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Question of the Day: Leather Grips 08/20/2012 - 11:53 AM gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.


Hi Justin, I have a question about leather grips, particularly how they compare with synthetic grips when used as a base grip. I currently use a Wilson Pro Overgrip over the factory rubber grip that came with my Wilson KBlade 98. But I’ve heard that a number of pros use leather under their overgrip. What would I stand to gain (and/or lose) with leather? ThanksAllan S.


You’re right, Allan, that many professionals, including Roger Federer, prefer wrapping an overgrip over leather. The advantage of the material is, by and large, its increased feedback. When compared to synthetic fibers, leather yields a firmer, more traditional sensation, allowing players to better feel the bevels (i.e., edges) of the handle—a boon for quick, accurate grip changes. Furthermore, leather permits more frame and handle vibrations to travel through the palette into the hand, which for some players translates into greater “feel.” (Read: awareness of what has transpired upon impact).

What would you stand to lose? Comfort, mainly. Leather is not the most forgiving material, and those accustomed to playing with softer, more shock-absorbing grips may find their hands tire more quickly. (And obviously, for players who do not use an overgrip, leather isn't nearly as tacky as modern synthetics.)

One final note: Switching over to leather, expect your racquets to increase in weight about 10 grams, depending on the brand of grip and how it’s wrapped. Given the location of the weight change, you may also find that your racquet swings a bit more head-light through the air.


UPDATE: The 2012 US Open starts next week, and I'll be on the grounds covering the event. Curious about what a certain player strings with? Have questions about US Open swag? Send in those queries, and I'll do my best to track you down an answer. Again, thanks for reading.—JD

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Question of the Day: Blistering Hands 08/16/2012 - 4:20 PM gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.


Hey Justin, I am a 5.0 player using a Babolat AeroPro Drive with RPM Blast and XCel strings. My game is built on a driving topspin, which tends to lead to blisters. I am currently using a Wilson Pro Overgrip. What are some solutions? Should I elect to go with a tackier grip or a softer, more cushioned grip? Thanks for your opinion.Roger Najalkovic


Tennis blisters are tricky, Roger, as their cause—namely, friction caused by the grip rubbing against the hand—is endemic to hitting each shot. Nevertheless, there are several equipment tweaks you can make to reduce your chances of blistering.

For starters, create an emphasis on keeping your grip dry at all times. A clammy handle is more likely to twist and turn upon impact—a surefire way to aggravate your hands. To this end, prevent sweat from running down your arm by toweling off in between points and/or wearing wristbands. You may also want to look into Zeasorb, a powder that, according to the company, absorbs moisture and thus reduces friction and heat.

If you try keeping dry, but the problem persists: Consider increasing your grip size—whether by layering multiple grips or buying new sticks. Smaller grips, as expected, tend to move against the hand more than larger grips, a circumstance that, again, can increase the likelihood of blisters.

When it comes to grip types, particularly tacky vs. synthetic grips, I’ve heard it both ways. Some say that tackier grips, such as your Wilson Pro Overgrip, are good tennis medicine for blisters, because they reduce slippage and thus friction. Other, however, report that these overgrips’ added abrasiveness can actually aggravate blisters further. (However, all agree that the blister prone avoid leather grips.) Judging only by my own personal experience, I would place myself in the former camp, and recommend that, whichever grip you choose, you change them out very regularly.

(Aside: If blisters are forming on your palm, try wrapping the grip such that it overlaps the butt cap’s hard edges. Best not have those digging into your hand.) 

Finally, if you’re currently suffering from a blister, but must play regardless, consider liquid bandage products such as Newskin, or classic remedies such as moleskin and/or athletic tape, all of which provide relief by creating barriers between the irritation and its source.

Again, if the problem persists, I recommend that you consult with a qualified dermatologist. They should be able to prescribe a treatment specific to your pathology.

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Question of the Day: Two Sticks for Net Rushers 08/15/2012 - 6:57 PM

Bryan gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.


Hello Justin! I have a question regarding grip change and racquet choice. I'm a 4.5 player who recently changed from a semi-Western/Western grip to an Eastern grip, primarily because I’m changing my game from baseline grinding to aggressive net rushing. In short, I feel like I need a bit more pace and drive on my shots. In the past, I used the Babolat AeroPro Drive GT, which was a good stick to grind with due to its spin potential. But I recently discovered that, with my Eastern grip, my control and precision was lacking at times with the Babolat. Since then, I’ve tried out my old Head Prestige MP Microgel, which feels much better in terms of control, probably because of its denser string pattern and slightly smaller head size. I've also tried out the Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 90 BLX. And while the 90 is harder to use, I feel like it helps me connect with the ball better than the Babolat.

