, 105
Length: 27.25
Weight: 10.8 oz., 10.4 oz.
Retail: $220
Babolat Aeropro Drive  

• Battle-tested on the WTA Tour by the likes of Lindsay Davenport and Justine Henin-Hardenne, the nTour is built for performance. While the 105-square-inch entry offers a bit more power and is more forgiving on off-center hits, both editions are no-holds-barred pro-level frames for aggressive competitors with long, powerful strokes.

“Perfect for the serious player who lives and dies by the down-the-line winner and cross-court passing shot.”

 

 

 

 


nPro, nPro Surge
Head Size: 98, 100
Length: 27
Weight: 11.1 oz., 10.8 oz.
Retail: $200

• Strong and stable, the nPro and nPro Surge are the weapons-of-choice for a new generation of pros. As seen in the hands of the chest-bumping duo of Bob and Mike Bryan, the funky neon-green/yellow nPro is a highly maneuverable frame that marries power and control and features all the benefits of Wilson’s nanotechnology initiative.

“Precise, powerful shots. Sharp handling — especially for one-handed backhanders.”

nVision
Head Size: 103
Length: 27.25
Weight: 9.7 oz.
Retail: $180

• The nVision — perhaps the ultimate ‘tweener frame that’s as well-suited for recreational players as it is for competitive all-courters — is the embodiment of Wilson’s nCode vision. With the goal of delivering unparalleled stability, greater frame integrity and explosive power, Wilson has dived into the world of nano technology. Conventional rackets are made up of billions of carbon fibers linked together and heat-shaped. These fibers are strong, light and resilient. Nevertheless, at the nanoscopic level, voids exist between the individual fibers, creating stress points. By reinforcing the molecular structure of the frame and filling these voids, Wilson has improved playability.

“Incredible feel with just the right amount of extra power on off-center hits. A versatile performer for players with medium to fast stroke styles.”


YONEX

Nano Speed RQ-5
Head Size: 105
Length: 27.5
Weight: 9.45 oz.
Retail: $200

• Yonex gets scientific with the NSRQ-5. Nanoscience allows Yonex to concentrate more carbon fibers in the lower third of the racket head and throat to provide stiffness for high stability, high repulsion power and maximum return of energy to the ball when struck. The aerodynamically-contoured upper hoop lowers air resistance, allowing for a more sharp/crisp swing through the ball. It also allows for the ideal amount of head-flex for higher energy transfer and power. Shockless grommets throughout the frame reduce unnecessary impact vibration when the ball is struck.

“A highly maneuverable frame designed for beginner and intermediate players.”

Nano Speed
RQ-7
Head Size: 100, 110
Length: 17.5
Weight: 11.4 oz., 11.9 oz.
Retail: $230
• Soaring Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova’s weapon-of-choice is the Nano Speed RQ7—an aggressive baseliner’s stick featuring Yonex’s Dual Power Structure, Power Shaft and F2 Filter Grommets.

“The 100-square-inch edition is all about ball control, while the 110 provides more of a power boost.”

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