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4 posts categorized "March 2010"

Friday Mailbag: Speedy Stringers, The Long Lost Kneissl and More 03/26/2010 - 12:06 PM gear editor Bill Gray and his technical advisors will answer your equipment questions every Friday. Click here to send one of your own.

Britton 3 Before we get to your questions, here’s a big pro-shop salute to a racquet stringer with magic fingers, and an ATP rookie who's landed an endorsement deal worth clucking about.

Let’s start with a member of our family, play-tester Vasily Guryanov (see photo below). With the dexterity of a piano virtuoso, Vasily is a stringer by trade who works at Chicago’s Midtown Tennis Club. He’s parlayed his victory at a national speed-stringing contest into a trip to this week’s Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, where he will try out for a spot with the elite team that services the pros at the U.S. Open. His winning time to string a racquet: just under 14 minutes, about half the average it takes to string up a frame. Hang 'em high in Miami, Vasily, and we hope to see you in Flushing come this August.

And kudos to Devin Britton of Mississippi (at right). The 19-year-old former NCAA champ, currently ranked No. 1,278 in the world, is one of the new faces of KFC’s national advertising campaign for a new line of chicken filets. The filets are packaged in individual sleeves to help on-the-go eaters to “get a grip"--which apparently means keeping them from greasing up the steering wheel.

All Devin has to do is smile for the camera while clutching his Tecnifibre T-fight 320 VO2 Max racquet, which will have KFC’s “get a grip” slogan emblazoned on the handle (see photo at right). Tennis pros rarely score endorsement contracts beyond the endemic racquet and shoe deals. Devin will be featured on KFC’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and his image will be email-blasted to 3 million KFC loyalists. Why Devin? “We like him because he is young, a proven winner and a guy who makes his living by ‘getting a grip’ on his game,” clucks KFC’s Rick Maynard. “We’re thrilled to work with him.”

And for another piece of good news on the endorsement front, read on:

Hey Bill. Looks like you blew it. After you reported that Nikolay Davydenko won’t give up his old “magic racquet” that Prince wasn’t paying him to use, I see he just signed an endorsement deal with Dunlop. But since he’s so attached to the Prince, will they just paint over it?

Indeed, it appears that after all the years of vowing that he’d rather fight than switch, Nikolay has succumbed to the lure of play-for-pay. But a mere paint job won’t work in this case, Brian: the telltale sign would be the distinctive and highly visible O-Port holes around the hoop of his Prince Ozone (a great technology that’s largely responsible for the “magic”). Dunlop admits it has its work cut out for it if it wants to provide Nikolay the touch and feel he’s grown accustomed to. The manufacturer has him playtesting a few of its 2011 prototypes, and hopes to have him in one by the French or Wimbledon, his current wrist injury willing. But moments after Dunlop announced the happy news on its website, Prince fired off a statement saying it had Davydenko “under formal contract” for an “exclusive racquet and racquet bag deal in 2010.” Could a fight be brewing over the little Russian who nobody wanted to shell out the bucks to?
I am a 63-year-old 3.0 player who just recently move to 3.5. I have been playing with a Sledge Hammer 3.8 forever. I keep asking my pro for advice on finding a modern racquet I can transition to. Not getting any help. Can you advise? I have over the past few years developed a forehand slice and have a natural backhand slice, have a good bit of power on volleys and overheads and hit a lot of junk balls and lobs.

If you want to stay in Wilson line, try the new BLX Khamsin Five – it has a similar weight and head-heavy balance that you liked in the old Sledge, along with an open string pattern for generating spin, says racquet advisor Bruce Levine. He also suggests playtesting Babolat’s “Y” series that comes in a variety of different head sizes. He adds that going from the triangular of the shape of the Sledge to the teardrop shape of the Khamsin and Y should be an easy transition for you.

Vasiliy Guryanov Photo I keep reading about the wonders of polyester strings for more spin, but they go dead pretty quickly and need more frequent stringing than I would like to pay for. I’m looking for a string that can keep its feel and really grip the ball to generate the kind of spin I’ve built my game around. Are there other spin-friendly strings that might be a little easier on the wallet?

