Friday, April 13, 2012

Alternatives to the Wilson Pro Staff 85

I have been using the Wilson ProStaff 85 Midplus (or "PS85") racket for nearly 18 years. I do not believe that there will ever be a racket like this made in the future, with the same feel, with the same longevity in terms of having players buy it and use it and win with it for so long. Recently however, I have been tempted to find a replacement for my faithful sidekick on the tennis court. My search was not triggered by any desire for more power on my groundstrokes or improvements to any other part of the game. The main reason, and I hate to admit it, is that I am getting older and am beginning to feel the weight of the PS85 over the length of a long hitting session.

As mentioned in my earlier post, my PS85 has been customized by applying lead tape on the PWS area of the Wilson (at the 3 and 9 area of the head). The effect of applying lead tape at this area is to increase the stability of the hit (the stock PS85 is very headlight at around 12pts HL unstrung). Adding lead tape brings my racket balance to around 10pts. The other effect of adding weight is the produce a slightly heavier ball on the hit and that I can feel the head a lot better. All good things to do with a racket however, there is a cost, it adds to the overall weight of the racket. My PS85s all weigh more or less the same - around 13oz strung with grip.

When Roger Federer burst into the tennis scene as the heir apparent to Pete Sampras in 2001, he used a PS85 (Taiwan version apparently). Over the years, he has had the most influence on Wilson still retaining a relative small headed racket of around 90 sq inches in the market. Like or hate Federer, I guess the purist tennis player has to thank Federer for helping in this part of Wilson racket development.

I have used several of these rackets (Wilson nCode nSix-One Tour 90, Kfactor Six One Tour 90) in the vain attempt to find something that emulates the feel of the PS85 to no avail.. until the Wilson Kfactor ProStaff 88 ("KPS88") was released for a brief period in the early part of 2009.

Here was a racket, with the exact same weight as my leaded PS85, which felt most similar to that racket in terms of the solid, almost creamy, feel it imparted to the practitioner on the court at the hitting point. It felt "dense", if you know what I mean, and felt like part racket part knife when swinging it. However, it had one main drawback and that was the balance. Wilson had a bad QC when making this racket and even though it was listed as having a 10pt HL spec (which seemed ideal for me), some of the rackets I had had a 6pt HL balance instead. So what, some of you might ask? Well, for most tennis players, balance is nearly everything when it comes to "liking" a racket and being able to wield it properly. I was always a little bit slow when it came to getting into the hitting zone with my KPS88. Forehands were ok, backhands were ok - beautiful slices resulted, net game was ok, however the serve was a disaster.

Clearly, the KPS88 was not the racket that I was looking for. I still bought two of them, hoping vainly that I would get used to them.

Around sometime early this year, I purchased a mint late version of the US version of the Wilson BLX Six.One Tour 90 ("BLX90") second hand from a guy here in Singapore. It was strung with Luxilon Big Banger - kind of like the string of choice of Singaporeans nowadays - and after hitting with it briefly, I shoved it into my racket bag and dismissed it as another failed clone of my beloved PS85. I forgot about the racket until one day - I was too lazy to restring enough of my PS85s and ended up bringing the BLX90 along. I don't know why I felt like the BLX90 wasn't good during my initial hitting session with it but for some reason, during my second session, the racket felt really good. Even though I never added any lead tape, the balance was spot on and the racket being .6oz lighter than the PS85 really helped a lot. Even though I felt that I could not hit a a heavier ball compared to the PS85, the faster racquet head speed I could generate compensated by giving me a little bit more spin generation ability. I had a lot less mishits as well.

Thinking back, I think I know why my initial encounters with the 90 sq in models from Wilson didnt quite hit it off. I was using the Asian version of those rackets which were around .7oz lighter than the US versions and which were more head heavy.

Since the BLX90 is no longer in production, I guess I will have to source the second hand market for them or get the replacement the Wilson BLX ProStaff Tour 90 which just came out this year. Look out for my impressions then. Ciao!