Monday, June 23, 2008

Adidas' top dog wearing Nike?

What does it say about a company's shoe when the highest ranked player for their rival is wearing that shoe? Well it appears to be confirming what many players have been saying for awhile... The Nike Air Max Breathe Cage II is one of the top all around shoes on the market.

In the above picture by Reuters if you look closely you can see #3 ranked Novak Djokovic wearing a pair of the Cage II's, minus the Nike swoosh! There is no mistaking the trademark Max Air cushioning system on the heel of his right foot. This picture has created quite a firestorm on several tennis message boards today. So what is it that makes these shoes so great, that Adidas' top male player feels the need to wear them?

First off, Breathe Free Cage II's are some of the most cushioned shoes on the market. In the heel you have Nike's Max Air cushioning system, and in addition you have their Zoom Air system in the forefoot. What these two systems do is give you maximum cushioning where you get a lot of impact during play, in the heel. The Zoom Air in the forefoot gives you a lower to the court, more stable feel, with some cushioning.

Many players label the Cage II's as "grinder shoes" for defensive players that do a lot of running. While this may be their image, these shoes also do exceptionally well for club level players. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Cage II's have a great deal of cushioning, that is the biggest selling point for most players. They also have a lot of tour visibility with Raphael Nadal, James Blake, and now apparently Novak Djokovic wearing them.

The Cage II's are an updated version of last year's Breathe Free Cages, but the design and success of these shoes go much further back. Nike's most successful shoe in recent years has been the Air Max Breathe Free II, which was (and still is) a huge success among recreational players, and teams looking to have matching shoes. What Nike did exceptionally well with these shoes is very simple... They made a comfortable, durable, match day shoe, in several different color combinations to appeal to a huge demographic of players. They built their base and now they are reaping the benefits.

So I have told you what you should like about these shoes.. What might you not like? First of all the large amount of cushioning in the heel does give you a higher feel on the court. Some players may feel like they are not stable enough. The lower feel in the forefoot should counteract this, and very few people have told me this, but it could be a concern. A second issue is the width of the shoe. If you have wide feet this (and other Nikes) shoe may not be for you. And the last issue is the tongue of the shoe. The Breathe Free Cage II, like the Breathe Free II beofre it has a one piece integrated tongue. Some people love the slipper like feel of the shoe, while others complain that it is too difficult to put on. I personally love the feel, and most people get used to it, but it is a turn off for some.

If you are interested in giving the Nike Air Max Breathe Cage II's a try you will probably have to find a tennis specialty store, or a Nike store in your area. These are shoes specifically designed for tennis, and they are usually not found at chain stores. Of course they are widely available online, and you should expect to pay between $100-$115 for them.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Four new offerings from Babolat. Can they help your game?

Throughout most of the country, summer is in full bloom. The dust has just settled from Roland Garros, and now we are on to the green pastures of Wimbledon. This is not normally the time of year that manufacturers introduce new frames, but Babolat is doing just that. Some people would say that these four new racquets coming from Babolat are the industry's worst kept secret, but here they are. The four new frames are the AeroStrike, AeroStorm, AeroStorm Tour, and the Pure Storm Limited. Are any of them right for you?

In my opinion two of the four could be serious considerations for some players, while the other two should only appeal only to pretty advanced players. Lets take a look at them.

AeroStorm & AeroStorm Tour- Now some of you that have been paying close attention might be saying, "the AeroStorm was introduced last year." Well you are right it was introduced last year, but that frame now becomes the AeroStorm Tour. What Babolat has done is make a newer lighter version of last year's AeroStorm, and making the old heavier version the Tour model. The AeroStorm Tour tips the scale at 12.1 ounces strung, and comes in at 6 points. head light. The new AeroStorm is a more user friendly 11.4 ounces, still a pretty heavy frame but the fact that it is only 4 points head light makes it much easier to swing. I would recommend the new AeroStorm to players who are between a 4.0 and up NTRP rating. If you are around a 4.5 or 5.0 or higher you might prefer the heavier tour version.

Pure Storm Limited- Babolat has long been considered a company that caters to advanced players. This racquet will not change that image in the slightest. The Pure Storm Limited might not be the heaviest frame in Babolat's stable at 11.8 ounces strung, but the fact that it is the most head light frame they make (8 points) makes it the heaviest to swing. Combine that with a smaller 95 square inch headsize and you have a serious player racquet. Best suited to players 4.5 and up, you will have to swing full and fast to get power out of this frame, but control and spin should plentiful. The Pure Storm Limited even comes with a leather grip, that should intimidate your opponent!

