At last year’s $15k Winston-Salem Futures, three racket companies dominated among the players. Together, Babolat, Head, and Wilson accounted for 81% of all the rackets I strung (recall not all players in the tournament strung with me).
At this year’s tournament, I saw much the same in the stringing room in terms of overall market share by the big 3, but a different ranking within them:
- Wilson – 45%
- Babolat – 34%
- Head and Yonex – 6% each
- Prince – 4%
- Tecnifibre and Pro Kennex – 2% each (i.e., one racket)
Babolat remained steady at 1/3 of rackets (same as last year), but Wilson overtook Babolat as the #1 racket, riding the success of the Blade.
I am really surprised to see Head not making more inroads with Djokovic and Murray as key endorsers and the Prestige being a classic player’s frame, but perhaps the overabundance of American players in the tournament (and paucity of Europeans) explains Head’s low numbers.
It’s good to see more male players using Yonex. I used to sell Yonex rackets and they were far superior to the big 3 in my opinion. The rise of Wawrinka and Kyrigos to replace Hewitt and Nalbandian is good for the company.
Three racket companies dominate competitive tennis: Babolat, Head, and Wilson. Together these three brands accounted for 81% of all the rackets I strung at the ITF Pro Circuit Futures of Winston-Salem recently.
By comparison, at the NCAA tournament they accounted for 94% of all the rackets I strung.
At the Futures of Winston-Salem, t he racket brands broke down as follows:
- Babolat – 33%
- Head and Wilson – 24%
- Yonex – 9%
- Gamma, Prince, Tecnifibre – 3%
The biggest surprise of the bunch was the Gamma RZR Bubba, a 137 square inch, sub-10 ounce racket used by Matt Seeberger, who won the Futures of Winston-Salem doubles championship with Julio Peralta.
In case you didn’t know, Seeberger also won two NCAA team titles, 3 NCAA singles titles, and 3 NCAA doubles titles playing for the D3 University of California – Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.
I was interested to see a couple of Head Radicals come into the stringing room at the ITF Pro Circuit $15K Futures of Winston-Salem that were customized using Babolat’s tungsten tape.
As a reminder that you should have a professional match your rackets, notice how much more weight has been added to the throat of the bottom racket compared to the top racket. The weight/swingweight of these two rackets out of the factory was obviously very different.
These customized rackets show that one of the easiest ways to add weight to a racket without changing the balance dramatically is to put it in the throat, since that is where the balance point of most rackets is.
In the past I have not used this approach when customizing, however, because lead tape actually has lead content. As the warning label on my lead tape packaging reads: “This product contains lead a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects (or other reproductive harm). Recommend you use gloves.”
Because players often put their hands on the throat of their racket, having lead tape there can be harmful. The rackets pictured above overcome this problem by using Babolat Balancer Tape, which is made out of tungsten.
I am interested in experimenting with this tape some. One potential downside of the Babolat tungsten tape is that it is thicker than lead tape and has texture created by the raised “Babolat” lettering. That could both some players who put their hand on the throat of their racket. But the innovation of moving away from lead tape is a definite positive.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you customize rackets with lead tape, please be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward and try not to touch you eyes, nose, or mouth during the customization process.
During today’s French Open semifinal, Stanislas Wawrinka was rolling through a set and a half against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga then made a comeback taking the second set to a tie breaker. Wawrinka changed to a new racket for the tie breaker, a fact noted by Tennis Channel commentator Jim Courier. When Wawrinka hit a few duds and went down 0-6 in the breaker, Courier repeatedly commented that Wawrinka was not comfortable with his racket.
As a professional racket stringer, I am particularly attuned to comments like this. Because the responsibility of a professional racket stringer is to install the player’s string accurately and consistently, any suggestion that the racket is not “right” is a suggestion that the racket technician has not done his or her job correctly.
But Wawrinka is a customer of Priority 1, which customizes and strings rackets for players such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Gael Monfils, Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and others.
Photo of Federer’s and Wawrinka’s French Open rackets from Priority 1 Twitter Feed
I am confident that all 10 of the rackets that Wawrinka took to court with him today were as he asked for them. All the way down to the custom molded handles Priority 1 makes for him.
Photo from Priority 1 Twitter Feed
So maybe the racket was “right” but Wawrinka was not? After Wawrinka lost the second set tiebreaker, the commentators noted that he served just 31% first serves for the set and converted just 1 of 8 break point opportunities. So maybe his struggles were due more to the pressure of the situation than the racket not feeling right?
As noted previously (here and here), I recently spent 2 weeks as one of the official on-site stringers for the NCAA tennis tournament at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Although we had some competition from off-site stringers who aggressively solicited business away from us, the four members of the MOZI Tennis team still strung several hundred rackets. This included the women’s doubles champions from Alabama, and the men’s singles, women’s singles, and men’s doubles finalists (from Wake Forest, Stanford, and Texas).
Selfie delivering rackets to the NCAA men’s singles finalist
I personally worked on rackets for 49 different players from 27 teams. This included 18 women from 12 teams and 31 men from 15 teams. Although this is not a random sample of all players in the tournament, it is a fairly diverse group of players.
For these 49 rackets, the string tensions I observed were:
- Overall: 43 pounds to 63 pounds
- Men: 43 pounds to 59 pounds
- Women: 46 pounds to 63 pounds
- Overall average: 53.3 pounds
- Men’s average: 52.25 pounds
- Women’s average: 55.2 pounds
I find it interesting that even though men can generate more power on their own than women, women tend to string tighter than men. Part of this may be due to women generally using more open string patterns than men, but it is also the case that each player develops their own feeling for the optimal string tension for their particular racket and game. To wit: the highest recorded tension in our stringing room was 69 pound mains and 68 pound crosses.
Almost all of the players, men and women, used all polyester monofilament strings – 44 of 49 players. 4 players used hybrid stringing (monofilament mains and synthetic gut/multifilament crosses), and 1 player used all multifilament string.
A few string brands were most common:
- Luxilon – 31%
- Solinco – 20%
- Babolat – 16%
- Pacific – 12%
- Wilson – 6%
- Prince, Tecnifibre – 4%
- Head, Kirschbaum, Pros Pro – 2%
Pacific was overrepresented because I strung all of the rackets for Wake Forest men’s tennis team which has an agreement with Pacific.
Racket brands are even more concentrated than string brands:
- Babolat – 41%
- Wilson – 29%
- Head – 24%
- Dunlop, Prince, Tecnifibre – 2%
An amazing 94% of players used one of three brands.