Latest Tennis News
Here’s where you’ll find all the latest racket and string news as it happens throughout the year.
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 Babolat Pro Hurricane strings, and Benneteau uses Babolat VS Team natural gut. For good measure, Lopez also uses the Babolat Pure Drive, whilst Granollers plays with the Prince Tour 100.
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.