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Angell TC100 63RA – A retraction (of sorts)

Having not settled into a long term committed racket relationship yet I got to thinking “what else do I have in the house already that I should reconsider”. The Angell TC100 63RA was one of the rackets that came to mind.

Before going any further I should just highlight why I was even thinking about something else.

I had been playing a lot with the Prince Phantom Pro 100 racket. That is about the most comfortable racket you are going to come across, which is the principle reason for my using it in the first place. It is a low powered racket though, and what I was noticing was having to work so hard to get out of service games. I’ve got a decent serve, so this is a pretty unfamiliar position for me. I recall in one game especially where it felt like I was having to fight for what felt like 10 minutes, to get out of a deuce struggle. I tested the theory (in the same match) by changing to my Babolat Pure Strike 16×19 (ProjectOne7) and a Head Graphene Touch Prestige MP and was able to get out of service games to love or 15. That was an eye opener!

When I first tried the TC100 it was after playing with the Prince Phantoms for a period. The Phantoms make any other racket you play with feel like a Pure Drive, and that’s the category that I quickly put the TC100 in the first time around. That is where I was wrong, and why this is a retraction of sorts. When you consider the TC100 against other frames, like the Pure Aero, Prestige Pro, Blade 98 etc, then you recognise the comfort that the TC100 actually delivers.

There in a thread on the Tennis Warehouse forum that is a few hundred pages long. That many people talking about a product in such a positive way has to get your attention. So with that in mind I found the Angell TC100 63 RA in a storage bag. It was strung with Babolat Xcel from the previous time I tried it. Lately I’ve been using Völkl Cyclone (18L gauge), so I figured to give the TC100 a fair comparison with other frames I’ve been playing a quick restring (Sergetti of course) was necessary. What was really interesting after the restring is that the TC100 seemed more comfortable and stable with Cyclone than it did with Xcel. The weight, balance and swingweight were the same with both strings so that was unexpected.

Next up was a visit to the court to give it a swing. I found myself noticing how accurate and deep shots were. It was almost like I had laser sighting enabled, where I looked the ball seemed to go. Shots were arriving with so much topspin that it was really creating an issue for my hitting partner. He was often finding himself being rushed by the ball coming on to him, or the ball bouncing higher than expected and having to readjust the swing plane.

My of my reservations with the Angell has been an experience with the grommets cutting with a shaped poly string. Völkl Cyclone is shaped, but it has more “sides” than something like Solinco Hyper-G (the string I had problems with). After a couple of restrings and several hours playing I’m happy to report no such issue so far.

A slight deviation now. Many contributors to the Tennis Warehouse forum love a string called RS Lyon in the Angell rackets. I bought a few sets so that I could see wha the fuss is about. What I witnessed was a huge loss of topspin, relative to Völkl Cyclone, and balls landing a bit too deep (likely directly as a result in the reduction of spin). An increase in tension would bring the depth back to where it needed to be. But it just wasn’t better, in my opinion, to consider that being an option for me in the Angell racket.

So at the end of the day the Angell TC100 63RA could actually become a real contender for me. The rackets it’s up against are the Babolat Pure Strike 16×19 (ProjectOne7), which I have a lot of experience with, and the Head Graphene Touch Prestige Pro.

My previous comments on the Angell TC100 63RA can be found in this earlier post.

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Prince Phantom Rackets

Almost a year ago Prince released a new racket called the Prince Phantom 100. This is a somewhat revolutionary racket in the marketplace for a few key reasons:

  • It has a very thin beam. We’re talking 16 mm at the throat and tapering up to a (still very thin) 20 mm in the hoop.
  • It has an extremely low stiffness rating, just 56 RA. To put that in perspective most modern rackets are tending to be between 65 RA through 72 RA.

The combination of that very thin beam and low stiffness translate into about the most arm friendly racket you’re going to come across. To make the comfort even better the Phantom 100 features Prince’s O-port technology. These ports make the string bed feel even softer, due to the surprising amount of string movement it allows.