String advisor Bob Patterson says you can’t beat poly for producing spin, but you can come close with a thin 18-gauge synthetic. Gamma and Prince each has a string with the durability of a lot of thicker 17-gaugers. Synthetics are not only easier on the wallet, but also a whole lot easier on your hitting arm. 

I'm a player in my late 30s who is trying to get back into the game after a multi-year hiatus. As a kid in the 1980s, I was a HUGE fan of the Kneissl White Star Master's frame that Ivan Lendl used for a while. What happened to the Kneissl? They are NOWHERE to be found! Any word on their resurgence, and can you make any modern frame recommendations that would steer in the same direction of heavier, stiffer, and smaller racquet face? Or am I just swimming upstream here?

Bad news, Gregory. Kneissl, like its most famous user, Thomas Muster, has retired from the game. But Levine says perk up and try the Head YOUTEK Prestige Mid, the Dunlop 200 Aerogel 4D Tour or the Volkl Powerbridge 10. All have similar weights, balances and stiffness to the defunct White Star.

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Friday Mailbag: Weighting Your Racquet and More 03/19/2010 - 2:59 PM gear editor Bill Gray and his technical advisors will answer your equipment questions every Friday. Click here to send one of your own.

2010_03_19_frame1 I’ve customized my Babolat AeroPro Team GT exactly to my liking by applying a little lead tape to the sides of the hoop at 3 and 9 o’clock (which, of course, changed its weight, from 10.5 ounces to 10.8) and the balance point (from 4/5-inch head light to even). Now I want to do the same for my backup AeroPro Team. How do I get it to the same exact specs as the first?

First, tape up the back-up racquet just the way you did the first. Then you’ll need three things—a yardstick, a scale that’s accurate to within 1/10 of an ounce (your office postal scale will do nicely), and a balance board. You can buy the latter from Alfa Tennis for about $30, or you can put together a makeshift balance board.

Here’s what to do once you have the tools in place: Take a dowel and place it on a flat even surface. Then lay the racquet length-wise over the dowel and twist the dowel up and down until both ends of the racquet are equally suspended. Mark the spot on the racquet, then lay it on a yardstick and measure the distance from the buttcap to the top of the frame to determine its balance point. If it’s 13 1/2 inches (the midway point on the standard-length 27-inch AeroPro Team), you’ve got it. If it’s head heavy, start removing tape until it’s even. Then playtest your backup racquet and see if it has exactly the same feel as the other one. 

Hi Bill, I have a pair of sawed-off racquets like the ones you wrote about recently on A racquetball player for 30 years before I began tennis, I had difficulty adjusting to the longer length of a tennis racquet and hit a lot of balls down on the throat. To adjust, I started choking up on the grip and when this improved my game immediately I started cutting 1 1/2 inches off the grip and added lead tape. Now I use a standard 27-inch racquet when I serve for “pop” and switch to the Stubby when I’m receiving.
—Rich Freda

I also found the Stubby to have some benefits, Rich. I asked stubby-meister Larry Haugness, the director of tennis at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield, Mo., to whack an inch-and-half off the handle of a Prince White 100 and load it up with plenty of lead tape in the handle and at the sides to restore its original weight so it wouldn’t collapse on ball contact like a kite in a wind storm. Not only did the shorter length improve my accuracy (especially on overheads), but also it helped me create wicked racquetball-like spin by flicking my wrist. The trade-off was definitely the loss of power on my flat first serve which seemed to have the speed of my usual second serve which, of course, resulted in my opponents jumping all over it and hitting lots of return winners. Your solution to the serve problem—switching the Stubby when you’re receiving—would completely throw off my game. But hey, it apparently works for you.

I started playing again this past summer after an eight-year year layoff, and I’m currently using my old pair of 1998 Head Radical Tour Twin Tube MPs. Given their age, do you think an upgrade would help with control and spin without power loss, or should I stick with what I have for now and focus on technique (which I freely admit needs improvement)?

