April 27, 2010

A New Tennis Racquet: Part 5 - How To Demo A Tennis Racquet

If you've been following along, I have been searching for a new tennis racquet - the perfect racquet that will take my so-so, mediocre game to the next level (and hopefully that next level is the Champ level!).

I picked up 3 racquets to demo: 
  • a Babolat Drive Z 118 with a huge head size (118 square inches), very light (9.9 oz. strung) and head heavy,
  • a Volkl Power Bridge 3 - big head size (110 square inches), a little heavier but still light (10.3 oz. strung) and head light, and
  • a Prince EXO3 Red 105 - more of a tweener or hybrid head size (105 square inches), again heavier but still light (10.5 oz. strung) and again head light.
Here's a little warning about demos:  sure, they're nice, new racquets.  But they won't necessarily be in your grip size or strung to your preferred tension.  My demo racquets were all a 4 3/8 grip size and I play with a 4 1/4.  Also, these were all supposedly strung to the midpoint of their tension range which is just a little looser than where I have been stringing my racquet.  And because they are demos, they may have been used by a lot of people and not restrung for awhile so there's really no telling what tension they're at - most likely they're looser than where they started and perhaps much looser than what you would play with.   

Keeping these things in mind, here's how I demo-ed these racquets.

First, I called the pro that I take lessons with and told him I wanted to demo some racquets with him and I wanted him to help me pick out a racquet. He already knew I was looking for something new since he was the one who figured out I had cracked my racquet (yes, I cracked my racquet and it took someone else to find that out for me).

Now, just to be clear, I had cracked one of my two Babolat racquets. The other one just needed to be restrung. And I did get it restrung.  So I still had that one that was playable but I was committed to finding a new racquet.

Next, we had a lesson and I brought out my old racquet (the un-cracked one) and the three demo racquets. The point of this lesson was not so much to work on my strokes but to really try these different racquets out and see how they felt.

I hit with my old racquet to start with just to really get it in my brain how that felt. We began with baseline shots. I hit with my old Babolat for about 5 minutes and then I then switched to the huge new Babolat. Yuck. I did not like that feeling. I know that you have to give these new racquets a chance when you're demo-ing them but I was sure I would have to make too many adjustments to my technique to get this racquet under control.  And this racquet was WAY different than my old Babolat, probably more different than I needed.  So I nixed that one right away.

I then switched to the Prince, which was just a few steps away in size, weight, etc. from my old Babolat. I felt extremely comfortable with this racquet and I could tell that several of my mis-hits were magically clearing the net. These were shots that I knew, right when I hit them, would not have gone over with my old Babolat.

I then hit some volleys with the Prince.  Again, it felt great.  My volleys were much more solid than what I had come to expect with my old Babolat.  I volleyed with the Prince for a few minutes and then switched back to my old Babolat.  Huge difference.  I really had to put more on the volleys to get them to be as forceful as they'd been with the Prince.  I also had to be more careful when I went for angles.

Throughout this whole process, I asked a lot of questions and my pro commented on how he thought I was hitting with each racquet.  He claimed I was hitting much better with the Prince than with any of the demos or with my old racquet. I'll admit - I gave the Volkl about a two minute demo.  Frankly, I was so happy with the Prince that I didn't feel more was necessary. And I don't know anyone who plays with a Volkl. That's not very objective of me but that's the sort of thing that influences me - I don't want to be the only person I know playing with a Volkl.

So, I guess it's no big revelation to say I loved playing with this Prince demo. I used it to play in a match the next day and, after hitting some crazy shots the first few games that went way deeper than what I was used to, I got the racquet under control and had a great match.

As far as the next step, I believe what a serious and reasonable player in search of the right racquet would do is go back to the pro shop, trade in the new Babolat and the Volkl and pick up two more racquets comparable to the Prince in size, weight, etc., and try those out for a week. Myself? I was tired of this whole process and just bought the Prince.

So, what if you want to demo some racquets but don't have a pro to rely upon? If you belong to a club or at least know someone who's taking lessons, see if their pro would be willing to do a lesson for you specifically for the purpose of trying out demo racquets. If you're willing to pay for their expert advice, I think it's worth it. You might also get a friend to go out and hit with you, trying out ground strokes, volleys, serves and returns with each of your demo racquets. If you can't come up with a friend who was the time for that, go to drills or a clinic and try out your demos. Probably the least desirable and hardest thing to do would be to just demo the racquets by playing matches. Since you don't want to constantly switch racquets during a match and that is what you need to do when demo-ing, a real match situation will not be a good demo situation.

While it appears that my search for a new racquet is over as I've settled on the Prince, its not quite over. I have to purchase the racquet and then get it strung. So stick with me a little longer as I get this new racquet thing taken care of and hopefully your own racquet search will one day be a breeze!


© Kim Selzman 2010
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