I’ve been playing a lot with the Phantom 100 on and off since June and there is a lot to like. To capture the highlights:

  • The feel and connection to the ball is unrivalled. I’m fortunate enough to have a few Head Pro Stock rackets (special rackets that are made for ATP / WTA professionals) and I feel more connected to the ball with the Phantom 100 than with even these rackets. This translates to a very precise feel around the net, especially executing delicate drop shots.
  • Even with the spec I modified the racket to it is incredibly manoeuvrable. This is most noticable for me on backhand returns of serve.
  • Spin is incredible. Because the O-port technology allows for so much string movement the amount of string movement (when using a poly) adds a significant amount of additional RPMs to the ball.

You might reasonably ask why am I not playing with this racket then? There are two things that have kept me from adopting this stick:

  • It is considerably lower powered that some other rackets. I dropped my tension from 55 lb to 48 lb and still the pace on groundstrokes and serves is well down compared to something like a Babolat Pure Aero.
  • Because of the O-ports the grommets are short. This leave the frame exposed and the frame therefore has a tendency to look beaten up quite easily (digging out low balls on a hard court for instance).

Phantom 100’s Siblings

In the last month Prince has released two new Phantom models, the Phantom Pro 100 and Phantom Pro 100P. Both share very thin tapered beam technology. The Phantom Pro 100 shares the same beam construction as the original Phantom 100. The difference is that the Phantom Pro 100 loses the O-ports in favour of standard grommets. The Phantom Pro 100P is a more classic style frame, consisting of a more traditional box-beam construction.

I play tested both of these new rackets, and the short version is that the Phantom Pro 100P is not for me. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great racket, and if you went straight from a Babolat Pure Aero I am sure you would be wow’d by the comfort. I, however, have experienced the Phantom 100, and compared to that it (amazingly) felt a bit stiff for me, despite it being only 59 RA.

Focus on the Phantom Pro 100

As mentioned earlier, the Phantom Pro 100 shares the same frame design as the Phantom 100 which I loved. Having regular grommets achieves a few key objectives for me personally:

  • It’s easier to string. Not a big deal being a professional stringer, but worth listing non the less.
  • The full grommets protect more of the racket so it is less likely to be damaged through play.
  • The real surprise; it’s considerably more powerful than the Phantom 100. And that is despite the Prince power rating being 750 for the Phantom Pro 100 and 775 for the Phantom 100. But that extra power is a big deal on serve especially. Given the frames similarity I can only conclude that the extra power must come from the strings not having the same range of movement as they do on the Phantom 100.

With the similarity to the Phantom 100, and the additional benefits it brings, I am planning to make the Phantom Pro 100 my new racket of choice.

I’ve gotten two Phantom Pro 100 rackets t this stage.  To get it into my playing spec they need to be matched and customised.

Specific Customisations Applied

One of our core competencies is the Racket Customisation service. Below are the specific customisations applied to the Phantom Pro 100 to get it to my desired playing specification.

  • Lead under the grommets to increase the swing weight. During the testing phase the lead tape was applied on the inside of the hoop, at the 12 o’clock position. Now that I’ve arrived at the desired spec the lead can be placed underneath the grommets. This restores the factory appearance of the frame, stealth.
  • To achieve the desired strung balance some material has been added inside the handle.
  • The first racket was strung with a very thin Volkl Cyclone 18L string (using a Sergetti Tension Sheet) at 48 pounds.  The second (also Sergetti strung) was done with Babolat VS Touch 16 natural Gut mains and Luxilon ALP Power 16L crosses at 52 pounds.

The final spec comes in at 331 grams static weight, a balance of 320 mm (7HL) and a swing weight of 331 for the first racket, and 330 grams, 319 mm balance and 330 swing weight.  You’re not going to get a better match than that!

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Yonex EZONE 100 (300g)

These new Yonex rackets are not yet locally available, but that doesn’t generally stop us from getting the latest and greatest here to check out. We pre-ordered this sample from Tennis Warehouse and it arrived in the last week of August. So when the rain has taken a break we’ve had two weeks to hit the courts and see what’s new with this latest iteration.