How much of an impact will my racquet actually have on my game, now that I’ve transitioning from a spin-producing machine into a flatter-hitting, net-approaching player? Is my mind playing tricks on me? I’d appreciate a few racquet recommendations. Thanks for your time, and look forward to reading your take on this!Shenker


Your mind is definitely not playing tricks on you, Shenker. As I wrote a few months ago, certain racquet specifications—notably head size, weight, balance, and beam width—befit certain playing styles.

For example, baseliners tend to prefer thicker-beamed sticks with modest balances (~<5 pts. HL), attributes that increase the racquet’s power from the back of the court, especially for players with Western grips. (Note: Players with Western grips tend to make contact closer to the racquet’s tip; the more the weight is distributed toward the hoop, recall, the higher up in the string bed the sweet spot will be.)

On the other hand, net rushers mostly wield sticks with thin beams and very head-light balances (~>8 pts HL). While these racquets may not be as powerful as others tailored to baseliners, they are more maneuverable and provide better feedback—invaluable qualities for a game predicated on quick reactions and deft placement. Also, such racquets’ sweet spots are  usually located near the center of the string bed, where players with more conservative grips are apt to connect with the ball.

So Shenker, in keeping with the above guidelines, and at your skill level, if you’re looking for something that can drive flat shots from the baseline and stick dipping passing shots at net, consider sticks that are hefty (11.5 oz.+), head light (~>7 pts. HL), and constructed with thin beams (~<23mm).

Within these specs, two models come immediately to mind: (1) the Prince Exo3 Rebel 95 and (2) the Head YouTek IG Prestige MP. Both sticks have head sizes that offer some margin without crippling maneuverability. And they also feature dense string patterns and relatively flexible profiles, which should give you the control and feedback you feel you’re lacking. (Note, though, that the Prince definitely plays an order of magnitude more flexible than the Head.) Finally, while they're capable at net, they won't leave you adrift at the baseline.

Any net-rushing readers out there who’d care to share their favorite stick? Thanks to readers who comment. I always read and appreciate the feedback.

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Tennis Radar: App., Zap, and Co. 08/14/2012 - 10:38 AM

In this Tennis Radar, we take a look at some new tech entries into the tennis market: weather and tactics phone apps., as well as one insecticidal racquet.

Tennis WildCards
MSRP: $6

Facts: Tennis WildCards, an application for iPhone, is literally a coach in your back pocket. Just plug in you and your opponent’s playing styles, and the app. will spit out a series of tactics that aim to bring out your strengths and exploit their weaknesses. According to the company, the tactics algorithm is rather sophisticated, encompassing a wide variety of NTRP levels (2.5 to 5.5) and playing styles—namely, aggressive and defensive baseliners, net rushers, all-courters, and junk ballers.

Thoughts: When it comes to strategy in recreational tennis, take heed: There are really only a handful of ways, if that, to go about winning a point. How fortunate we would all be, if all it took were a few dollars and an app. to learn sport’s time-tested dictum: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Zap Racket
MSRP: $25

Facts: The Zap Racket is a rechargeable, electrified wand designed to zap dead all manner of pesky insects. The stick features a built-in light that aids in tracking (and attracting) bugs, as well as three layers of wire “string,” which provide a surface appropriate for safe zapping. And according to the company, the Zap Racket isn’t just a novelty; it's an environmentally-friendly alternative to harmful and costly insecticides.

Thoughts: While the Zap Racket probably won’t do much to clear away those hellish clouds of summer gnats, it should do a number on that spider just out of reach. And who knows? It might be therapeutic—an outlet for that dark sadist within. (Look for an upcoming review of the Zap Racket shortly.)


Tennis Weather ProoTennis Weather Pro
MSRP: $2
Website: Apple Store

Facts: Tennis Weather Pro, a new application for iPhone, can not only navigate you to the nearest court; it provides court-specific weather forecasts. In particular, the company claims that T.W.P. is able locate all tennis facilities in the United States, with capabilities spanning hourly forecasts to up-to-date wind direction.

Thoughts: Finally, an app. that marks where the courts are relative to that big, ominous, green (radar) blob. How those blobs can ruin a day of ball. Will this spell the end of the on-court rain dance?

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Question of the Day: Performance-Enhancing Grip Sizes 08/13/2012 - 4:03 PM

Grip gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.


