RACKET REVIEW 2017 by Marcus Cootsona

If string job prices were calculated by the foot, this year’s crop of rackets would make stringers everywhere order a new Tesla. After a few seasons of fewer strings, a good portion of the rackets in this latest harvest have been planted with more dense patterns than a clay court mixer.

But what does a dense string pattern do for your game? Basically, more strings equal more ball control and less springiness. This creates lower vibration and less string movement for better wear. If ball control is what you’re searching for, the tighter packing of cord will help. But for a softer, livelier response off the string-bed, and more spin on your looping crosscourt get-out-of-trouble forehand, look for a frame with a more open pattern.

The 2017 line of rackets are as small as 95 square inches and as large as 105, but the majority are between 98 and 100. And aside from some 11-ounce and heavier frames, weights tend to be in the 10-ounce range, with comfortable medium-to-low vibration. This year’s ball-whacking appliances feature some predominantly black frames with splashes of reds and greens, as well as bold colorful statements and a judicious use of white.

As some sports sage once said, “The thing that really matters when you take your racket out of the bag is, do you think you can hit with it?”

BABOLAT

Nothing says, “Hey, there are new rackets to try!” like a fresh white frame in a semi-gloss finish. The Pure Strike VS and the Pure Strike 100 are white rackets with tasteful orange accents. Both are welcome on any hitters court. The 98 square-inch VS has a 16×20 string pattern that provides accurate ball shaping. The 100-square-inch 100 is two square inches larger and one string less endowed and has the livelier feel of a thicker-headed mid-plus. The Pure Aero VS is a 98 square-inch entry in the Aero series with a square-beamed head. Surprisingly, despite the stiff Aero shaft, the performance of the frame was lively and bouncy – in a good way.

DUNLOP

The attractive Force 98 is, not surprisingly, 98 square inches, and sports a 16×19 string pattern. It is a bracing, brash baseliner’s device. The white grip sets off the orange, red and black Fast and Furious paint scheme, and the firm hoop says, “Go ahead, hit the ball hard!” This stick has firmness, high feedback, and power. It is the latest in a line of Dunlop frames stretching back to the Impact Pro frames of the 1990s, rackets that legend has it served as inspiration for a string company named Babolat to produce the original Pure Drive. Dunlop’s TR Precision rackets sport sleek looks and bold colors – the 98 G3 is orange, the 98 Tour G3 is black, the 100 G3 is electric blue and the 100 Tour G3 is bright yellow. The Tour sticks boast great maneuverability for fuller swings, while the standards offer lighter weight.

HEAD

At 11.1 ounces, the Graphene Touch Speed Pro is one of the heaviest rackets tested. Though imbued with a dense 18×20 string pattern, the Speed Pro has excellent hit-to-hand feedback and control, while showing off a large, usable hitting area. The MXG3 is a 100-square-inch, 10.4-ounce smooth hitter with good power and a spiffy metallic magnesium throat bridge that looks baller. And the 9.7-ounce MXG5 is 105 square inches of smooth, stabile power and also struts the magnesium string securer.

TECHNIFIBRE

The T FIGHT 305 measures 98 square inches, weighs in at 11.1 ounces, and rocks a dense 18×19 string pattern.  Precise control is a given, given its specs, and it needs a fast swing to take full advantage of its weight and weave. The T FIGHT 320 is the heavier (12 ounces unstrung) sibling of the 305. The heft of this hefty precision frame is great for big-swinging hitters who want control and like the mass of the frame to help with the work.

VOLKL

The PB5 is a 97-square-inch frame featuring Volkl’s power bridge construction. The bridge looks a little like the Olympic cauldron and provides not only flexibility but will cause some observant opponents to ask, “What the heck?” The combination of a forgiving throat and stiff head makes it better at faster swing speeds. The V-Sense V1 Pro comes in at a rare 99.5 square inches and graphically looks a lot like the V1’s we all know. It blends the control of the Organix V1 and the spin of the Super-G V1 and that hybrid adds up to a nice all-court implement.

WILSON

Lots of Blades to consider. First, the Blade 98: 10.7 ounces and a 16×19 string pattern good for long-swinging baseliners. The Blade 98S is slightly lighter at 10.4 ounces and struts the 18×16 Spin Effect pattern for (you guessed it) more spin.  It certainly rotates the ball effectively, but the feel of the racket is what really recommends it. Finally, the Blade SW (Serena Williams) 104 is just a bunch of fun. At 11.4 ounces it’s over half an ounce heavier than the garden-variety 104, is a half-inch longer (28 full inches), and has the same dense 18×19 string pattern. And it is all about power. From the baseline. From the net. From the serve. The firm, big frame forces the 37 main and cross strings to move –and do they ever.

Yes, there are many more rackets than dreamed of in our philosophies. So test-whack some or all of these and then go back to your local store, tell them what you liked and didn’t, and let them guide you further. After all, when all is demoed and done, it’s your choice.

Marcus Paul Cootsona is a teaching professional and author of Occam’s Racquet – 12 Simple Steps To Smarter Tennis, and the comic tennis novel, Rubber Match.  Contact him at  www.marcuscootsona.com.