We tried the EZONE DR series when they first came out, and Suzanne actually selected the DR98 as her racket of choice for quite some time. I never really gelled with the DR98 but recall really liking the DR100 when we demoed them. At the time we were suffering some arm sensitivity so erred away from the DR100 on the basis of stiffness and beam width alone. I actually think this was a mistake with the benefit of hindsight.

Anyway fast forward a couple of years and the DR successor, branded simply as EZONE, is on our door step. The DR98 was quite low powered so we decided to purchase in an EZONE 100 as the “example” to make our assessment on. In the couple of weeks that we’ve had the racket both Suzanne and I have had a good amount of time to hit the courts to put it through it’s paces. We’ve played different specs, which I’ll briefly outline below:

  • Suzanne’s spec: 321 grams static weight, 324 mm balance (5HL), and 320 swingweight.
  • Andrew’s spec: 330 grams static weight, 314 mm balance (9HL), and 320 swingweight.

To enable testing by both of us the racket has been strung with Babolat Xcel French Open 16 at 55lb tension. This is our initial reference string configuration for testing.

In this EZONE series Yonex have improved the handle dampening system, named Quake Shut Gel Air, and claim it further reduces vibrations by 16%. Well, even without a dampener in this racket there is very little vibration transmitted to the arm at all.

Power on the EZONE 100 especially is excellent. Even with the multifilament string I found depth to be really good. I feared I would be overhitting, but balls were landing around a foot from the baseline. Pace on serve seemed up by a reasonable margin over my current racket of choice, the Babolat Pure Strike 16×19 (ProjectOne7). While not strung with a spin oriented string the EZONE 100 was giving good shape on both my forehand and backhand strokes. Perhaps the one area where the racket has not yet really seen a lot of action is at net. Though based on the feel on the ball I have no doubt at all that net play will be excellent.

Suzanne’s results and comments have mirrored my own. She has commented that her pace on serve, and consistency and confidence on groundstrokes is better than with her current racket of choice, the Babolat Pure Aero.

Not as much actual court time as we would have like (thanks mother nature), but with the summer interclub season upon us it’s time to finalise racket choices. So with that in mind I’m happy to tell you that an order was placed this morning for another six rackets. We’re both really looking forward to getting these in our hands and playing some quality tennis!

General availability in New Zealand is expected to be late September. I ordered the sample in a size 3 grip to bridge the gap between Suzanne and I. We’ll probably sell this off, so if you’re interested in taking it off our hands let us know.

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The (ISOSPEED) Cream of the crop

I’ve been playing a lot of different rackets lately, and have usually been using Babolat Xcel French Open as my string of choice, due to some recent arm sensitivity. This is an excellent string, and one that we at Gecko Tennis recommend highly to our customers. My style of play really benefits from a poly. Specifically the lower powered response gives the confidence to go for big shots, with lower risk of hitting long, more spin to create angle and margin, and of course an element of string durability. With the recent arm sensitivity however I’ve noticed arm tightness after outings with another favourite string, Volkl Cyclone, in my Babolat Pure Strike.

I’ve been hearing a lot of positive things about a string called Cream from ISOSPEED. It is at the softer end of the stiffness spectrum, sort of right in between Babolat Xcel French Open and Volkl Cyclone. So naturally I was keen to give it a try and see what the fuss is about and purchased a couple of sets to trial.

The play test conditions were demanding. The first outing was what ended up being approximately five hours of doubles play (mens and mixed) in a Fast4S tournament. Due to the competition nature I chose to string Cream in my Babolat Pure Strike 16×19 (ProjectOne7), being that it is the most familiar racket to me, and the one I feel I currently play my best tennis with.

So how was it?