Hey Justin, I am a 4.5 player using a Babolat AeroPro Drive with RPM Blast and XCel Power strings. Currently, I’m using a 4 and 1/8 grip size, which I build up slightly with an overgrip. What grip size would you recommend to gain more power, but still maintain consistency and control? ThanksJack Hugh


As I wrote a few months back, Jack, how a certain grip size affects performance really comes down to your own on-court idiosyncrasies—i.e., the way you play the game. Given that I don’t know much about the game you play, it’s tough for me to sign off on your grip size. But consider some the following possibilities.

For starters, smaller grips—like your AeroPro’s extra-thin 4 and 1/8—afford greater pace and spin on serves, because of the extra wrist flexion and accelerated pronation they allow. At the same time, it’s generally accepted that such smaller handles are a liability at net because of their reduced stability; on hard-hit and especially off-center hits, a small-handled racquet can twist in the hand, compromising control.

On groundstrokes, however, the cost-benefit analysis is situation-specific. If you play a modern, Western game, with lots of topspin and racquet-head speed, your grip’s size should probably fall somewhere between a 4 and 1/8 to a 4 and 3/8. The smaller the grip, the freer your wrist will be to whip the racquet through the hitting zone, generating more pace and spin.

If, on the contrary, you play a more traditional game with conservative groundies—i.e., Continental or Eastern—a grip size in the order of 4 and 3/8 or thicker may be best, due to those strokes’ reliance on solid impacts and linear momentum.

So the challenge, Jack, is to weigh your games’ strengths and weaknesses against the possible (dis)advantages that certain grip sizes confer. Of course, comfort should also be a consideration. If you have uniquely-sized hands, you may want to bracket the above until you’ve first found a handle that fits. And if you’re predisposed to wrist or arm injury, consider playing with larger grips. The smaller the handle, the more stress your tendons are likely to endure.

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Question of the Day: Power Pads 08/10/2012 - 10:25 PM

Power gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.


Hello, Justin. I play with a Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 90, and the question I have for you is about power pads (or leather pads). What are they used for? And how do they work?—Giorgos


Power pads, Giorgos, are small pieces of leather that separate the string from the outer halves of the grommet strip. Typically, power pads are installed on the center main strings, in the throat of the racquet. While their usage is scarce these days, a number of high-profile pros, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer included, have strung up their sticks with the leather strips. (Here's a photo of Federer’s p. pads in action. Notice the small brown squares at the six o’clock position.)

So what’s the point? Well originally, power pads were employed to protect natural gut strings against premature sheering and breakage. In the yore days of wood, remember, racquets didn’t have open throats but rather solid, wooden ones. This design presented a problem for the center mains, because it forced the strings to enter the woodies’ sharp, splinter-prone grommets at extremely acute angles—a hazard for gut's fragile construction. Hence the power pad, which pulled the string away from the frame just enough so that it could thread the grommet at a straighter, safer slant.

Gut preservation is still a function of power pads, albeit a secondary one, what with all the advancements in racquet and grommet construction. (Racquets now have open throats, and plastic doesn’t sheer strings quite so readily.) Today, it seems, players use pads primarily to alter the feel of the stringbed. As expected, lodging a piece of leather against a string will reduce its vibration upon impact, which many players say dampen the stringbed's feel. Some even claim that power pads, by elongating the main strings, lengthen the sweet spot—although, given how slight the change is, this claim seems rather dubious.

Power pads can be purchased from several online retailers. Or you can even make your own by slicing up leather grips or strips. To install them, simply place the pads between the relevant grommet holes (in the throat), wrap the string around the pad, and pull the tensioner. Work carefully: If the leather is misaligned or not the right size, it could slip out.

Good luck. And to all out there who have given power pads a try, leave a note. Comments are always welcome.

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Question of the Day: Oversized Sticks for Sore Elbows 08/09/2012 - 4:55 PM

Roddick Elbow gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.


Can you recommend a few racquets for me? I’ve been using the Wilson Triad 3.0 Oversize (115 square inches) for several years. I’ve tried the Wilson K Three in the past, but the result was a sore arm and shoulder. I’m not fussy about the brand. I am a doubles player at a USTA 3.5 level. The goal here is to avoid tennis elbow! Thanks so much.Paula Huttner


As I wrote a few days ago, Paula, there are a number of measures you can take to reduce your risk of elbow injury. I regularly emphasize the following six.

1) Switch to a softer string, preferably natural gut.
2) Lower your tension 10 to 15 percent—even lower if your ball control permits.
3) Avoid using racquets that are very light (~<10 oz. strung) and/or very head-heavy (~>5 pts. HH strung).
4) Avoid racquets with RA (stiffness) values in the high 60s and 70s.
5) Build up your grip with a cushioned material.
6) Take regular lessons with a teaching professional to iron out injury-inducing kinks in your form.

