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Rafa's Racquet in your hands? US Open Gear Notebook
The sport's top brands descended on the final major tournament of 2022, sharing some explosive info that could change the equipment landscape next season.
Published Sep 14, 2022
WATCH: The Break recaps the 2022 US Open
What was the big story coming out of the 2022 US Open? Was it Serena’s farewell? Perhaps. Was it Carlos Alcaraz’s win signaling a changing of the guard in the men’s game? Certainly buzzworthy. Or was it Tennis-Point operating an on-site pro shop for the first time in tournament history? Granted, the first two undoubtedly drew more clicks on social media, but as equipment editor anything gear-related is going to catch my eye. During the tournament I spent time chatting with major racquet, shoe and string manufacturers to find out what they’ve got on tap for 2023 and beyond. Here are some of the major takeaways:
Stay in Frame
The racquet arena will see updates to several familiar and popular models. Some will roll out in the beginning of the year, with others following closer to spring. Those who follow production cycles, can probably guess which ones. It’s likely the pros endorsing those frames will be swinging them in Australia.
Only one of the brands mentioned currently playtesting a brand-new prototype that, if all goes well, could see distribution in 2023. While not something completely different, Babolat is promising a Pure Aero Rafa that is unlike any model in the franchise’s history. That’s because it will allegedly match Nadal’s exact playing specs, which includes more weight and stiffness in the head to generate extreme power and spin. There will also be lighter version for players not quite up to the challenge of Nadal's preferred weight and swingweight. Both Rafa frames are scheduled to be released early next year.
Less is More
Sticking with racquets, one of the common refrains sung by the manufacturers is the desire to streamline their lines. While having a wide selection of a model can reach more levels of players, it also complicates the demo process. In other words, are consumers served by a frame coming in a Team, Lite and Ultra Lite? The spec variances between many of these frames are generally quite small—often a slight difference in weight and balance. Fewer options would bring less clutter to the store shelves, and make racquets more distinctive, thereby clarifying and facilitating the buying experience. It could also expedite the production process leading to better quality control.
A brand rep told me he hopes this will also encourage more shops to become more willing and capable customizers. This will help fill in the gaps left by eliminating certain models. Along those lines, another manufacturer revealed they have a machine coming out in the near future that is designed for just such a purpose. In addition to providing all pertinent diagnostic information such as balance and flex, it eliminates much of the guesswork in customization. For instance, say you want to increase the swingweight of a frame to a higher number, the machine will show exactly where and how much lead tape to apply to the racquet to hit your target. It’s going to be a high-end amenity that will probably only be found at the most discerning stores and pro shops.
Only one of the brands mentioned currently playtesting a brand-new prototype that, if all goes well, could see distribution in 2023.
It’s nothing new, but manufacturers continue to look for ways to make polyester strings more playable for the everyday player. It has been quite a while since a brand has touted a new offering as being stiff and dead. But up until recently the power of racquets had gotten such that polyester strings needed those characteristics to help tame them. Since the current trend in racquets is leaning toward greater control, feel and often flexibility, upcoming polys are going to have a friendlier, juicier response. Think more elasticity with a softer, deeper hitting pocket. The goal is to keep the trademark spin and control, but up the power and comfort while only marginally diminishing durability.
With the supply chain issues caused by the global pandemic, retail shelves this past spring were somewhat barren. This was particularly true of shoes. Factory closures in Vietnam due to COVID-19 made certain sneaker brands practically disappear. However, a combination of rushed orders and the arrival of long awaited shipments will bring with it major restocking. Several manufacturers said that over the next few weeks product should be flowing back into stores. If the outsoles on your favorite shoes no longer pass inspection, replacements appear imminent.