Well, that evening and the following day there is no awareness at all in the arm/elbow that I’ve played any tennis with a poly, let alone almost five hours of it. That in itself is an astonishing accomplishment. Comfort therefore gets my tick of approval. On contact there is very obvious ball pocketing and dwell on the string bed, that’s a good thing. I need to hit them side by side for a direct comparison, but the string seems very similar to the Babolat VS Touch / Luxilon ALU Power hybrid that I love playing indoors or in fine conditions. Again this is sort of astounding. I actually think that because of the string being a round poly with lower string-to-string friction than a multifilament that the softness plays even lower that its specification.

Strung at my normal reference tension of 55 pounds, power and depth felt very predictable. In fact in all honesty I spent precisely no time at all during matches thinking about accomodating the sting at all. It felt completely familiar and predictable in every respect.

I’ll definitely be putting more time into this string, and will almost certainly be adding this to our regular string options for customers.

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Browns Bay Racquets Club FAST4 tournament

On Saturday 2nd September 2017 Browns Bay Racquets Club held a very successful FAST4 tournament. The weather tried its best to put a literal dampener (yes pun intended) on the day. But the rain subsided and after the courts were squeegeed the day ran without interruption.

Gecko Tennis was extremely proud to support this fantastic event. We provided all of the runners up, in all competitions, with a voucher entitling them to a free string job up to the value of $60.

We had one recipient take up the offer on the day.

The voucher was also able to be put towards the cost of more expensive string options, like natural gut for instance. We happened to have a half set of both Babolat VS Touch 16 Natural Gut and Luxilon ALU Power 16L from a previous string job (one of my rackets in fact), so we offered to do that combo for the same price. We also explained the benefits of the Sergetti Tension Sheet, which they elected to do as well. So here it is, I bet it’s going to feel amazing in this Wilson Blade 98 (16×19) Countervail racket!

We look forward to being associated with this event in future.

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Angell Custom TC100 63RA

Continuing the search for my next racket of choice, the latest inclusion in the audition is the Angell Custom TC100, 63RA variant (there is also a 70RA version). The important thing to know about the RA specification on the Angell Custom racket line is that it is for the bare hairpin. Once the pallets, grip and grommets are added that RA reduces by 3, so we’re no looking at 60RA. Stringing further reduces the RA by another 2-3 points. So now we’re looking at a very flex 57-58RA value, a lot lower than almost anything else in the market today.

Angell rackets are designed and manufactured using more traditional methods, with a real focus on materials, and ultimately the feel and playability of the racket. The frames are made with high grade graphite, and are completely foam filled. Along with the low RA these combine to make the rackets feel very solid on ball contact, but also to be arm friendly, reducing vibrations from the stringbed and frame.

I’ve had experience with Angell rackets previously, in the Custom TC97 18×20. That tighter string pattern just didn’t seem to work for my mechanics and I was pegging the net to often. So this slightly larger head size, and more open string pattern of the Angell Custom TC100 63RA was something I wanted to test drive.

The spec I ordered was 320 grams, 310 mm (10HL) and I also asked for an unstrung swingweight of 305. Angell had to make an allowance based on my swingweight specification so what was actually delivered was a racket at 320 grams, 306 mm balance and swingweight of 303. All strung up with Babolat Xcel French Open 16 @ 55lb and an overgrip the final spec came out at 339 grams, 313 mm (9HL) and swingweight of 330.

I’ve only managed a quick outing so far, in a strange format, friendly competition between two clubs. So this is a very quick summary which I will update based on my experience of the next few days and matches.

The claims made by the many, many, active fans of the Angell franchise is that the Angell Custom TC100 63RA is a “serve monster” and a “spin monster”. Typically frames with low flex tend to come in at the extreme low-powered end of the spectrum. From the very first serve I hit I can attest to the power of this frame (it only just landed inside the baseline). It’s actually going to be something that will take some getting used to. The format of the matches played didn’t allow for any real worm-up to find a grove, so ground strokes are still very unfamiliar, but I think the “spin monster” claim is going to be confirmed as well.