Not knowing any details about your current stringbed, I can’t comment on where you stand in relation to the first two guidelines. However, it is clear that, when viewed purely in terms of its elbow safety, your Wilson Triad Hammer 3.0 has several shortcomings. According to the USRSA (United States Racquet Stringing Association), the Triad weighs in at 9.5 ounces (unstrung), with a balance of 7 pts. HH and an RA of 70. While the racquet’s weight is passable, for players with sensitive elbows its balance is much too head heavy, and its construction is overly rigid. (Spec-wise, the K Three Oversize exhibits similar shortcomings.)

The challenge with finding a replacement, Paula, is simply this: The Triad derives its easy power and forgiveness from the same characteristics that can aggravate elbows—again, a light, head-heavy weight and a stiff build. Gentler replacements, then, may not give your strokes the same amount of sting.

With this in mind, I’ve tried to pick sticks for you that strike a balance between power, off-center (i.e., mis-hit) forgiveness, and elbow health. Here are three.


1) Völkl Organix V1 Oversize
The V1 Oversize—reviewed here—is, at 110 sq. in., slightly smaller than your Triad. But it’s still appropriately powerful for a 3.5 player like yourself. Plus, the V1 isn’t nearly as stiff, and it maintains a weight to balance ratio (10.5 ounces/3 pts. HL strung) that should be much easier on your arm. This would be my number one recommendation to you.

2) Yonex EZone Xi 107
The EZone 107—reviewed here—is also on the smaller end of game-improvement racquets. And it may be a bit stiff, which accounts for the stick’s generous power. But the EZone’s weight (10.5 oz.) and balance (1 pt. HL) are well within the proverbial "elbow safety range," and thus should be on your demo docket.

3) Dunlop Biomimetic 700
If you’re uncomfortable venturing far from the Triad’s feel, you might want to give the Biomimetic 700 a whirl. (It’s reviewed here.) It’s stiff and below 10 oz., which could cause a problem for a serious elbow injury. However, it’s less head heavy than what you’re accustomed to, which could help take some of the strain off the arm. If you did decide to go with the 700, it’d be imperative to string with natural gut.


And really, regardless of the racquet, switching to natural gut should be the number one priority for any tennis-elbow sufferer. There’s no question: Compared to other types of string, natural gut’s elasticity, comfort, and shock absorption cannot be matched. If you have any type of arm pain, talk to your stringer about different gut options. They'll be able to help you find the brand and gauge that's right for you.

Good luck.

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Question of the Day: Competitive Ambivalence 08/08/2012 - 8:56 PM

Djokovic Eyes gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.


I regularly read your posts, and enjoy them, especially your advice column. However, my question today isn’t of a technical nature but rather a personal one. When did you start playing tennis? It’d be great if you could provide a little more information about your own tennis self.Travis T.


I’ll give it a shot, Travis.

I started playing tennis at a very young age—so young, honestly, that I don’t remember first picking up a racquet. My father, a tennis pro at a resort in southwest Georgia, taught me growing up, and by the time I was about 14 I had begun playing in-state junior tournaments fairly regularly. Lukewarm would be how I’d generalize my junior tennis self: Competent but not spectacular; not a tantrum thrower but never really excited on-court, either; a fast player with slow footwork.

In short, I was—and remain—ambivalent about the value of competition. As a preteen, I’d spend my weekends playing these tournaments. And while waiting for my match, or watching another, I’d be able to feel this anxiety of the parents and kids around me. It was thinly veiled, but detectable in ways that I still don’t understand. Deep breaths because Jimmy’s college prospects are riding on this match, were its perceivable contours. At the time, it struck me as earnest but a bit unhealthy.

(And obviously, thinking about whether competitive tennis was really worth the psychic and social costs—and really provided the right circumstances and motivations to flourish—well, this wasn’t exactly the most fruitful mindset to entertain…during a competition.)

That’s not to say, however, that I didn’t work hard to be a good player, or that I didn’t desire to win. Of course, like any other serious junior, I dreamed of climbing the ladder all the way to the top. Just, when I was training, these momentary doubts would surface in my mind. Is beating Carl really the best motivation? I’d ask myself while, say, running sprints. Probably not, I felt. But then again, that desire to become better than so and so always seemed to motivate best.

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Next   >>

Question of the Day: Leather Grips
Question of the Day: Blistering Hands
Question of the Day: Two Sticks for Net Rushers
Tennis Radar: App., Zap, and Co.
Question of the Day: Performance-Enhancing Grip Sizes
Question of the Day: Power Pads
Question of the Day: Oversized Sticks for Sore Elbows
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