AeroStrike- In my opinion this is the gem of the new offerings. Until now the AeroStrike was not available in the United States. In Europe players who wanted a more user friendly version of Rafael Nadal's AeroDrive Pro, had the AeroStrike as an option, now we do too. The AeroStrike comes in at 10.3 ounces strung, a much more manageable weight for intermediate players. But an even bigger advantage to this frame is that it is 2 points head heavy, great for players who love to play from the baseline. The weight and balance of this racquet make it a good fit for just about anybody. 3.0's who need a little help from the racquet will appreciate the balance, and more advanced players who might not use a long swing will benefit from the lighter weight. The 100 square inch headsize is small enough to stay pretty stable on off center hits, but is large enough to easily find the sweet spot on most shots. If you are the average player looking for a new racquet , this should be on your short list!

So these new frames from Babolat are not going to change the thought that Babolats are for serious players, but the AeroStrike is a new option for players who are looking for a great racquet that will help them play their best.

Advanced players have plenty of options with Babolat, so you might give the AeroStroms and the Pure Storm Limited a try. In my opinion these three frames are best suited for players who are looking for a more head light racquet from Babolat. These racquets fill a void for advanced players, but most people will not be very interested

Monday, June 9, 2008

Choosing the right racquet for your game

While a particular racquet won't make you a better player, choosing the wrong racquet can hinder you from performing your best. Playing with the wrong racquet while you are learning the game can actually restrict your stroke development. With such a huge selection of racquets on the market, it can be a little overwhelming. This can help you with that decision making process. Obviously if you are working with a coach they will be a huge asset to you in this process, but in their absence, I would like to give you some things to consider while you choose the right racquet for your playing style and ability.

Playing Style
Knowing your playing style is the first step in choosing the right type of racquet for you. Are you a baseline player who rarely approaches the net? Do you attack the net without fear of getting passed? Do you play mostly doubles or singles? These are all questions you should ask yourself when you start thinking about a new racquet.
  • Baseliner: Players who like to hang back on the baseline and punish their opponents with powerful groundstrokes will usually prefer a racquet that is head heavy. These racquets will give you more power on your groundstrokes because there is more mass at the tip of the racquet. Many head heavy frames are lighter in weight, which allows you to swing faster for more power. The down side to these racquets are that they are slow to maneuver around when you are at the net.
  • Net Rusher: Players who attack the net at every opportunity, or serve and volley will usually prefer a head light frame. Because a majority of the weight in these racquets is in the handle they are very quick to maneuver at the net. They also tend to be the heavier frames on the market, some tipping the scales at over 12 ounces! Because of their heft, and weight distribution, these racquets will not help you much power wise. You will have to supply the power with your swing.
  • All Court: Many players do not fall into either of the above categories, as they like to do a little of both. For these players a more evenly balanced racquet that performs well at the net and the baseline.
Playing Level
One of the things I hate to see are lower level players using certain racquets because their favorite player uses it. I'm not saying that a 3.0 player can not use the same racquet that Roger Federer uses, but as I said before. the wrong racquet can hinder you ability to become a better player. If you have trouble hitting the middle of your strings, it doesn't make sense to use a small headed racquet. Know your ability level, and be honest with yourself! Players who are at a lower level will usually need a racquet with an oversized head (larger than 105 sq. inches), at least until they improve. More advanced players might want to use a smaller mid-plus headsize (between (95-105 sq. inches). Very few recreational players can use a midsize head (smaller than 95 sq. inches), because of the dramatically smaller sweet spot.

Swing Style
In my opinion this is the most important aspect to consider about yourself when choosing a new racquet. The rule of thumb is that the longer and faster your swing is the less power you need the racquet to produce for you. The power level of the racquet usually corresponds with the weight of the frame. A lighter racquet will usually be stiffer and wider, thereby providing the player with more power. Heavier frames will usually be a more flexible thinner profile, meaning that the player will have to produce the power with their swing. So if you have a short punchy stroke, than you will probably want a lighter, stiffer frame to help you get more power.