The old Radical, or “Zebra” (for striped cosmetics), is a classic for its combo of control and power…when it’s in the right hands. The oversized version certainly worked for Andre Agassi back in the day. But Andre may have won another French if he had had the modern incarnation—the YouTek Radical. The strings move more freely on impact, expanding the sweet spot to make it bigger and badder. Then there’s a “smart” technology called “d30,” which stiffens up when you need to hit with power and softens a little when you need some touch, like on put-away volleys. It’s also a little lighter than the Zebra, which will improve maneuverability at the net and from the baseline. It comes in both oversized and mid-plus versions. Give it a playtest and let us know what you think.   

I read in TENNIS about how grips sizes are getting smaller and wondered if I should go down from the 4 5/8 I’ve been played with for years. I’m leery because I’m 74 and I’m afraid it will create tennis elbow problems for me.
—David Stanisz

The main reason grip sizes are tumbling (the average men’s is now 4 3/8, down from 4½, and 4¼, from 4 3/8 for women) is mostly due to the advent of the modern western forehand open-stance game that requires a lot of wrist-snap in order to brush up on the ball to create topspin. Because you’re a court veteran, we assume you learned the game back in the closed-stance, locked-wrist era and still play that way. For you, a bigger grip might make more sense, but racquet advisor Bruce Levine thinks you should probably stay at the 4 5/8 size. If your hand has weakened a little as you’ve gotten older, a 4½ might feel more comfortable. But don’t go any lower—the smaller the grip size the more pressure you put on it and yes, that can lead to arm problems.

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Friday Mailbag 03/12/2010 - 5:07 PM gear editor Bill Gray and his technical advisors will answer your equipment questions every Friday. Click here to send one of your own.

88758871 I want to string my own racquets. Is there a decent machine I can buy for under $200?
—Nathan Dokko

The kind of stringing machines pro shops use have all sorts of electronic assists and computerized read-outs to measure string tensions as you go. They can easily run more than $1,000. The top-of-the-line machine is the Wilson Baiardo, which is used to string hundreds of frames daily at the U.S. Open, and costs around $6,000. But you’re in luck, Nathan. We found one basic manual machine, the Gamma X-2, at and Holabird Sports. It will do the trick for $159. (Holabird even told us it waves the shipping costs on the X-2 if you live in the U.S.)

The X-2 has a one-way clutch and floating string clamps, and if you don’t have a clue what means, rest assured that Gamma technicians can walk you through the process on the phone (800-333-0337, between 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. EDT). “We can almost always talk customers, even beginners, through it and get them up and running between five minutes and a half hour,” says Ron Carr, Gamma vice president, research and development. “The machine is easier to assemble than a bicycle, but a little more difficult to operate than learning how to ride a bike.” We suggest you also pick up a small gauge to monitor string tension. For $35, Unique Sports Products sells one which attaches to the stringbed.

Hi Bill, my husband and I want to start our five-year-old twins (boys) in tennis and we’re thinking about taking up the game ourselves. What racquet(s) do you recommend for the family without breaking the bank? To be honest, they could end up in the garage if it’s too hard for us to get the hang of the game.
—Kirstin in Dallas

We hope tennis passes the audition for your family, Kirstin, because it’s the only sport we know of where a family of four can play together for a lifetime and work up a sweat.  We want your first experience to be a good one, so we recommend mom and dad try frames that have generous head sizes (to keep the ball from bouncing off the frame) and light weights (so you can swing them easily). Here are four for under $130 that Bruce Levine, racquet advisor, suggests you try: Babolat’s XS, Head’s YOUTEK Mojo, Prince’s EX03 Hybrid and Wilson’s K-Factor Zen.

You’ll want to get the twins racquets with short lengths of 19-21 inches and flyswatter-like weights—specifically made for kids under 8. All manufacturers sell them for under $20. You should also check out the USTA’s QuickStart Tennis program, the tennis equivalent of T-ball, in which the twins play on special mini-courts (the lengths are equal to the width of a regulation court, and the nets are three inches lower). QuickStart courts and leagues are popping up all over the country as the major part of the USTA’s push to expand participation. In fact, Kiest Park, right there in Dallas, will debut 16 permanent QuickStart courts next week. For more info on U.S. QuickStart facilities, click here.

