Latest Tennis News
Here’s where you’ll find all the latest racket and string news as it happens throughout the year.
US Open Review
For the first time since the Australian Open in 2005 there was a men’s Grand Slam final without Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray. Those with tickets for the final probably woke up on the morning of the semi-finals expecting to see Djokovic v Federer two days later, but they ended up with two first time Grand Slam finalists in Marin Čilič and Kei Nishikori instead. Both Čilič and Nishikori registered impressive wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic respectively, and thoroughly deserved their places in the final.
Marin Čilič played with the Head YouTek Graphene Prestige, the latest version of a racket that has been around in various guises since 1987, when it debuted as the Prestige Pro. He strung the racket with Babolat VS Team natural gut main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings. Runner up Kei Nishikori, whose appearance in the final went one step further than fellow Japanese Jiro Satoh’s Wimbledon and Roland Garros semi-final appearances in 1932/33, used the Wilson Steam 96 strung with Luxilon 4G main strings and Wilson Natural Gut cross strings.
The much hyped unveiling of Roger Federer’s new racket finally occurred at Flushing Meadows. With Wilson celebrating its centenary in 2014, they chose, as expected, to launch the new racket at their flagship tournament. The Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph is the first autograph-line racket since the Chris Evert Autograph in 1976. That racket itself was a renamed Billie Jean King Autograph, Billie Jean having left Wilson for Bancroft. On the men’s side it’s the first autograph since the Stan Smith Autograph of 1971, which was a reincarnation of the Tony Trabert Autograph, which was a reincarnation of the Donald Budge Autograph. Wilson’s best known, and the best selling racket of all time is the Jack Kramer Autograph. Interestingly, available alongside the Jack Kramer Autograph was the Jack Kramer Pro Staff, so Wilson has chosen to combine two racket lines in the new Federer model. Cosmetics for all these previous Autograph rackets stayed the same for many years, so it’ll be interesting to see if Wilson sticks with the current graphics for years to come, or whether it follows its current trend of updating the look of its range every two years.
Roger was unable to give the racket a dream start when he was overpowered in straight sets by Čilič, but the racket garnered plenty of exposure during his run to the semis, and is sure to be a best seller on the back of the Federer name, regardless of how well Roger does going forward. As per his previous racket, Roger played with Wilson Natural Gut main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings. Reigning Wimbledon champion and World No 1 Novak Djokovic managed to get a set, but couldn’t hold off Nishikori in the other semi. Djokovic played with the Head YouTek Graphene Speed Pro 18/20 racket, strung with a hybrid of Babolat VS Team natural gut main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings.
Serena Williams won her third consecutive, and sixth overall, Ladies’ Singles title with a straight sets win over Caroline Wozniaki, who remains in search of her first Grand Slam crown. Serena played the Wilson Blade 104 strung with a hybrid of Wilson Natural Gut main strings and Luxilon 4G cross strings, whilst Caroline used the Babolat AeroPro Drive, strung with a hybrid of Babolat RPM Dual main strings and Babolat VS Touch natural gut cross strings. Caroline has come full circle, having reached the US Open final in 2009 with the Babolat before switching, less successfully, to a Yonex frame. Now she’s back with the racket that suits her game, and her ranking is heading back towards the top spot she’s held in the past.
So, the 2014 Grand Slam events have all been completed, and we have the unusual situation where all four men’s and ladies’ singles titles have been won by different players – Stan Wawrinka and Li Na in Australia, Rafa Nadal and Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon, and Marin Čilič and Serena Williams in New York. In terms of racket manufacturers it’s 3 titles to Head, (Čilič, Djokovic, Sharapova), 2 to Babolat, (Nadal, Li), 2 to Wilson, (Kvitova, Williams), and 1 to Yonex, (Wawrinka).
Whilst having eight different winners is unusual, what’s even more unusual is that although four different racket manufacturers provided the winners’ rackets, each player used a different model. In Oz Wawrinka used the Yonex VCore Tour G and Li the Babolat Pure Drive, at Roland Garros Nadal used the Babolat AeroPro Drive and Sharapova the Head YouTek Graphene Instinct, at Wimbledon Djokovic used the Head YouTek Graphene Speed Pro 18/20 and Kvitova the Wilson Steam 96, and in New York Čilič used the Head YouTek Graphene Prestige and Williams the Wilson Blade 104. As far as I am aware, this is the first time this has ever happened.
Novak Djokovic put an end to three consecutive Grand Slam final losses, captured his second Wimbledon title, and returned to the World No 1 ranking with a five set win over seven time champion Roger Federer at the All England Club at the beginning of July. As usual, Djokovic played with the Head YouTek Graphene Speed Pro 18/20 racket, strung with a hybrid of Babolat VS Team natural gut main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings. Federer played with the blacked out Wilson frame he’s been campaigning since the beginning of the year. More details are gradually emerging about the frame, and it’s now known that the head size in 97 sq in, that the frame’s width is 21.5mm, (much wider than his previous Pro Staff 90’s 17.5mm), and that its unstrung weight is 340 grammes. The racket was strung with Wilson Natural Gut main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings. Expect a formal unveiling of the racket at the US Open later this year, as Wilson celebrates its centenary.
