Head Graphene XT Prestige Pro/Prestige S

In the long lineage of tennis rackets, few stand out in name recognition alone more than the Head Prestige.

A true player’s stick, the Prestige has found its way into the hands of many pros though the years.

The latest version, the Graphene XT, is an update to last year’s model. While the past couple of iterations has strayed from the “traditional” feel of the Prestige, the flip side is that it will appeal to a greater spectrum of players.

The Pro comes in at a healthy 11.7 ounces (strung) but swings freely, thanks to its head-light setup. But the biggest difference in this year’s model is the stability at the tip of the hoop, which offers an unexpected punch the Prestige is historically not known for.

The word “connected” gets thrown out a lot when vetting rackets. The meaning has been somewhat amorphous in tennis lingo, but with the Prestige, it’s beginning to make better sense. As long as you’ve made proper contact, the ball will more than likely go wherever you intended. In 90 minutes of play, very rarely did a groundstroke fall short as a result of the racket or sail tremendously deep. I could hit angles and stab down-the-line groundstrokes with confidence.

The caveat is that despite the extra punch, this is still a player’s stick at heart, which meant that if I wasn’t in a full offensive position, there was a lack of pace compared to a more modern-day stick. But that’s the tradeoff. Precision for raw power.

The Graphene XT is an interesting, if not unique, technology as far as tennis rackets go. It’s extraordinarily solid, and while it does not allow for a discernible sweet spot or extended dwell times, there are no dead spots, either. It takes getting acclimated to, as I found in play-testing the latest Radical a few months back. But after 20 minutes or so, I became comfortable with the feedback off contact in both the Radical and Prestige Pro.

At the net is where I found the Prestige to be at its best. It’s heavy enough that that ball won’t play you, but still extremely maneuverable. I was able to stick volleys in all areas of the court at will, knowing they were going to land where I intended them to go. It’s not always easy to wield a racket north of 11 ½ ounces, but with the thin-beamed Prestige, directional control was no problem.

Serving is where I had to make my biggest adjustments. After a few bad shanks, I found that slowing down paid dividends in a big way. The Prestige it not a power racket per se, but there is enough mass at the north end of the frame that will produce its own power. Much like an amateur golfer with an overzealous swing, simply stepping back and leveraging the rackets stability and raw weight allowed for big (and accurate) serves. Admittedly, I struggled with kick serves throughout my hitting session. The ball didn’t jump like I’d like it to, but then again, that could well be user error as well.

The Prestige Pro is an all-around winning frame. It takes some adjustment time, so be patient. But for the physically stronger players who tend to overhit, this could very well be your solution.

Head Graphene XT Prestige S

The S version of the Prestige played similarly to the Pro. And a cursory look at the specs would suggest that. The S weighs in at 11.5 strung, just a hair lighter than the former. The response and feel (both flex ratings are in the low 60s) are nearly identical.

But if there was one notable difference, I felt the S version of the Prestige translated more easily to the modern game. It was easier to swing through the ball and generate spin.

The S version might have felt a little less plush that the Pro, but the manageable swing weight and crisp, solid contact created explosive hitting.

One of the frames greatest attributes was arm comfort as well. Some of HEAD’S graphene rackets are pretty stiff, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing -- matter of fact, it’s the norm now. But the Prestige S enveloped the ball nicely without a harsh feedback.

It’s a racket worth trying whether you are an aggressive player with a big swing or a counter-puncher. Like the Pro, the S delivered quite a bit of punch in a control-oriented frame.

Nitro Pro tennis shoe

When it comes down to it, vetting a tennis shoe is really about two things: Is it comfortable and will it hold up? I suppose aesthetics are important, too, but that’s highly subjective.

We can break down the guts and arteries of shoes as much as we want, but really, we’re just looking for a solid sneaker that is comfortable to the point that we don’t realize we’re wearing it.

HEAD’s Nitro Pro fits the bill. From the moment I put it on to play-test, it fit as though I had already worn it for months. It conformed to my foot nicely, and more so, it gave me confidence to move around the court at full speed.

The shoe was breathable as well. At no point, did I feel as though my feet needed a rest -- even right out of the box in which we typically concede new shoes need break-in time. And for anyone who has owned a new pair of tennis shoes, that’s a big thing.

Granted, I have worn the Nitro Pro for only a few weeks now, but the support has been stellar. There is more than enough stability in the heel and forefront that makes me believe these will last me the summer, if not longer.

If I had one complaint, and this is nothing that can’t be fixed immediately, the shoe ran a half-size small. So if you are ordering online, beware.

Still, if you want an immediately comfortable shoe that will only enhance your speed while providing long-term stability, give these a try.