Current Racquet
Do you like your current racquet? Does it fit well with your playing and swing style, but it is an older model that you can't find anymore? Than you might want to try out the latest version of that racquet. Popular racquets never die, they just get technology upgrades. A good example of this is the Head Radical. The Radical is now in it's 6th generation. Essentially it is the same racquet, but the different technologies that are used makes it play slightly different. You may or may not like how the newer technology plays, but rest assured that it will be replaced, usually every 2-3 years. Also think about what you don't like about your current racquet. Is it too powerful, or underpowered? Is it too slow at the net? Knowing what you like and dislike about your current racquet gives you a good starting point in choosing your new one.

Every major racquet manufacturer makes a racquet for your type of playing style, but what sets them apart from one another? Some people have very strong feelings about what brand of racquet they will use. Others have no real preference. It is important to try out several different racquets to see what you like and don't like about them. Do the same thing with brands. Take similar racquets from different companies out and give them a try, see what you like about each. Different technologies will feel different, you have to find what you like the most.

There are several ways to go about the research process of choosing a new racquet. Consulting your coach or teaching professional is one way. There are also a lot of websites that have compiled a lot of information for your use. Tennis Warehouse is a great online resource, that provides customers with player reviews and a wealth of very detailed information. You can also check out racquet manufacturer sites, but they will of course be biased to their product.

Now that you know exactly what you are looking for go out and try out some new racquets. Don't just go buy a frame without playing with it first! Make sure that you hit every shot many time with it, and do this with a few different frames. This is an important decision, and it will effect your game, make sure that you are completely satisfied with it before you make the final decision.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Luxilon... Is it Right For You & Your Game?

As a stringer, one of the most popular questions I get is, "What is this Luxilon string all about?" The first thing that I tell most people is that it is not for the majority of tennis players. There are two things that that keep the average player from using Luxilon, (and other Polyester mono-fibers) and those things are...
  1. Luxilon is a very stiff, uncomfortable string. Players with arm issues should steer clear.
  2. To use Luxilon to it's fullest potential you should be taking a long, fast swing at the ball.
These things being said, if you do take a pretty good cut at the ball with a good amount of spin, Luxilon might be a good option for you.

As I mentioned above, Luxilon performs well for players who are not afraid to swing through the ball. The more racquet head acceleration that you can generate, the more spin you will be able to hit the ball. Spin gives you control, and Luxilon will allow for more rotations on the ball per shot, giving you more spin. The reason for this is two fold. The first is the fact that these strings do not move in your string bed. The ball is striking a stationary object, and that object is imparting the spin on the ball. The other reason is the stiffness of the string. There is very little elasticity so the ball brushes off the string bed rather than being catapulted off of it. Many polys are textured or shaped in a hexagon to bite the ball even more. Because these strings are "dead" strings, you can swing out on shots and from positions that several years ago were thought crazy. Many players and experts believe that the ability to do this, has been the biggest change in the modern pro game. As you can imagine, the playing characteristics of Luxilon benefit baseliners, but all court players and the two serve and vollyers left can also benefit from these strings by using them in hybrid set ups.

Hybrid stringing is not a new thing. For years string manufacturers have combined stiff, durable strings with softer strings. Prince Pro Blend, which uses Kevlar strings in the mains(up and down), and synthetic gut in the crosses (side to side), is probably the best known of these. To soften the harsh feel of Luxilon you can do the same thing. By putting Luxilon in the mains of your racquet you will still get the spin benefits (to a slightly lesser degree), but it won't be quite as hard on your arm. This is the way that I like to introduce players to Luxilon if they want to try it. The other option that you have with a Luxilon hybrid is putting it in the crosses. This option is for players who like to use more touch in their games. Roger Federer has been using this hybrid for a few years, and thus it has become very popular. This set-up gives you a stiff string bed, but also gives you the feel that you need to execute those nasty drop shots. Some people have even found that durability increases by about 15% with the Luxilon in the crosses, rather than in the mains.

If you do choose to use a hybrid set-up with Luxilon, choose a soft more elastic string such as Wilson NXT or Babolat Xcel. For the ultimate hybrid, go for natural gut.

For those of you who want to try Luxilon in the mains and the crosses but are worried about the stiffness, there is an option. Last year Luxilon introduced ALU Power Fluoro, a softer thinner version of their best seller ALU Power. It is still stiff, but it has a little more give. Also Gamma makes a line of Zo strings that play very similar to Luxilon, but are a lot more forgiving on the arm.

So are Luxilon strings the strings for you? I hope that this information has helped you to make a more informed decision. Choosing the right string to fit your game is one of the biggest factors to helping you play your best.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New racquet technologies. What are they all about?

