Last week, reports surfaced that 17-Time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer is experimenting with a new racquet and will test it out at the ATP Tour event in Hamburg. These reports grew into a buzz, which grew into fervor, which grew into a Cronut™ pastry-esque hysteria. In fact, Federer’s new racquet has sprung several twitter accounts. Although satirical, the accounts did take a little bit of effort and thought, which clearly counts for something. Numerous Youtube videos exist with him practicing with his new tool of the trade as well. With Roger Federer changing racquets, this is a pivotal moment in our sport. A moment that few people are willing to understand or believe. His old model, a Wilson Pro Staff 90 with a dense 16 x 19 control oriented string pattern has been replaced by a larger, “player friendlier” 98 square inch racquet with a more open and powerful 16×19 pattern. Although the string pattern is the same, the latter racquet, with more space between strings, will have more force and spring into the ball.
Professional tennis players are notorious for being creatures of habit, especially with their equipment. Few of them change brands of racquets in their career, even fewer do it multiple times in a career. Although if anyone has followed Fernando Verdasco’s racquet relationships, you realize he may be the exception, having changed multiple racquet manufacturers in just the past year. That is the extreme exception. It will be more likely that you find a unicorn in your backyard than see that type of blatant racquet promiscuity ever again. It’s also no secret on tour and in the tennis savvy public that some players have been using the same model racquet for years. They just with a new shiny paint job of a current more updated model to appease their racquet manufactuer so they can sell a shiny “The brand new edition”.
On occassion, players will switch brands for the almighty dollar. But when they switch, even to a different manufacturer, the racquet specifications are nearly the same. If a player is usuing a racquet with a head size of 98 sq. in., you can rest assured he will not deviate more than 5lbs +/- from that size. Roger Federer, with his 90 sq. in. surgeon’s scalpel Wilson frame was not just the last of a dying breed, he was the last of an already dead breed. The Swiss Maestro admits to ramping up the head size to a big jump of 8 extra square inches. so much for the 5lbs +/- variance.
“I think 90% of the players on the ATP Tour have club head sizes between 95 and 100. Since Wimbledon we have now tested this, and so far it’s going great. I can easily develop with the new racquet power. The racquet change is in my opinion one of the largest for a tennis player.”
It may be easy for one of the most gifted tennis players of all time to switch, but go out and try it yourself as a recreational player and your feelings may be quite different. The change may be equivalent from going to a single egg skillet to a paella pan you’d find at a San Fermín festival. Maybe a bit of hyperbole to that, but to the well tuned feel and dexterity of a tennis player’s wrist and hand, the difference is clearly noticable. Federer will have more surface to hit with, but the feel and power and ability to balance that will be unlike anything he’s dealt with in the past decade. Few people remember that Federer began his career with what is a ludicrous, “Don’t try this at home” 85 square inch Wilson Pro Staff.
I’m very confident that one reason for fans reactions (maybe sub-consciously) to Federer changing racquets is that it signifies the end of an era. Roger is that perfect bridge from classic to modern. Classic in his style, his equiptment, his demeanor and his respect for the game’s history. Modern for his explosiveness, shot-making and leadership of tennis into this new era of elite athletes. Federer’s racquet was the sole physical speciman of a bygone era. An era that is quickly becoming a distant memory. The fact that he was able the world’s best tennis players armed with bazooka’s while he simply held a sling shot makes Federer’s accomplishments and records that much more gloriously perverse for a tennis aficionado.
Personally, my hat is off to “The King” of the modern/classical tennis link. He held on to the things that are dear to him…like those great ones before him. A classic style of racquet. unforgiving in its execution. Hit it perfectly and you are handsomely rewarded. Mistime the shot, and you look like a mere amateur. He has carried on the tradition and shown great respect for the game in holding out. Perhaps he was standing up to the machine just like Borg, Connors and Sampras did. Holding on to the last vestiges of realism…as we plunge headlong into not only virtual reality…but also virtual tennis morality.
The modern game has officially won out. Even a player of Federer’s ability, the player some journalists and fans label the Greatest of All Time (not by this author however) has succumbed to the new age of bigger, more powerful racquets to handle the longer and more powerful rallies from the baseline. But this should not be viewed as a sad moment or a eulogy for the last remaining artifact of a historic time. Rather a moment of clarity and evidence that Roger Federer, despite the criticisms and factually misguided opinions of those willing to give them, is evolved enough to improve by making this change. Many players before him and inevitably many players after him will simply mention their significant number of grand slams and say “that amount of grand slams! Why should I change? This racquet has gotten me to the top and I’m not changing. No need.”
Tennis players are a stubborn bunch. The beauty of Roger, He’s not happy with 17 Grand slams. He’s certainly not happy with a #5 ranking. He knows he needs to make a change and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Changing racquets is not a plea, a panic or a retirement PR stunt. It’s about commitment to a new idea, a new wrinkle, an attitude of constant improvement. Should anyone be surprised? After all, that’s what champions do isn’t it? Constant improvement. if you are not improving you are getting worse. Every great tennis player knows that. This is not a Federer swan song but instead it is a Federer rebirth. Only the athlete knows what he has got left in the tank, and this is the latest sign from Roger that he he’s in it for the long haul.
Thanks for reading.
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