I play at a 3.5 (NTRP) level with a Babolat Pure Drive GT that I love, but I’d like to add more spin and power to my game. I currently use Babolat Duralast strings.
—Selvam Mascarenhas

Duralast is a good stiff, thick and durable string, but it won’t help you generate extra power and spin, says Bob Patterson, who runs, an online racquet customizer in Birmingham, Alabama. Bob says that for power, you want a string with more elasticity and resiliency, like gut or a multifilament, because these will return more energy to the ball as the stringbed deforms and snaps back on impact. For spin, he recommends a thin gauge string that will enlarge the spaces between the strings, creating more “bite” on the ball as you brush up on it to get topspin. “The best bet for Selvam may be a hybrid—a really thin poly-based synthetic like Luxilon TIMO 1.10 in the mains, and natural gut or a good multifilament in the crosses,” Bob says. “That combination should enhance spin and give the racquet a bit more pop.”

I was put in charge of running a tennis night as part of a doubles mixer, but I have no idea what type of playing format to set up.  Do you have any templates or sheets that would help me?
—Sonia Cantu

Organizing and running a mixer can be a worse job than working for Pick-up Doggie Poop, Inc. That’s because you’re bringing together players of all different skill levels, and if you just randomly assign them courts you’ll get grief from all sides. The better players will gripe if they get stuck with beginners round after round, and the beginners will be in your face when they get bagled in the first and consolation rounds and are relegated to being spectators for the rest of the night. But there’s a nifty way to avoid all that: run a “compass” tournament where all the players (1) eventually seeks their own levels, (2) are guaranteed to play all four rounds and (3) will end up in one of the eight finals, even if they lose the first three rounds. The compass drawsheet has eight corners, and all teams gravitate to one where they’ll find parity. You’ll need eight courts and 16 couples. Limit each round to one set so that you’ll be able to get through the tournament in about 3 hours. We found Tom Polk, a compass tournament expert in Hunterville, N.C., who has agreed to fill in readers on the detail—you can reach Tom at But here are the basics:

First round: All 16 teams are listed in the center of the sheet and pair off to start the event. At the end of the round, the eight winners go due “East” on the drawsheet, while the eight losers head “West,” and the second round is played.

After the second round: The four losers on the East side of the draw go to the North section of the compass, while the four winners continue East. Meanwhile, the four losers on the West side go South, while the winners continue West.

After the third Round:
East: The two losers go Northeast corner, the two winners continue East.
West: The two losers go to the Southwest corner, the two winners continue West.
North: Two losers go to the Northwest corner, two winners continue north.
South: Two losers advance to the southeast corner, winners continue south

Fourth Round (the finals):
Finalists play in their respective corners – Northeast, East, Southwest, West, Northwest, North, Southeast and South.

Everybody goes home happy at the end of the mixer. The only downside: they’ll ask you to organize the next one.

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Gear Guy’s Q&A: Rheumy Thumbs, Narrow Feet and Tired Arms 03/05/2010 - 10:43 AM gear editor Bill Gray and his technical advisors will answer your equipment questions every Friday. Click here to send one of your own.

95837565 Before we get this week’s questions, a comment on Maria Sharapova’s threads. A few readers took me to task for saying in a previous blog that whatever Sharapova endorses sells like hotcakes. They argued that they’ve yet to see any woman step on a tennis court wearing Maria’s little aqua number from the Australian Open. Okay, I admit that that one’s not going to race up the sales charts because of its “Little Mermaid” look and restricted body-type appeal. But retailers tell me the dress has become a great loss leader and traffic builder. Recreational players are flocking to the stores to try it on, and then buying something more practical and functional, usually a Nike skirt and tank. Julie Patterson, who own the “Love Forty” tennis boutique in Englewood, New Jersey, says she hasn’t sold either of the two Maria “Oz” dresses she’s had in stock since January, but they’re casting a huge halo over the entire Big Swoosh apparel line she has, which is why her sales are running 10-1 Nike over the other brands she stocks.