Every couple of years the racquet manufacturers introduce new technologies that promise to improve your game and make you a better player, but very few people know what they really are and what they do. I would like to discuss the latest technologies from some of the top racquet manufacturers.


In the last couple of years Babolat has introduced a couple of new technologies, both designed to make your playing experience a little more comfortable.

  • Smart Grip: The ergonomic design of this grip allows your entire palm to be in contact with it. The grip is actually shaped like an hourglass, with two raised areas for each of your hands. Racquets with this technology do not have a traditional butt cap that tapers out, but instead is flat. Some people feel that a Smart Grip feels larger than a traditional grip and go one size smaller.
  • Cortex: This is a vibration reduction system that is located just above the grip on the throat of the frame. Babolat has updated some of their most popular frames with this technology in the last two years. I have found that Cortex frames feel slightly more stiff than their non-Cortex predecessors. Some players like this, others feel as if it "deadens" the feel of the racquet.

Last year Dunlop unveiled a new frame construction technology that has put their name back on the map as a major player in the racquet industry.

  • Aerogel: Aerogel is "the worlds lightest solid" and an increase in power and stiffness are the result of adding it to a frame. In my opinion these Aerogel racquets do play stiffer than their M-Fil and Hot Melt counterparts. I have not found them to be noticeably more powerful however.

Head has two major technologies currently on the market, one for power and one for touch and feel.

  • MicroGel: This silicone based technology equally distributes itself at contact to give the frame a more solid feel, and superior touch. Like Dunlop's Aerogel, MicroGel does seem to give a more solid feel to the frame, but I have not found an increase in touch in my game by using them. I will say that for me, this is the best performing technology that Head has introduced since the Titanium boom of the late 90's.
  • Crossbow: This is so new it isn't even on the market yet! Crossbow replaces Metallix as Head's power technology starting in late June. Crossbow racquets load power at ball impact by a flexing of the top of the throat. When the ball strikes the string bed the top of the throat flexes up and loads the power before launching the ball off of the strings. My initial impression of Crossbow technology is that it does add power, but not an uncontrollable amount.

Prince arguably has the most talked about technology in years. I get more questions about this technology than any other manufacturer technology on the market. Part of it could be the marketing onslaught that Prince has waged through endless commercials on Tennis Channel, or it could be the odd looking holes on the sides of their racquets.

  • O3: On O3 racquets traditional grommets are replaced with round or rectangular O Ports. These O Ports allow the racquet to cut through the air faster and thus increase racquet head acceleration. The O Ports also allow the strings to move more freely, which in turn increases the size of the sweetspot. There are several different levels of O3 technologies. Some frames have O Ports at the 12, 6, 3 and 9 o'clock of the frames, while some only have them at 12 and 6 o'clock. Some of the frames come with stringhole inserts for a more traditional feel without sacrificing the aerodynamic properties of the O Ports. I will say this about O3 racquets. They play much better than Prince's racquets in the last several years. I have not found that I can swing faster with these frames (nor do I have the equipment to measure), but they do feel better. This technology is definitely worth a try.

In 2007 Wilson gave their entire line a technology upgrade with the introduction of this technology. Anytime that the number one player in the world is swinging your racquet there will be some buzz about it. Tell the people that he helped develop it, and the buzz will become a roar.

  • [K] Factor: [K] Factor is actually made up of 4 seperate technologies, but they are all based on the next generation of nanotechnology. Not all [K] factor racquets have all four technologies.
  1. [K]arophite Black- a material technology that increases frame stiffness for a stronger, more powerful frame.
  2. [K]ompact Center- the throat of the frame is made smaller for more stability and greater maneuverability.
  3. [K]onnector- 2 external wings at 3 and 9 o'clock that flex at contact to widen the sweetspot.
  4. [K]ontour Yoke- the yoke of the racquet contours in to enhance stiffness at key points on the frame, thus making the frame more stable.
Each manufacturer is trying to get a bigger piece of the racquet sales pie, and by introducing these new technologies they create a buzz in the industry. Do these technologies make you a better player? No, practice and hard work does. But by choosing the right racquet you can make your life on court a lot better. All of the racquet makers make racquets for all types of players, you have to try them to see which ones you like best. Some racquet innovations have changed how the game is played, others have made less than impressive impressions. It is up to you to decide which ones work best for you and your game!