The Pro Stringer changing the rules of stringing

So I’ve decided to write this review on one of my most trusted pieces of equipment, my Pro Stringer stringing machine. To take you back a little I first heard of the Pro Stringer back in 2011. When I first got wind of an electric stringing machine that weighed only 2 kilos in total, I was both excited and extremely sceptical. Having been used to great big Babolat and Wilson machines I wasn’t convinced that a machine so small would be able to string to an accurate and consistent enough level that I needed. One of the first distributors for Pro Stringer in Europe was a friend of mine and he did everything he could to convince me of this machine. Knowing that I’m a keen stringer and that I’d always attempt to travel with my machine where possible, (Note: At the time I had a big electric machine weighing over 20kilos so traveling with it was somewhat limited). He badgered me constantly on the “amazingness” of the ProStringer and I just assumed he was trying his best to make a sale, which he may well have been. My scepticism changed the day he lent me his Pro Stringer to try because that was it, I was astounded!

 

In Bucharest with my Pro Stringer. 

In Bucharest with my Pro Stringer. 

From that point on I was convinced and proceeded to purchase my own machine. I couldn’t believe how easy everything was from the set up to the stringing. And the size?! For anyone that knows what a regular stringing machine looks like, this thing looks like a toy, not something capable of stringing to the highest level.

 

The size of the Pro Stringer packed away is truly mind blowing. Here you can compare it next to a tennis ball. 

The Pro Stringer comes in a neat padded bag no more than 35cm x 12cm x 17cm and with all it’s content really only does weigh 2.5 kilograms. To set up the unit doesn’t take more than a minute, a table clamp secures easily to any flat surface. Trust me! I’ve tried; tables, desks, chairs, shelves, you name it! Screwed into the clamp is the mounting pole that holds the turning unit. The turning unit comes in two pieces that slide together effortlessly which is simply placed on top of the mounting pole where it can spin freely. You then place your racket onto the turning unit where you secure the frame in place with padded fixing screws at 12 and 6 o’clock. And that’s it, plug in your machine and you’re ready to string.

One of the things I like most about the machine is that it sits up against the frame to pull the string giving it consistently accurate tension pulls. It also means I save string as less is needed to string a racket so I get one to two more whole sets out of a 200m reel. Every little counts…

 

The setup of the Pro Stringer is great, as you can see the machine pulls right up against the frame for 

With any machine, to really find your stringing groove, it takes a little time. The Pro Stringer is no different because the frame is held by a bar down the centre of the frame, this means you need to weave in two goes which in the beginning takes a little time to get used to. Also as the pulling unit is free standing you just need to become acquainted with moving it around a little, but after a while neither are hindrances.

Perhaps one of the questionable aspects of the Pro Stringer is that the frame is secured at 12 and 6 o’clock as opposed to the regular 10, 2, 5 and 7 o’clock setup. I can safely say now having strung over 1000 racket’s on the machine in the 3 years I’ve been using it, that it doesn’t affect the frame what so ever. I’ve seen no change in head shape or any warping of the sort. Further more the pulling unit being up against the frame also causes no scratches or markings to the racket in any way.

Perhaps my only criticism of the Pro Stringer can be the tension dial, in that it’s a knob that you twist which moves up and down an analogue scale to your desired tension. My criticism is only that it’s tedious when having to change tension often. I’m hoping that in future models of the Pro Stringer they find a way of incorporating a digital display. Rumours are that there’s a new model of the Pro Stringer due to drop at the end of the year. So far I’ve heard nothing about it, but suffice to say I’m eager to find out what they’ve come up with!

 

A busy morning with my ProStringer!

A busy morning with my ProStringer!

My Pro Stringer has been with me all over Europe, Africa and America, I’ve never had any problems traveling with it and have now racked up a string count of over 1000 frames in 3 years. I can whole-heartedly say that the machine is sturdy and will serve you well. If you play tennis, travel and string, purchasing a Pro Stringer is a no-brainer in my opinion. The money I’ve made and saved from stringing have well surpassed it’s €600 price tag. I would even say that it performs better than most other stringing machine, regardless of size, in that price bracket.  