Now on to your questions:
I’m a senior in high school playing with 16-gauge Luxilon Big Banger Rough strung at 58-60 pounds of tension in my Babolat Pure Drive Roddick. Do you have any tips on strings that will help me increase control and increase spin? I have a windshield wiper forehand, but I’m having trouble getting enough loop in my shots to keep the ball inside the baseline.
—Tommie Wong

You’re in the right neighborhood, Tommie, but you may want to some alterations on the strings in your home racquet. Polyester-based strings like the Lux Big Banger take spin production to the max, which is why most tour players use it, so you’re not likely to get anything comparable to big-ball rotation by switching to a gut or a synthetic. Stay with the poly, but you can probably coax more spin out of your shots by opting for a thinner string—a 17 or 18 gauge—and raising your string tension to 66 pounds (the top of Babolat’s recommended range on the Pure Drive). That combination will likely lessen string life (there are always trade-offs), but should increase topspin, causing the ball to “dip” sooner, and make it more likely to stay in the court, says Dave Bone, executive director of the United States Racquet Stringers Association. Because you’re a Luxilon user, you might try the 17-gauge Big Banger Timo, or even Pacific’s Poly Power 18 (gauge). “It’s the thinnest poly we’ve tested and we test darn near everything,” he says. But be aware that any poly-based string strung will have a harsh feel, but you didn’t mention that you had any arm issues. If you do, see Javier’s question that follows.

I’m 35 and I used to play juniors so I have some pretty good strokes with plenty of spin, but I need more control. I use a soft polyester strung at 54 pounds of tension, but I’ve noticed my arm’s being getting tired lately after competitive matches. Any suggestions on how to get more control without getting an arm injury?

Gut is easiest on the arm, but switching from the polyester string will probably result in the ball flying out of the court, requiring a big adjustment in your game. A best-of-both-worlds option that a lot of pros use is a hybrid combination of poly strings in the mains and gut in the crosses. “Adding the gut in the crosses will give Javier a bit more comfort and a little more pop, so he shouldn’t have to work quite as hard to keep the ball deep and should lessen his arm fatigue,” says Bob Patterson, who strings at major top pro tournaments and runs, an online custom racquet shop in Birmingham, Alabama. You could also try the reverse—gut in the mains and poly in the crosses, which should boost power and comfort, but might make the stringbed too lively, especially on touch shots at net.

Any shoe suggestions for those of us with narrow feet? I usually have to wear extra socks so that my shoes fit snugly. And I wear a size 13 (14 in some brands), which adds further difficulty to the shoe search.
—Ted Julian

Tennis shoe brands literally go to great lengths in sizing from heel-to-toe but don’t give us a lot of options for the widths of our feet. Your best bet might be the New Balance MC804 tennis-specific performance sneaker that comes in a narrow “B” width option (and it comes in your size). You might also try on the Adidas CC Genius Novak. It doesn’t have width options, but we found it runs a little narrow when we reviewed it last fall.   

I used to play with a Wilson Pro 85, but then my thumb went rheumatic, weakening my grip and forcing me into an ultra-light racquet. I switched to my wife's old Head i.S6 oversize that had the light weight (8.3 ounces) I need. Unfortunately, they don’t make it anymore. Is there anything out there close to it?
—Kurt Rosenfeld

Your thumb must really be hurting, Kurt, to make that kind of dramatic change—the i.S6 is a good four ounces lighter than the Wilson 85. The i.S6 belongs to a 90s generation of ultra-light racquets that were the rage back then but are long-gone from Head’s current catalog. But because your thumb problems require a sub-9-ounce racquet like the i.S6, we did a search of the online retailers for you. We couldn’t find the i.S6, but did find its  earlier version, the Head Ti.S6 at, and All three are excellent places to search for discontinued models that you won’t find at stores. The Ti.S6 should feel familiar to you because its specs mirror the i.S6 in pickup weight, head size, swing weight, balance, beam width and length. We suggest you contact a few web retailers to find out their demo policies on the Ti.S6 and give it a try.

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<<  February 2010       April 2010  >>

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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