This year has seen the introduction of a number of ‘Spin’ frames – frames designed to impart more spin to the ball for the same effort – and Grigor Dimitrov used one of these frames to take out defending champion Andy Murray in the quarters and reach the semi-finals. Grigor played with the Wilson Pro Staff 99S, the racket he used to win a Queen’s Club a few weeks before, strung with Luxilon 4G main strings and Wilson Natural Gut crosses. Alexandr Dolgopolov also uses the Pro Staff 99S, and it will be interesting to see if more players gravitate to these spin friendly frames. The other semi-finalist, Milos Raonic also played Wilson, his choice being the Blade 98. Milos now uses Luxilon 4G strings, having recently changed from Luxilon M2.
Biggest sensation of the Men’s Singles was young Aussie Nick Kyrgios, who saved a fistful of match points against Richard Gasquet, then put out twice winner and No 2 seed Rafael Nadal in the last 16 before going down in four sets to Raonic. Kyrgios plays with the Yonex Ezone Ai 98 strung with Luxilon Alu Fluoro strings.
Petra Kvitova proved she has the perfect game for the grass courts of the All England Club by capturing her second Ladies’ Singles title. Petra used the Wilson Steam 96 racket strung with Luxilon Alu Power strings – the same strings she used to win her first title in 2011. First time Grand Slam finalist Eugenie Bouchard didn’t drop a set on her way to the final, but was no match for Kvitova in the final. Eugenie used the Babolat AeroPro Drive strung with Babolat RPM Blast strings. Semi-finalist Simona Halep was another player using a ‘Spin’ frame, in her case the Wilson Steam 99S strung with Luxilon Alu Power.
Biggest surprise on the ladies’ side was Alizé Cornet coming back from a 1-6 first set loss to beat top seed and multiple Wimbledon winner Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Helping Alizé achieve this sensational turnround was the Babolat Pure Storm racket strung with Babolat RPM Dual strings. For her part Serena used her usual Wilson Blade 104 racket, strung with Wilson Natural Gut main strings and Luxilon 4G crosses.
French Open Review
An incredible nine titles in ten years for Rafael Nadal, and all of them won with the same racket! The Babolat AeroPro Drive, the racket specifically designed and built for Rafa, has, in its various guises, been the racket that has seen him to all nine titles. The last five of those titles have also all been won with the same string – Babolat’s RPM Blast. No matter what event he plays, what surface it’s on, or who he’s facing, Rafa always strings his rackets at 25kg, (55lbs), tension. This is the tension he finds gives him the best combination of power, touch, and feel, whilst enabling him to generate more than 3,000 rpm on his topspin forehand.
Runner up Novak Djokovic fought hard, but after taking the first set and pushing Rafa to a 7-5 second set, his challenge faded and he won only six more games. As usual, Novak used the Head YouTek Graphene Speed Pro 18/20 strung with a hybrid of Babolat VS Team natural gut main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings.
Andy Murray showed he has fully recovered from his back surgery last autumn with a strong run to the semi-final, where he was unceremoniously despatched by Nadal in straight sets. Andy used the latest version of the Head Radical, the Head YouTek Graphene Radical Pro, strung with a hybrid of Luxilon Alu Power polyester main strings and Babolat VS Team natural gut cross strings. The other semi-finalist was Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis, who had scored a surprise win over Roger Federer earlier in the tournament. Gulbis took a set from Djokovic, but was unable to go all the way. Gulbis’ racket of choice was the Wilson Steam 96 strung with Luxilon Alu Power.
In the Ladies’ Singles Maria Sharapova went one better than her 2013 runners up spot, taking the title for a second time in three years after a marathon three set encounter with Simona Halep. Sharapova used the latest incarnation of Head’s relatively new Instinct racket, the Head YouTek Graphene Instinct, strung with her by now customary hybrid of Babolat VS Team main strings and Babolat RPM Blast crosses. On the other side of the net Halep was using the Wilson Steam 99S racket, strung with Luxilon Alu Power.
Babolat not only had the Men’s Singles winner this year, they also had the Men’s Doubles winners using their rackets as well. Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Julian Benneteau became the first Frenchman to take the doubles title since Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte in 1984, when they beat Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez in the final. Both Roger-Vasselin and Benneteau play the Babolat Pure Drive racket. Roger-Vasselin uses the Pure Drive Roddick strung with Babolat Pro Hurricane Tour main strings and Babolat VS Team cross strings, and Benneteau plays the Pure Drive+ strung with Babolat VS natural gut main strings and Babolat Pro Hurricane crosses. For good measure, Lopez also uses the Babolat Pure Drive, whilst Granollers plays with the Prince Tour 100.
