Exactly 10 years ago, I was starting my senior year in high-school. More than SATs and the usual college application stress, I had one thing on my mind: our tennis team winning the New York State Section II crown after years of looking like the second iteration Cleveland Browns.
I was pretty crazy about tennis then, and my interests in the sport ranged from strategy to equipment. I was especially fanatic about the latter: I spent hours reading the yearly racquet- issue in Tennis magazine. This special issue was about twice as thick as a normal issue and catalogued every new stick released in the last year and some of the more popular sticks from years past. Each description had a picture of the racquet, its specs (swing weight, balance, string pattern, stiffness, etc), and a description of what the magazine staff thought of the stick. I think I was drawn to this because it was kind of science-y. Indeed, several of the descriptions would feature comments from an MIT engineering professor.
I bought two racquets during my high school tennis career: the Head Pro Tour 280 and the Head Radical Tour. The former is perhaps the best racquet I have ever played with: it truly felt like an extension of my right arm. I felt like I could do anything with the ball, short of cooking it and putting it in a sandwich. Kick serves, sharply angled backhands, low volleys, and funky slices were all within my reach. Sadly, this wonderful blue stick was discontinued just two years after being introduced into the market and mine was destroyed within two years of its purchase over a trip to India, where my little cousins used it as a trampoline, thus deadening the string bed/frame nexus. The Head Radical Tour was bought as the closest replacement I could find for the 280.
I've gotten some good mileage out of my Radical, but its been frustrating. In the back of my mind I knew that I had already found the perfect racquet for me and, the Head corporation's marketing decisions notwithstanding, I hadn't done enough to cultivate a continuing relationship with that particular piece of equipment. After all, I could have bought two (or three) racquets instead of one. Or I could have been more vigilant in keeping it out of the hands of unwitting toddlers. Regrets, regrets: I could have tried so much harder!
A few weeks ago, after having played only sporadically in college, medical and grad school, I decided to get serious about tennis again. While playing with one of my mates, my trusty but ultimately unexciting Radical broke, the butt cap coming free from the handle. I took it to the pro shop to see if I could get it fixed but deep down I knew the thing was dead.
Given the inevitable, I was now racquet-less. I did the first thing I could think of: I went to eBay and some of the online tennis wholesalers to see if I could find a still unused Pro Tour 280. No luck. I lamented to the pro shop proprieter. He told me to get over it, dry my eyes, and move on. Racquet technology has really improved and perhaps I'll find a good fit in some of the new stuff?
One thing led to another, and I ended up joining his demo program. This is basically like a tennis racquet library: you borrow two racquets at a time and try them out. Based on what you tell the pro, he'll set you up with sticks that might work for your style of play (swing speed, court positioning, weaknesses, etc). I went home with the Babolat Aero Storm and Head Radical Tour Pro Microgel.
I was skeptical. My first impression was that racquet demo-ing was that this was like speed dating (which I have never tried - this is not the first time in this blog where I've discussed something I know nothing about): you get a few moments to make a decision on whether you want another go with the person or racquet. On the one hand, a few moments sounds like a crock: what if you happen to have an unusually great day when you hit with a racquet thats not quite right? On the other hand, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the power of first impressions in Blink, where even 30 seconds might be plenty of time to distill the situation and figure things out.
In any case, my skepticism probably came out of some need to make excuses for not wanting to try something new: I already found the right racquet years ago, and now its no longer possible to purchase that particular stick. Whats the point of working so hard to find something that I believe won't be as good? Why go through the disappointment? I even ignored the fact that I made my decision to buy the Pro Tour 280 with even less information: my choice was purely based on a quarter page blurb in Tennis that I read over and over.
Well, I'm happy to report that the Babolat Aero Storm has blown me away. Its 98 square inches and 11.7 ounces of ridiculously good control and spin. I can sit back and swing away, and still keep everything in the court. My volleys are crisp and the slices stay low. I absolutely love the stick. I am currently testing out the Technofibre Tfight 325 and some gimmicky Prince racquet that I can't stand. I kind of like the Technofibre, too, but I think the Babolat's the one.
So, over 10 years later, I finally found a racquet that really works (and is popular enough not to be discontinued). I'm really looking forward to the winter season, where I plan on playing team tennis. Who knows: maybe I'll get back to a solid 4.5-5.0 and enter tournaments again. Right now, though, its just nice to know that, after so many years, I found a stick that jives with me.