Let the tail wag the dog

A story of tail-weighting a racquet

At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells this year I was talking to Tecnifibre’s Guillaume Ducruet about the racquet specs used by the pros. We were watching Tecnifibre’s Janko Tipseravic practice at the time and Guillaume mentioned how his racquet was heavy but very head light.

In other words, Tipseravic’s racquet is what we call tail-weighted. The reason is a good one: Never before has racquet tip speed been so important in pro tennis. Today’s players are hitting with monster spin. Guillaume mentioned that players are tail-weighting their racquets so they still have some mass to swing without sacrificing maneuverability. The simple fact is, the faster one can swing, the faster one can spin the ball.

A heavy racquet with a light swingweight is like having the tail wag the dog. All the weight is under the player’s hand allowing him/her to whip the tip of the racquet through contact with maximum racquet head speed.

As I was talking to Guillaume, I couldn’t help but think of a customized racquet I had been hitting and really enjoying back at TW. I had taken an old Estusa Power Beam Braided — a very head light racquet in stock form — and built up the grip to a suitable size. In doing so I had made the racquet extremely head light. I added some lead tape to the 10 & 2 o’clock positions of the hoop to try to even things out, but the final spec was a 13-ounce racquet with a swingweight of only 313 RDC.

How did it feel on court? Amazing! Everyone who has hit the customized Estusa has loved it. Delivering punch like a heavy racquet, but feeling fast like a light racquet, the customized Power Beam Braided is a blast to hit. Strung up with a grippy co-poly, the spin potential is off the charts.

I immediately loved the racquet and wanted to play with nothing else. The only issue was, I only had one racquet. I like to have at least two racquets in my bag in case a string breaks during a match so I set out to find another one.

A quick search discovered the going rate for a new-old-stock Power Beam Braided was close to double the price of a current racquet. Not good. However, from my disappointing discovery an idea was born! What if I could take an affordable racquet from our Sale Racquets page and match the spec of the customized Estusa.

All I needed was a racquet with a low swingweight, an even lower price and I would let some lead tape take care of the rest.

A smidgen of lead applied to the handle can do wonders.

Racquets don’t get much more affordable than the Volkl Power Bridge 5. Most also don’t get quite as funky. The PB 5′s distinctive Power Arm throat design makes it an unlikely choice for a player’s racquet, but in my opinion it only ups the ante of the challenge. The headsize and beam thickness were completely wrong, too, but at least the stock swingweight was very low. The idea of taking something not initially meant for the advanced player and turning it into a racquet which is the perfect fit seemed illogical. Actually, it seemed perfectly illogical. With that in mind, I decided to dismiss the illogical part, leaving me with just the word perfect. Decision made!

With a roll of lead tape in hand, I removed the stock grip and covered the entire handle pallet in lead — wrapping it from butt cap to shaft just like I was applying a replacement grip. Now, to do this properly (and permanently) I would have removed the butt cap and stuffed the handle cavity with lead weights (fishing weights work well) and packed it in cotton wool to stop the weights from rattling around. However, I was getting ready to hit and I didn’t have the time to go full on with my customization.

Next I wrapped a fairly weighty replacement grip over the lead to further increase the weight at the handle. I used Wilson’s Shockshield grip because it has a heavy shock absorbing material in it and it just so happens we have it on sale! With all this money I was saving, I could buy even more lead tape (my mind raced with the possibilities of random things I use in life that could be weighted up. Where would the weight customization end?)

Lead tape applied at 10 & 2 on the hoop to counter weight the racquet and bring the swingweight to a desired 314 (RDC)

With the grip installed, the racquet felt a tad light in my hand. I swung it around the web editing office a little bit, and no one was ducking for cover or even looking remotely fear stricken. Obviously, I needed to add some weight to the head to add a little plow through. Four thee-inch strips of lead tape at the 10 & 2 o’clock positions of the hoop did the trick, making the racquet feel like it had some mass on the swing while still having a fast and very maneuverable feel. The resulting spec turned out to be: Strung weight: 12.6oz, balance:  12 points head light, swingweight: 314 (RDC)

All of this customization and a quick restring with one of my favorite co-polys had swallowed up all the time I had before my scheduled hit, and I looked over to see a suited up and impatient Brittany ready to head to the courts. With great anticipation I threw on my tennis gear, eager to see how this customized PB 5 would play. Would it be able to handle the heavy hitting Britt? (Britt, AKA the Beast and The Backhand, here at TW. Perhaps the Backhand Beast would be a good combination of the two nicknames, except her forehand is very good, too)

From the first hit (even against the Beast) I knew I had succeeded. The racquet felt amazingly solid, yet it came around quickly and allowed me to find lots of spin. The PB 5 had gone from a lightweight ‘tweener racquet to feeling like it was dialed in for an advanced player. Here at TW, we are fortunate to occasionally get to hit with racquets customized for various pro players, and this racquet now had that pro prepared feel to it.

