NEW YORK -- Wednesday evening with the low-hanging sun on its final legs, fans flocked to the practice court in waves.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was warming up on the court closest to the walkway, prepping for his encounter with Andy Murray. So close was Djokovic, that if I dared, I could have reached through the fence and grabbed his leg -- though that would have been weird, and probably a felony. The winner of that match would advance to the semifinals and be the overwhelming favorite to come out of his half of the draw.
During practice, Djokovic was cracking groundstrokes with hitting partner Ryan Harrison, the 184th-ranked American, while the Serb’s coach, Boris Becker, stood by. The two players traded crosscourt forehands, then backhands. After a brief water break, Djokovic began hitting serves. Rather he was pounding them.
Understandably, the fans were in awe. But what I noticed was the sound coming from the racket he endorses, the Head Graphene Speed Pro. The noise reverberated through the court and onto the bleachers with a clear and concise thud.
To this point, I had already used two of Head’s Graphene frames, the Radical Pro (the racket Murray endorses) and the uber-popular Prestige Pro. The overarching sentiment is that both these frames have serious pop and stability. And when I tested them, that certainly rang true.
But a week before the US Open, I gave the Graphene Speed Pro a whirl. The feedback I had heard was positive, but it wasn’t until I tested it that I truly appreciate this frame -- far more than I thought I would. Simply, you might not become the same caliber tennis player as Djokovic, but you just might see a helluva improvement in your game. Seriously.
First and foremost, the first thing about this racket is how much confidence it instills. Between its sleek frame, massive sweet spot and heavy-but-not-over-the-top weight, you’ll feel like you can swing for days without overhitting.
And the pop. Oh, the pop. Graphene, a material that researchers have called stronger than diamonds, engenders a different sound than any other racket out there. But because of the maneuverability of the Speed, I was able to really crack ball after ball. The beauty of this frame is that it produces pinpoint control, and even at 11.8 ounces, it swung much lighter. I spent a good 90 points play-testing this racket and couldn’t get enough.
Serving was perhaps the most potent shot. The ball comes off the racket like a cannon, but again, because of the ability to easily wield this frame, I found it seamless to hit down the T or slice one out wide.
Everything about this racket was solid. Perhaps it’s slightly underpowered for some, but if you’re a 4.0 or higher and want to develop good swings, this is a must try. After all, if it’s good enough for the world’s top dog, you might want to give it a whirl.
Head Graphene Instinct MP
In today’s racket business, fancy names and branding are often a ploy to make you plunge and take a chance on a frame. Take a gander through some of the comment sections and you’ll see irascible consumers who didn’t get what they wanted. So when I heard first about Head’s latest series, the Graphene, I had doubts.
But I soon learned that after hitting with the latest Radical and Prestige, there was something to it. And when I took the Speed for a spin, I became a true believer in how a racket can have serious backbone without sacrificing control.
So needless to say, the I had high hopes for the Instinct -- the sticl Maria Sharapova endorses. This frame packs a much lighter feel than the other two, but the net results felt similar to the other three in terms of power and control.
At first I struggled with the 11.0 oz weight, but after adding some lead tape, I felt more comfortable. Compared to the Speed, I didn’t need to take a full rip to garner power with the Instinct. It’s a racket tailor-made to not just rocket tennis balls but produce serious spin.
Without question, my serve improved more than any other shot with the Instinct. Between the racket’s head speed and rock-solid frame (70 flex), I was hitting with easy raw power.
Tennis players are notoriously zany creatures. We have weirdly specific rituals, and our choice in gear rarely waffles.
Truth is, I wasn’t sold on this frame when it first arrived. It wasn’t as sleek as the Speed or even the Prestige, and it felt light. But after a couple of hitting sessions, I began to appreciate how easy the game felt (in relative terms).
Unlike the Graphene Speed, the Instinct is truly a racket for all levels. And a good one at that.
Head Sprint Pro Shoe
If you haven’t heard by now, footwork is paramount in this oft-frustrating game. Not only do you need mental preparation, but you have to be on your physical game, too. Given the unrelenting short sprints and the start-again, stop-again grind, the biggest mistake a player can make, especially a competitive one, is wearing the wrong shoes.
I’ve personally tried a lot. Durable, flexible, flat, high arches. I’m not a podiatrist, not do I play one on TV, but after years of playing, I have a pretty good sense of what works and what doesn’t.
So when I first wore the Head Sprint Pro, my first instinct was … I feel fast -- ergo the name “Sprint.” They were low to the ground, light and stable. Kind of the perfect combination, no?
The short answer is, well, yeah. I’ve been using a pair for a few months now, and I can honestly say, they feel like an extension of my feet. I don’t know what the exact weight is, but the Sprint Pro shoes felt on the lighter side. But mostly they just felt fast and stable. Call me a fool, but that’s a pretty sweet combo.
Predominantly, I’ve used these shoes on hard courts, which notoriously wear down souls quicker than other surfaces, but so far I’ve seen little wreckage. On clay, on which I’ve played about six or seven times with these shoes, I felt like I could stop and slide without any interference from the shoes.
The bottom line is that shoes should not be an impediment to any degree. And as someone who’s fussy and fastidious to a fault, I’ve been digging these shoes. I’m going to guess you might as well.