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.

Player gear at the BNP Paribas Open: Janko Tipsarevic

Janko Tipsarevic strikes a forehand on the practice courts at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA. (Photo by: Chris)

Tecnifibre sponsored player, Janko Tipsarevic was on the practice courts today at the 2012 BNP Paribas Open. Tipsarevic plays with the Tecnifibre TFight 325 customized with a leather grip under a Tournagrip. The unstrung specs for his racquet are:

Weight: 12.06 ounces (342g)

Swingweight: 304 RDC.

Eye candy, racquet edition: Dunlop Biomimetic 300 Tour

The Dunlop Biomimetic 300 Tour

Oh, the agony. Have you ever wanted something so badly and been so close you could taste it? That’s me right now, sitting here, typing. Yeah, typing. Read: Not hitting. Not playing. Not swinging the new Dunop Biomimetic 300 Tour.

The racquet is sitting here on my desk. I feel like a kid who’s an inch too short to ride the roller coaster. I can see it, I can touch it. I’m oh so close! You’re probably thinking, “Stop your moaning and go hit!” Problem is that my pregnancy is now making tennis difficult for me. I’ve been playing throughout my pregnancy, but now eight months in, my efforts are fruitless and frustrating. I tire easily, I feel awkward swinging and as a hitting partner I feel woefully inadequate. We always want what we can’t have, I guess. (Plus Jason is working on that two-handed backhand … if I don’t watch out, he’ll no longer have a side to attack!)

In previous posts, I’ve talked a lot about the predecessor to this Biomimetic version, the Aerogel 4D 300 Tour. This had become my go-to stick in the recent past as the Yonex RDS 003 was discontinued. So back to this stick that’s sitting on my desk, glinting in the sunlight. Yes, it really is. That glint is coming off the sweet metallic finish of the Biomimetic 300 Tour. To round out the cosmetics, there’s the dimpled “skin” of the Aeroskin technology.

The Aeroskin technology adds dimples to key areas of the frame to improve aerodynamics.

When Dunlop came to visit, we heard about Aeroskin and the rest of the new technologies in the Biomimetic line. All the Biomimetic technologies are inspired by something found in nature.

Aeroskin is inspired by sharkskin and is intended to improve the aerodynamics of the racquet. The frame has dimples around the hoop, and if you run your fingers over them, you can feel them. To me it feels a little bit like a basketball, but not too rough. This idea of dimples and aerodynamics is not new. Just take a look at a golf ball; it’s the same concept. So in theory this should make the racquet swing faster with up to 25% less drag, according to Dunlop. A faster racquet should equal more power and more spin potential. If there’s one thing about the 4D 300 Tour I wish I could amp up, it’s power, so this idea of a more powerful version of the 300 Tour with the same level of control is enticing.

HM6 Carbon is incorporated into the frame to reduce shock and enhance feel, according to Dunlop.

Another new technology incorporated into the frame is HM6 Carbon. This time Dunlop looked at a hardworking bunch for inspiration: bees. Their honeycombs to be exact. The hexagonal shape of the honeycomb absorbs shock and disperses it very well. Dunlop created thin sheets of HM6 Carbon and added them to the layup of Aerogel in key areas of the frame, most predominantly in the shaft of the racquet. With fewer vibrations and less shock coming through the frame, feel should be enhanced. I’m all for that, too. Have you seen my drop volleys? They sometimes resemble Shaq’s free throw attempts. Yeah, they’re rocks.

Lastly, there is Gecko-Tac. Here they looked at gecko setae, and no that’s not the name of a certain insurance pitchman. Gecko setae are the hair-like structures on the feet of a gecko that allow it to cling to surfaces. Dunlop treated the surface of its Gecko-Tac grips to offer enhanced tack without being sticky. My favorite replacement grips are thin and balance moisture absorption and tackiness. This one feels good. My hands don’t stick to the grip, but it also doesn’t feel so dry that I might develop blisters. I also like that it doesn’t feel bulky in the hand so overgrips are not out of the question either.

When it comes to specs on the Biomimetic version, they’re very similar to the 4D 300 Tour. When it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Dunlop kept it pretty much the same. Though we don’t have our stock here to spec, I put our hitters on our Babolat RDC machine and compared them to Dunlop’s provided specs.

Our hitters………………………………Dunlop’s specs
11.3 ounces strung………………….11.3 ounces strung
64 RA……………………………………..64 RA
5 points head light ………………….Head light balance (320 mm)
304 swingweight

The racquet is also the standard 27″ length with an 18×20 string pattern in a 97 square inch head size. The head size on the 4D 300 Tour was 98 square inches. I put the 4D 300 Tour up against the Biomimetic version, and the headsizes are pretty close so I’m not worried about the slight change.

So there it is. That’s the Biomimetic 300 Tour in a nutshell. You’ll probably hit this racquet before I do. The 300 Tour is in the first batch of Biomimetics that will be released. Look for it as well as the 200 Plus, 300, 600 and 600 Lite on our site for demo and purchase in early November. Or if you happen to know Jurgen Melzer, ask him for a loaner Biomimetic 300 Tour. He’ll be swinging it on Tour.

Happy hitting!
Tiffani, TW