So at this point I simply cannot wait to get out and hit the court again with this racket and get some real play. I’ve actually not been as excited to play a racket since I got my Head Pro Stock Prestige Mid rackets.

Stay tuned for more experiences coming very soon.

Update #1 – 24th August 2017

This update comes after putting a few hours on this frame, both in coaching and match play scenarios.

The first thing I want to address is the feel of the racket. Taking into account that by all expectations this frame should have been around the 57-58RA mark strung, it does not feel at all like that. The racket stiffness honestly feels most like a Babolat Pure Drive than a Pro Stock. I have also been play testing a Prince Phantom 100, which has a stiffness of 56RA. The feel and comfort of these two frames could not be further apart. Where the Phantom is soft, flexible and comfortable, the Angell is stiff, almost harsh, and on contact I almost want to say “tiny” (you can hear the high pitch resonance). So in the feel department this has been a massive disappointment based upon the much hyped expectations. I’ll finish off the feel comments by saying that the harsh feel on contact was aided a little by adding just a bit of lead tape at both 3 & 9 o’clock, probably just in the region of 2 grams total. This would increase the twist weight a little, making the racket a bit more stable, while increasing swingweight minimally. So there could be some room for more customisation and tinkering in this regard.

Lets talk power, and specifically lets focus on serve first. The claim that this racket serves big is totally accurate. I was hitting with my coach and switched to the Angell TC100 racket. I said to the coach “you better get ready cause these serves will be coming a lot faster”. I could see the look in his face that said “whatever”. I made the first serve, and nice flat serve to the middle of the box. Now the look on his face changed to say “holy shit!”.

Given my recent arm sensitivity, and also to normalise the string chose across a number of rackets I’ve been play testing recently, the Angell TC100 was strung with Babolat Xcel French Open 16 @ 55lb. In this configuration there is just too much power to manage in aggressive hitting situations. With this much power I really need a poly to rein it in some, and also a poly would be desirable to increase the spin for more margin.

If looking at a poly there are a couple of things I’d need to consider:

  1. First and foremost I cannot afford to risk irritating my arm. So any poly would need to be on the softer end of the stiffness spectrum.
  2. For maximising spin potential I’d generally want to use a shaped poly, my go to is often Volkl Cyclone. My experience, shared by other users on the forums, is that the Angell grommets tend to be pretty soft and are easily cut with shaped poly strings. In my Angell TC97 18×20 I strung Solinco Hyper-G 17 @ 55lb and the grommets split in a couple of places. I should also mention that my stringing machine is set to the lowest possible pull speed to minimise this sort of thing.

So perhaps if venturing down the poly path for the Angell TC100 a string like IsoSpeed Cream might be a good first option.

As the feel and comfort of this racket did not come close to my expectations it’s not really as compelling an option as it was looking to be, which is actually very sad. So with a couple of competitive matches the remainder of this week to close out the winter season I’ll be reverting to my Babolat Pure Strike 16×19 (ProjectOne7), which amazingly feels less stiff and more comfortable. And if my arm insists it will be the Prince Phantom that comes out of the bag.

Update #2 – 18th May 2018

Time to reconsider the Angell TC100. Read the full story here Angell TC100 63RA – A retraction (of sorts).

 

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Amazing vibration dampener

Years ago I used to play with a vibration dampener that spanned across a few strings, on the basis that its shear size must provide the maximum dampening.  One day I lost it and had to play a match without it.  While it took a while to get used to the change in sound I enjoyed the improved feedback given from the string bed without it.  After that experience I went on to play without the dampener for many years.

The last 12 months have been an adventure, a search for my next playing rackets.  Trust me, that whole experience is deserving of a post (or two).  But that will have to wait till later.

In trying so many different rackets I managed to get myself a mild case of tennis elbow.  Given a hectic match schedule, and in addition to treatment and rest, I started playing with multifilament and natural gut strings.  Even though these strings are inherently softer than the poly I normally play it’s amazing how aware you become of any vibration when you’re nursing an injury.

