October 23, 2008


I'm in search of a new racquet.

I certainly don't need one -- I play with a newly re-strung Prince Shark that I received as a promotional gift four years ago, right after Maria Sharapova won her first major title at Wimbledon was looking to capitalize on her success. It's beautiful and blue, lighter than air, and actually gives me good power. The head's a little big, but I just started playing again, so I figure it could save me some embarrassing whiffs on the court.

But like all girls, whenever I see something shiny and bright, I want it. And every time I step on a court these days, I'm checking out the goods.

Earlier this summer my friend Andy had invited me to get back on a tennis court for the first time since I tore my meniscus in college. I had no idea where I stood anymore, if I could get a ball over the net, much less in the court. So I brought my never-used Prince (now dubbed lovingly as "Maria") and my old trusty Wilson, the racquet I'd played with in high school. It was a good thing I did bring both, it turns out, since Andy didn't have a racquet of his own, a fact I find amusing since, not only had he invited me to play, but he was the one who'd paid the $100 to become a member of the NYC Parks Department.

Apparently he had another plan. The Central Park Tennis Center in New York has a great program. In exchange for $25, for a month you can play with any of the brand new racquets they have in their Pro Shop -- Prince, Wilson, Head, Dunlop -- as many as you want, as often as you can. At the end of the month, if you choose to buy a racquet from them, they credit you the twenty-five bucks. Not a bad deal, when you consider that all their merchandise is new to the market, and you're not going to get these things cheaper at your local Sports Authority.

The first day Andy tested out the Head MicroGel and a Babolat Power Game.

Wait a minute -- Babo-who?

Up until this summer I'd never even heard of the company, an ignorance I'm embarassed to admit. But suddenly Babolat was everywhere. Whenever I went to play I saw no fewer than five other people carrying the company's merchandise. I immediately looked them up.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that Rafael Nadal is a Babolat Boy -- in fact in 2007, he signed a 10-year contract with the company. Andy Roddick, Dinara Safina, Fernando Gonzalez, Nadia Petrova and Carlos Moya also favor this brand.

So who is this upstart company?

Turns out, not so upstart. Babolat started making racquet strings in 1875 out of natural cow gut. (Ew, I know -- I won't ever mention or think about it again. Happily fifty years ago they switched to nylon.) They didn't start making racquets until the mid-nineties, but their rash of champions speaks to the quality of their product. Now they offer everything from shoes and bags to balls and grips, and even markers to decorate your strings.

Most Babolat racquets run in the $175-$190 range with a few of the fancier models crossing above $200, about on par with other brands. They're light as air, eleven or twelve ounces when strung, but so are most racquets these days -- the Wilson I played with in high school is comparatively a lead pipe. The Babolat-developed Cortex technology, available on some of their products, promises to filter vibrations and allow for more control. The heads are on the larger side, with beginners' racquets getting as large as 118 square inches -- even those designed for advanced players are about 98. If you're interested in the specifics, the website is full of all the specs and stats for each of their many offerings.

But of course, there's no better way to find out if a racquet is for you than to get on the court and play!

I'll be there, secretly coveting your new toy.

See you out there!

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