This year a total of 4,163 rackets were strung during the tournament, (up from 3,847 in 2013), with 408 of them being strung on the busiest day of the event, the first Sunday. The average tension asked for by the men was 24kg, (53lbs), whilst the average amongst the ladies was slightly higher at 25kg, (55lbs). The highest tension requested was a rock hard 31.5kg, (69.5lbs), by Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, and the lowest was an incredibly saggy 10.5kg, (23lbs), by Italy’s Filippo Volandri.
Babolat was the most popular racket, with 35% of the players using their frames, followed by Wilson with 30%, and Head in third place with 20%.
Australian Open Review
Stan was very much The Man at this year’s Australian Open in Melbourne. The man known for years as ‘the Swiss No 2’ finally emerged from the shadow of Roger Federer to claim his first Grand Slam title and move to a career best world ranking of No 3. Stan played with a racket that won’t be available to the general public until 1st March this year, the Yonex VCore Tour G. Finished in a colour described by Yonex as ‘Fine Orange’, the VCore Tour G is designed for ‘devastating spin and powerful offensive play’ according to Yonex – attributes Stan displayed perfectly as he brushed aside Rafa Nadal in the final. In doing so Stan became the first male player to win a Grand Slam title with a Yonex racket since Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon in 2002. Stan’s string was Babolat RPM Blast, the same string Rafa Nadal used himself in his Babolat AeroPro Drive.
Stan’s semi-final opponent Tomas Berdych played with the Head YouTek Graphene Instinct racket strung with Luxilon Alu Power strings, whilst there was plenty of interest surrounding the racket of Rafa’s semi-final victim, Roger Federer. After years of playing with a 90 sq in head Wilson racket Roger has started the year with an all black larger headed Wilson frame. Details of the racket are being kept under wraps, even down to the actual head size itself. Some reports said it was 95 sq in, others 98 sq in. To the naked eye it seemed larger than a 95, and to have the same profile as Wilson’s Blade range of rackets. As Wilson produce a Blade 98 it seems unlikely that they would black out an already existing frame, so the smart money says it’s a variation on the Blade 98 with a different flex to it, probably a flex similar to the Pro Staff Roger has played with for so long. What is certain is that it has a 16×19 string pattern, and that it was strung with a hybrid of Wilson Natural Gut main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough cross strings. Rumours that Roger would reveal the fully painted version if he reached the final were laid to rest with his straight sets defeat by Rafa.
There were new faces to the fore in the Ladies’ Singles, where experience finally won through and Li Na collected a second Grand Slam title to go with her Roland Garros win in 2011. Li played with the Babolat Pure Drive racket strung with Babolat Pro Hurricane main strings and Babolat Xcel crosses. Surprise finalist Dominika Cibulkova brought Dunlop back to prominence, playing with their F5.0 Tour racket, strung with Luxilon Alu Power. Both losing semi-finalists used Babolat rackets, meaning the French manufacturer had three of the last four standing in the ladies’ event. Not only that, but all three used different models. Agnieskza Radwanska played the Pure Drive Lite, strung with a hybrid of Babolat RPM Blast mains and Babolat VS Team natural gut crosses, whilst Eugenie Bouchard used the AeroPro Drive strung with RPM Blast throughout.
As usual at the beginning of the year there were new rackets aplenty, with some players switching manufacturers. It’s an even-numbered year so Wilson had new finishes and colour schemes on most of its rackets, including the Pro Staff and Six.One ranges, which now look very similar. Juan Martin del Potro, who is now Wilson’s top ranked male player, continues to play with the long deleted [K] Six.One 95 from 2009, but is apparently down to his last couple of frames. When they’re gone he will have to make a switch, unless he does what another former Wilson player, Jimmy Connors did in the 1980s when his beloved T2000 was long out of production, and try to buy up frames from anyone who had them.
There were a couple of racket changes in the Babolat men’s team, Jo Wilfried Tsonga playing with the new Pure Strike 100 racket he’d used so successfully in the Hopman Cup, and Jerzy Janowicz moving from the AeroPro Drive to the Pure Control. Talking of the Hopman Cup, Australia was represented this year by Bernard Tomic, who, this time last year, was playing with a blacked out Head frame whilst under contract to Yonex. Bernie used Yonex frames for the rest of the year and continued to feature in their advertising campaigns, but this time around he was using a Head YouTek Graphene Radical with no logo on the strings in the Hopman, and the same racket with the head logo during his injury hit one-set appearance against Rafa in Melbourne.
Another player back with a former racket supplier was Caroline Wozniacki, who was back with the Babolat AeroPro Drive that had taken her to the World No 1 ranking in 2010 and 2011. Like Bernard Tomic, Caroline has left Yonex, which was no surprise to anyone, as she had spent a good part of 2013 playing with a blacked-out AeroPro Drive whilst claiming it was an experimental Yonex frame.
One of the most interesting moves was South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who has gone from Head to Japanese manufacturer Srixon, a company better known for its golf equipment. Kevin is playing the Srixon Revo 2.0 Tour, and is the first Top 50, or even Top 100, player to use their rackets. He gave them plenty of exposure in his match point saving win over Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and it will be interesting to see how he fairs with the frame. Currently ranked 22, he achieved a career best ranking of 19 with his Head last August.