Novak Djokovic can hit the ball very hard. Just ask Tomas Berdych, who Djokovic just steam-rollered with 47 winners and 10 aces to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open.
The charismatic Serb is on course to win an unprecedented third straight Aussie Open. Perhaps more frightening is the thought that the world's top-ranked male player could get even better, thanks to HEAD and a revolutionary material cooked up in a lab that’s making his racket a stringed WMD.
PRODUCT: HEAD YouTek Graphene Speed MP 1619, $199.95, www.head.com
WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO DO: If you could design the perfect racket, it would have all its weight at the top of the head and at the bottom of the handle. Hit a ball and it instantly becomes a fuzzy scud missile.
The problem is that a racket with this capability has only existed in theory, because no racket constructed this way has been strong enough to withstand the hard slaps of a pro -- until now.
As a result of some Nobel Prize-winning boffin work at the University of Manchester, a new material named graphene is about to change everything. Unlike it’s pencil-dwelling cousin, graphite, graphene is a thin sheet of carbon only an atom thick that’s stretchy and yet stronger than diamond.
So what did leading manufacturer HEAD decide to do? You guessed it. Graphene became the material to make their dreams come true: a lighter racket that hits harder than any before it.
DOES IT WORK? It’s the beginning of the year and only Djokovic’s first event with his high-tech new stick, but if the level of enthusiasm at HEAD is anything to go by, then you can expect to see something special.
“We’re really excited about the technology and the material,” explains Roger Petersman, HEAD’s senior business manager. “What we’ve done is taken the graphene layer and rolled it into the graphite during the production process.”
In doing so, HEAD was able to move the weight from the middle of the racket and shift it to the the top and bottom, where the secret of power lies.
“When you move weight to the handle and head of the frame, what you’re doing is increasing the swing weight of the racket,” Petersman says.
In layman's terms, swing weight is how much power the racket can deliver relative to its weight. The heavier the swing weight, the more power you’re going to have.
“The Speed racket that Novak is playing with now was 11.8 ounces last year," Petersman says as way of comparison. "This year’s version is 11.1 ounces, and yet the swing weight is almost 20 points higher. Most tour rackets fall between 290-300, while Novak’s new one is 311.”
Weight aside, HEAD's new Graphene line -- note the "G" logo above the grip -- looks and feels powerful even when you're not hitting a ball. There are no less than 10 versions of the Graphene series available to consumers, from Djokovic's top-of-the-line Graphene Speed Pro to Maria Sharapova's preferred Graphene Instinct MP to lower-level models for intermediate players.
ESPN Playbook was lucky enough to get our hands on an all-black Graphene prototype, and believe us when we say that if the Batmobile was a tennis racket, it'd look something like this.
PRODUCT 2.0: Just for kicks, we’d like to see a racket made entirely from graphene. Sure it might be expensive, but imagine holding a racket that you can barely feel in your hand and yet is 200 times stronger than steel.
To be honest, arming Djokovic with something like that might be unfair.