Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Sensation

I've always had a love/hate relationship with my tennis racquets. The good ones made playing a joy, the bad ones prompted endless frustration. Sometimes I played with free racquets from a sponsor, even if the model wasn't the best choice. Whenever I would switch to a new model, I'd always have a couple of excellent matches to start. Several times I had to borrow totally unfamiliar racquets due to broken strings or cracked frames with no spares on hand -- resulting either in total disaster (that would be the Canada Games), or inspiring heroics.

The last few years, during my latest comeback phase, I've played with a very light racquet. It has great control for dropping the ball neatly into corners, the better to run opponents into the ground. But I was a little annoyed at not having enough oomph on shots to sock clean winners against speedy opponents, or having to finesse passing shots. Volleys seemed to require too much swing.

It's interesting to look back at previous years, when I would try to adjust my game based on the characteristics of a racquet, or tweak my strokes based on the tension of the latest string job. I reached the point where I realized, if the ball is landing 6 inches out, I'm not going to change my swing, I'm going to get the strings cut out and re-done at a tension that works better with my natural game. In the same way, I'm not going to rework my serve or volleys, I'm going to experiment with racquets to find the one that works the best for my particular style.

Years ago, I bought racquets sight unseen or after a single trial where they seemed to work OK. This time, I did a more thorough compare-and-contrast. I took out 2 prospects and tried them alongside the current racquet. Then 2 totally different models. Then the best of each group for a side-by-side comparison. Each time, hitting buckets of balls to check how each one worked for different shots.

The one I settled on is the Babolat Z-OS. (Yes, a tennis racquet that could be confused with a mainframe operating system. :-) It does just the right amount of work on volleys and half-volleys. Spin serves curve down to hit the sidelines at sharp angles. Groundstrokes kick up high, topspin backhands stay in the court.

When I tried the new axe for the first time "in anger", I could feel it in the wrist the next day. If the racquet is hitting the ball with more power, the force isn't coming for free. But soon I could play on successive days without ill effects. I'm taking this season off in the local tennis league; things are looking good for next season.

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