Finally we arrive at the topic of this post, the vibration dampener.  Having played sans dampener now for so long I hate (yes hate is the correct term) the loss of feel and feedback that all dampeners I’ve tried remove from contact.  Anyway, I happened to came across a dampener called “Pete Sampras Tourna Vibration Dampener” and brought it in as an incidental with another equipment order.  This is a simple “O” dampener that gets inserted between the middle main strings at the throat of the hoop.  This dampener does an exceptional job of removing the vibrations on ball contact.  But what is unique is it leaves everything else there.  The feel of the ball on the strings is still very apparent, not completely dead as with other dampeners.  WOW!

My wife is a convert as well now.  Seriously, you have to try this for yourself!

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I’m a woman I must need a light racket?

Perhaps the biggest frustration I see on the tennis court are women playing with these massive, oversize, and super-light rackets.  You know the ones!  Rackets like the Head Titanium Ti.S6 and Wilson K Factor KZero.  Now there is a demographic (aged players that legitimately cannot wield anything more substantial) where these rackets are a very good option, but in the main I maintain that they are doing more damage than good, and especially for women.

These rackets are 115 square inch plus head size, a sub 260 gram static weight (strung), and are four (or more) points head-heavy (meaning that due to the balance they feel heavier than they actually are).

Why is this a problem?

Well, when playing with other women (or mixed matches) where the play is relatively heavy these rackets offer nothing in the way of mass to resist the forces imparted by the incoming ball.  A great example is a player at the net faced with the prospect of an incoming volley from the return of serve.  With no mass in the racket all of the energy to resist the impact must come from the player, in the form of tightening grip and tensing arm muscles.  Additionally, if the contact is even slightly outside the sweetspot then there is going to be a lot of vibration, also transferred to the arm.  In reality it is easier for a man to play with these lighter rackets as they are (generally) stronger and more able to muscle the racket to resist the impact forces.

As an aside it is sadly ironic that often these sorts of rackets are prescribed for Tennis Elbow sufferers.

What did you play with as a kid?

If you played tennis back in the 1980’s then you almost certainly have used a wooden racket, or a very early graphite racket.  If you wanted to play tennis there were few alternatives.  Well it might surprise you that these rackets often weighed in excess of 360 grams strung.

So, if you could manage such a significant racket as a child what is compelling this trend toward super light rackets?  Answer, marketing and perception.

What should I be playing with?

We would recommend a racket with a specification similar to below (a good place to check specifications of rackets is Tennis Warehouse):

  • Head size of between 98-105 square inches.
  • A strung static weight of 305 grams or higher.
  • A strung balance of around 330 mm (4 points head-light).
  • A strung swingweight of around 315-320.
  • Stiffness of around 62-65.

The swingweight is an interesting measure.  As the name suggests it is intended to represent how heavy the racket will feel when being swung.  Many of these oversize, lightweight, frames actually have high swingweights (relative to their actual static weight).  This should aid in transitioning to a racket of a spec similar to above.

What will this translate to on court?

There are a few things that will come from changing to this sort of racket specification:

  • The single biggest thing that you’ll notice is a more solid feeling on contact.  Especially shots like the volley.
  • You won’t feel so much of the impact being transferred to your arm, and you should not need to muscle the ball as much as you’re used to.
  • The racket will actually feel lighter, despite being physically heavier.  This is due to the very dramatic change in the balance point of the racket.
  • Your serve is probably going in increase in speed.

Some example rackets:

  • Head Graphene XT Prestige S
  • Head Graphene XT Radical MP
  • Volkl V-Sense 8 300
  • Wilson Blade 104
  • Yonex EZONE DR100

We’ll cover this in another post but most players should avoid poly strings.  A nice multifilament like Technifibre NRG2 or Babolat Xcel will be much softer on the arm as well.

Take our challenge and demo some rackets that might feel outside your comfort zone.  But, we’re confidant that you’ll be surprised by how your game can improve.  Give it a few hours as it will be a dramatic difference for you.

Read more about choosing a racket.