Thursday, June 9, 2011

How I chose my new racquet

After demoing 5 racquets back in April, and at least 10 more since mid-May, I finally chose my new stick … and the winner is Babolat’s Pure Storm Tour GT.

The first time I demoed racquets was 10 years ago, when I first started playing tennis. Back then, after a couple of seasons of men’s ALTA, I was a USTA 3.0-level player. I tried a few different models: a Prince, a Head, and the one that I chose: a Wilson Pro Staff 6.1 which was 27.5 inches in length with an 18x20 string pattern. It seemed to have more heft than the others and, when I swung as hard as I could, I was an ace-serving machine. I bought two but, when one cracked a few years later, I found that it was no longer available for purchase. So I bought what was supposed to be its replacement – the Wilson nCode nSix-One 95 with an 18x20 string pattern – which played pretty much the same. Eventually, the original Pro Staff “wore out” and, though I kept it in my bag as a backup, I stopped playing with it; since I haven’t had it restrung it in 7 years, I’d probably be in trouble if I broke a string on my main racquet.

About a year ago I got concerned that my nCode frame was getting old and had probably lost its original integrity. I’d started having it strung at a higher tension as it aged and was worried about its continued usability. However, after posting my concerns to Tennis Warehouse’s message boards, and receiving responses, I decided that my stick could last a few more years. That is, until I received a captain’s gift – a plentiful gift certificate to a local tennis store chain – from my winter mixed doubles team.

So in April, even though the men’s season had begun, I began to demo racquets for the first time since I started playing tennis 10+ years ago. After all, my game has changed quite a bit. While I’m older, I’m also a better 3.5-level player now and have added drop shots to my repertoire. First I utilized Tennis Warehouse’s demo program: for $20, they’ll ship you up to 4 racquets to try for a week; return postage is included. I tried a variety of frames that were similar in specs to my existing racquet, but the one I liked most was one that was sent to me by accident. There are so many racquets with similar names – a “Team” or “Tour” designation can mean a big difference – it’s easy to get it mixed up. But it was a Prince vs. a Wilson racquet, so locally I tried the Wilson “equivalent” for $10, and hated it. After $30 spent and no new racquet decision, I decided to wait until the season was over to start again especially because my team was in contention and I didn’t want to mess up my game and hurt my team’s chances.

In May, I went to Your Service Tennis, the local chain where I had my gift card, and utilized their 30 day demo program: as many racquets as I wanted to try in the period, two at a time for a maximum of 5 days each. The manager at the store was both informative and patient with all of my questions and was generally interested in my experiences with each frame. I sampled racquets from every manufacturer they carried but only those in the range – specification-wise – of my original stick. Eventually I whittled it down to two: the one I chose and Wilson’s BLX Pro Tour. It was hard to tell the difference between them; the Wilson seemed to serve better but the Babolat seemed to volley better. As it turned out, the Babolat I demoed was the 2011 version of their 2009 model – the paint job being the only difference – which was on clearance for $30 less, so I bought it. It has an 1/8 of an inch smaller handle, but that makes it a quarter of an inch larger than the demos I’ve hit with without any arm or hand problems. In fact, I’d kind of gotten used to and liked the smaller grip.

I still don’t know whether I’ll play with my new racquet during this second weekend of ALTA or not yet; I decided not to play with either demo I had in my bag last Saturday. It was weird playing with my old racquet; the 4 5/8 handle felt huge compared to what I’d been playing with for 3 weeks. But that’s not why we lost our match in 3 sets; we played against a 4.5 guy on the other side of the net!

Wish me luck this weekend and with my new Babolat!

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