Put a bunch of brand new, high-tech tennis rackets in front of a handful of pretty good middle-aged 4.0 players (7.0 being Roger Federer and 1.0 being an untrained monkey), and they won't care what kind of Nobel Prize-winning innovations went into building them. But they will tell you what works. Here's how they rated the hottest new tennis technology, all about $200 retail, on a cold winter night in suburbia under the lights.
Wilson Steam 99S: New racket with the fewest horizontal strings on the market (15, compared with the normal 19 or 20), causing the 16 vertical strings to snap back faster, creating more spin and yielding greater control. The design, touted as the next big thing in rackets, is claimed to deliver 10% more spin than a typical racket.
Likes: Best for pure control. Noticeably more spin than the other test rackets. "The ball goes where you aim it," said one. "This is great for volleying and for doubles play, where you need more accuracy than power," said another. "Superb control at the net." Weight: About 12 ounces.
Dislikes: A noticeable drop in power. "I couldn't hit the ball with enough drive and power," said one. "I'm getting more serves in, but they aren't going as deep or with as much [speed]. So the balls are easier to return."
Price: $189-$199; http://www.wilson.com
Babolat AeroPro Drive: This stiff, torque-resistant frame is made of a graphite-and-tungsten composite with a vibration-dampening treatment that's purportedly easy on your elbows and hands and aids control. Its massive, triangular-tubed aero-shaped neck purportedly lets it swing through the air faster.
Likes: The group ranked this one best overall; its combo of stability and maneuverability made it the choice for singles, doubles and strong hitters who wanted more control. Testers called it the most powerful of the test rackets (about equal to the Prince), with the second-best control (next to the Wilson). "Good power without hurting your arm; not a lot of vibration," said one. "Great at the baseline and for serving." It has a 16-by-19 string pattern and weighs about 11 ounces.
Price: $199; http://www.babolat.com
Head YouTek Graphene Speed Pro: Head uses high-tech Graphene, a single, ultra-light, Nobel-winning layer of carbon atoms the company says is 200 times stronger than steel, to lighten the shaft and bulk up the head and grip. The result, it says, is more power and faster swing speed with less effort.
Likes: A balanced, all-round racket with no flaws. It has good accuracy/control, good power, a solid feel, and minimal vibration and shock. "It's almost as good all-round as the Babolat," said one. "I loved it serving." It has an 18-by-20 string pattern and weighs about 12.5 ounces.
Price: $199.95. http://www.head.com
Prince EXO3 Warrior 100: Year-old graphite model with giant 5/8 - and 1/2 -inch holes in the frame rather than conventional pinhole grommets. Prince claims the holes give the strings more response upon impact, a bigger sweet spot, and more power and control.
Likes: The testers rated the Warrior a good all-around racket, although it was no one's favorite. One felt it had great raw power for baseline pounding and serving. Another liked its spin and control. Several liked the soft, cushioned comfort and response. In general, it was thought to have a good balance of power and accuracy, similar to the Head. It has a 16-by-19 string pattern and weighs about 12 ounces.
Dislikes: A bit of a muffled feel on finesse shots.
Price: $189.99. http://www.princetennis.com
Wallack is coauthor of "Barefoot Running Step by Step" and "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."