On groundstrokes the racquet pushed the ball with depth and weight. I was hitting a heavy ball with lots of pace and spin while finding great control. On every hit I was loving the way the racquet came through contact on my slice backhand. I was knifing my backhand with lots of pace and spin. The result was a low and fast skidding slice that (thankfully for me) was taking some of the bite out of the Beast’s backhand.

At net, the ball was pancaking nicely on the strings. Simply too massive to get pushed back by the ball, in combination with the still strings, I could feel the ball flattening on the stringbed. The result was every volley snapped off the strings with lots of pace, penetration and accuracy. Simply put, this was now a point and shoot weapon at net.

Now all was not perfect on my first hit. Although the racquet felt very good, it did not feel quite as fast and snappy as the Estusa. I put the slightly more sluggish feeling down to the increased headsize and a slightly higher swingweight. Moving the lead tape from 10 & 2 to 3 & 9 solved the issue and made the racquet feel perfectly balanced.

Since experimenting with tail weighting on the PB 5, I’ve continued the trend to other racquets. The Slazenger Pro Braided is a great candidate as it starts off as a lighter player’s racquet. Having a stock swingweight of 330 (RDC) I find I only need to add weight to the handle of the Pro Braided and just leave the head of the racquet stock. Other great tail weight candidates include the Babolat Pure Drives and AeroPro Drives, the 300 series of Dunlop Biomimetics, Head Youtek IG Radical Midplus (and Oversize if you like a larger hoop), Mantis Tour 305 and 315, Volkl Organix 10 295 and the Tecnifibre TFight 295 to name but a few!

Basically, any racquet with a manageable swingweight will do. For instance, if you can swing your current racquet easily, but would like to add some pop and plow through, you can get there by heavily tail weighting without sacrificing maneuverability. The big thing for me is adding power and stability through weight, but getting that in a light and very spin-friendly racquet.

The concept is far from new, but perhaps forgotten by some. Back in the days of wooden racquets, all the weight was in the handle as the racquets tapered from the handle to the tip, making the tip of the racquet light and flexible, and the handle heavy and solid. I have a couple of wood racquets close to 14-ounces, and they are surprisingly maneuverable due to the majority of the weight being in the handle and the fact that the head is small and aerodynamic (as is the mono shaft design of the class wooden racquet). Today’s graphite racquets allow us to copy the balance of wood racquets, but keep the upper hoop firmer thanks to the stiffer materials and beam designs.

I apologize for such a long blog! But I do hope you have fun tail-weighting to see if it’s right for you.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

Chris, TW.

The Ultimate Tennis Player: Female Edition

A few weeks ago, I got in the lab, put on my lab coat, took out the bunsen burners and created the perfect male tennis player. This week, I’m back with my ultimate female tennis player. She’s got a huge serve, a wicked forehand and wheels for legs. My only restriction was that no one player could be put in more than 2 categories. Without further ado, here she is.

The Ultimate Female Tennis Player

Categories

Serve: Serena Williams
Full disclosure: I originally had Sam Stosur here, but after Serena’s performance at Wimbledon, I had no choice but to put her in this category. She hit more aces at Wimbledon than any other player, and that’s for both the women AND men. ‘Nuff said.

Forehand: Kim Clijsters
When it’s on, it’s on! She hits this shot with pace, depth, spin, angle, while on the run, standing still, or doing the splits. What more could you ask for?

Backhand: Victoria Azarenka
This shot is probably the main reason why she’s as successful as she is.

Slice: Roberta Vinci
Well, considering she doesn’t hit a single flat or topspin backhand, her slice better be pretty good to be ranked as high as 18 in the world.

Volley: Cara Black

And perhaps even more impressive, here she is at 16 years old:

Return: Serena Williams
She hits her returns with so much aggression it’s almost angry-like. To add to the intimidation factor, she stands right on the baseline or inside of it. Hit it to her forehand, and this is what happens:

Speed: Caroline Wozniacki
To be a counter-puncher or defensive player is one thing, but to do it at a level where you eventually become the #1 player in the world means you’re getting to a hell of a lot of shots. Agneiska Radwanska would be 1A here.

