- Matt Wilansky, Tennis editor
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LONDON -- Did you know strawberries are delivered to the All England Club at 5:30 a.m. every day. Every day! But nothing but freshest and most succulent for a crowd that demands the best.
It’s a grind, I’m sure, for the delivery crew, but the consistent excellence has given Wimbledon an unmatched reputation in its produce selection. Turns out, when something works, it works.
Kind of like spin-crazy tennis rackets. Take a gander through today’s write-ups and you’ll notice something conspicuously similar. Although each frame has its own identity, specs and cosmetic scheme, the message being sent to consumers is fairly standard across the board: spin, power and control. Even with so many brands churning out new models annually, if not more, it’s those three pillars that remain the biggest selling point.
And who can blame them? We are well into a modern age of tennis, in which baseline bashing is the norm, and with the proliferation and revolution of polyester strings, this trend is likely to extend for the foreseeable future.
So, then, what’s with the control rackets with dense string patterns that, at least ostensibly, don’t cater to today’s contemporary game? Specifically, we’re referring to rackets with 18x20 string patterns that make it more difficult to generate spin.
I personally hadn’t considered using a racket with a condensed configuration in years. My experience was that these types of sticks generally produced a 2x4 kind of feel with a death of power and spin. But I had heard good things about a couple of new control-oriented rackets on the market and decided to give them a whirl.
Prince Tour 95
After about five strokes with this frame, my reaction was nothing like I had imagined. I was moving to ball from side to side with relative ease. And the best part was there was some serious pop. Actually it was a feeling of unrivaled precision without losing depth. It was easily one the of most confident-inspiring sticks I had play-tested in a long time.
The maneuverability was swift for a racket that weighs just north of 12 ounces. Given the frames 95-inch head and 6-point headlight makeup, making quick adjustments was as good, if not better, than a lot of 11-ounce frames I have used. But more than anything with the Tour 95, I had courage to swing out without fearing I was going to hit the ball somewhere outside the SW19 area code. And just as importantly, I wasn’t feeling worn down by the weight, even after 90 minutes or so on court.
The other thing I should point out is the flexibility on this racket (58) works in your favor. I understand why some players shy away from frames that are too malleable -- the mushy response can render erratic results. But the dense string pattern on the Tour 95 helps compensate for the looser feel. This frame actually plays quite a bit stiffer than say the Tour 100 16x18 or rackets akin to that one -- but not so stiff that it feels board-like.
Because of the mass, I felt I could slow my motion and swing down and hit crisp serves to either side without sacrificing a lot of power, which is why this racket would be a good choice for competitive players. Compared to lighter sticks with larger heads, this frame really helped me jumpstart the point behind my serve. Conversely, and again because of the mass, I could be aggressive on service returns without taking colossal hacks.
Spin is in, I get it. But I would highly recommend taking a few rips with this racket before making any decisions.
Prince Tour 100 (18x20)
The Prince Tour line and lineage has mass appeal for a lot of reasons: the thin beam, a shoulder-friendly response and the ideal spin/power combination. Actually, I have been walking around the grounds at the All England Club for the past three days, and I’ve seen a lot of players, juniors and even coaches using a racket from this line, whether the 16x18, the Tour Pro or 18x20.
I personally had not hit with the 18x20 until a week ago. Like the 95, I didn’t feel it was suited for my game. But I was pleasantly surprised with this one as well. Compared to the 16x18 version, this stick had less power, for sure, but I noticed I could really hit through the ball with consistently clean and confident strokes. I felt like I could stand at the baseline and hack away all day.
There wasn’t a discernible drop-off in spin, either, which made the Tour 18x20 more palatable. It took me some time to find proper depth for a few minutes, but that’s the only real issue I had.
Like the other frames under the Tour umbrella, the 18x20 was incredibly comfortable because of its flex, and like the Tour 95, the denser string pattern mitigated some the springboard effect you find in open-pattern rackets.
If you can generate your own pace, this is a great frame to try out -- especially if you’re a player with control issues.