Heart/Mental Toughness: Maria Sharapova
I was torn on who to pick but Tiffani made a great case for Sharapova. It takes a lot of mental toughness and heart to work your way back from shoulder surgery, to becoming once again, the #1 player in the world (after winning the French Open). It was 3 long years of struggling and rehab before she was fully back to her winning ways. Now that takes some mental fortitude.

Charm: Kim Clijsters
The sweetheart of the WTA tour. Is there anyone that doesn’t like Kim Clijsters?! We’ve had her come sign at our tent at the BNP Paribas Open a few times, and each and every time, she was the perfect role model. She smiled and interacted with all her fans, and even when her time was up and her agent is asking her to go, if there was still a line, she’d go overtime just to make sure everyone got an autograph that wanted one.

 

Do you agree with my picks? Build your own ultimate tennis player in the comments below.

 

Jason, TW

Who’s hot and who’s not on the WTA Tour

The 2012 tennis season is already half way over and the women of the WTA have been jostling for position in the rankings. With no break-out players dominating the tour right now we can expect some great competitive tennis in the upcoming months, and get our fingers crossed for our favorite players to take a strong hold on the rankings. With the last two years having seen different winners all of 4 slams, we will be watching closely to see who has got what it takes for the hardcourt season and the US Open. Let’s take a look at who’s hot and who’s not on the WTA Tour leading into summer…

Who’s Hot??

Sara Errani - If we’re looking for up and comers this goes without saying: Sara Errani reaching the finals of Roland Garros. Yes, that was a while ago and her 6-0 6-4 loss to Shvedova at Wimbledon in the round of 32 is a little crippling, but I’m going to let her ride the wave for a bit longer and see what else she can pull out of the hat. She hit her career high rankings of 9 in singles and 3 in doubles this month. Need I say more?

Errani taking charge at the French Open

Serena Williams - Serena made the semis in Rome, she trolled her way out of the French Open in a choke-fest to Razzano, yet managed to pull things together to claim the Wimbledon throne. She has won 3 out of the last 5 tournaments she’s played and reached the semis in Rome. She ended 2012 ranked at #12 and has comfortably worked her way to #4 in the world. Current queen of grass? I think yes. Oh, and she just won Stanford. This woman can do no wrong!

Serena Williams is dominating the WTA and using her power to win matches

Yaroslava Shvedova - Shvedova began the year at an unimpressive #208 at Australian Open, but with two top 10 wins (against Li Na and Sara Errani) she started the French Open at #142 and now has a ranking of #48. With an increase of nearly 100 spots and current 10-2 winning record from the last 2 slams, Shvedova is working her way up. I’m predicting continued success with her new-found confidence.

(Honorable Mention)

Tamira Paszek - Paszek has been losing in the first couple rounds since the start of the year. French Open, Nottingham and Birmingham also passed her by, until she won Eastbourne and made the quarter finals of Wimbledon. She’s young too, so despite only a 6 point jump up to #37 in the rankings, her latest 9-1 winning record from the last two tournaments may speak of what’s to come. Keep an eye on her, she may have turned her luck.

Who’s Not??

Caroline Wozniaki - Oh Wozzi. Two early round losses in the last 3 tournaments to players ranked around 20-30? You’re dragging. Wimbledon was not her best tournament with a tough loss to Paszek and to be honest, she’s been struggling since April. She won Copenhagen in May and since then has a 5-6 win-loss record.  She’s muddled her way through the rankings from #1 at the start of the year, to outside the top 5, and unless she gets some results she may drop more.

Wozniacki needs to pick her game up if she's going to see any improvements in the rest of 2012

Li Na – Na started off the year ranked 5th and then worked her way back up through the rankings and out of the top 10 at Wimbledon. She has lost all top 10 matches she has played since Febuary, and Round of 16 losses at the French and Wimbledon (to players ranked outside the top 50 and top 100) will see her slipping further unless she manages to get a footing sometime soon.

Having fallen out of the top 10, Li Na has to reassert herself if she wants to regain her ranking.

Venus Williams - For as well as her sister is doing, Venus is on struggle street. I have to say that although she has a 12-6 record right now, she doesn’t seem to be moving anywhere fast. After a respectable loss to #3 ranked Radwanska at the French Open, I thought she was working her way back in. That is, until a first round exit at Wimbledon — a place she’s owned in the last decade — to Vesnina.  She’s sitting ranked #58 and doesn’t seem to be moving anywhere. Have her days in the top 50 passed her by?

Keep an eye out for more updates!

Cheers,

Siobhan