I very much look forward to see what the guys at Pro Stringer come up with for their following model! If you have any more questions about the Pro Stringer, stringing in general, or are interested in purchasing a Pro Stringer, you can contact me and I’ll be happy to help you out! 

 

Saying Goodbye Is Never Easy.

Tuesday the 16th of September 2014 was a very sad day for me. It was the day I had to bid farewell to the last pair of my favourite tennis shoes. Now you might be reading this thinking, “aren’t tennis shoes just tennis shoes?” but if you spend all day everyday in them, once you find a pair that work you never want to let them go! And finding the perfect pair is no easy task! For me, this pair of elusive shoes were the Adidas AdiPure.

Despite it's name, the AdiPure was an ugly unloved shoe, which wasn’t stylish nor was it technical. However the AdiPure and I had a connection from the very beginning. Three years ago, through my contact at Adidas, I was lucky enough to try one of the very first sample pairs of the shoes. I remember putting them on for the very first time and loving them immediately. I have quite wide feet and the AdiPure's felt a lot wider than most other shoes. They were light, low to the ground and very soft, which was just what I wanted.

My AdiPure shoes in white, worn until the very end. 

My AdiPure shoes in white, worn until the very end. 

One of my previous black pairs receiving the same treatment. 

One of my previous black pairs receiving the same treatment. 

Their only downside was that they were ugly, really ugly. They weren’t interesting, they didn’t match any outfit, they simply had nothing that would make you want to take them off the display shelf and try them on. At the time Adidas had Giles Simon wearing the AdiPure range, which was a very simple, classic style of tennis clothing. Clean lines, simple designs, a really nice range in my opinion, but unfortunately the shoes didn’t reflect that. Furthermore I don’t think Simon was a big enough name to really pump them out into the market and make people want to buy them. When you have people like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga advertising the other models, Giles Simon is a little far off on marketing value. You also have to remember from Adidas' point of view, they already sell the most popular tennis shoe on the market, the Barricade, along with an also popular Adizero shoe, so what would be their real desire to push a third ugly brother? In all honesty; the shoes were doomed from the very beginning.

The Barricade + which is eye catching and technically solid, endorsed by Andy Murray. 

AdiPure stuggles to compete aesthetically with its counterparts on either side. 

The Adizero II is one of the lightest tennis shoes on the market and is available to customise with MiAdidas.

Foreseeing the short life span of the AdiPure, I did my best to get my hands on as many pairs as possible. Bare in mind they were never really sold anywhere. I managed just six pairs, in 2 different colours and three different sizes. I had to take what I could get. With the shoes being so soft it also meant that they weren’t particularly durable, which only added to their demise. During a hard court training period I could go through them in 3 to 4 weeks, if that. So I decided to start rationing out my usage of them, saving them only for matches and opting for the ever-popular Adidas Barricade for practice. (Note; the Barricade is great, it’s stylish, supportive, durable but just not my shoe.) With my rationing system, I managed to make my 6 pairs last me 3 years. Which I think is pretty good going. I did also wear each pair into the ground, right up until my sock poked through. Every time I played I knew each slide for a ball, each toe drag on the serve was only bringing me closer and closer to this sad day.

So what to do now? Well the search for the ever-illusive perfect shoe begins once again.  

Wish me luck! 

Is Novak Djokovic's Racket His Secret Weapon?

There’s always a lot of speculation over what rackets the pros really use. Most of us are aware that a lot of the time the rackets that the pro’s are advertised to use aren’t really what you see them playing with. In this post I hope to shed just a little light onto the current world number one’s choice of racket.

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Head would like us to believe that Novak Djokovic uses their Graphene Speed Pro but unfortunately that isn’t the case. I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on one of his actual frames and have a hit with it.

So first question I suppose is; what is it? Well to be honest, I’m not sure even Novak himself knows. All he knows is that it’s his racket. There have been many discussions on various tennis forums on what it is and various people believe different things. If I personally had to put a name to it I would say it’s a Head Liquidmetal Radical Tour from 2004 but don’t take my word for it. However what ever it is it’s good, really good.

Novak strings Babolat VS Team Gut in the mains and Luxilon Alu Power in the crosses at 27 and 26 kilos respectively. (Tensions varies +/- a kilo depending on conditions.) The frame weighs 372grams with his whole set up. There are visibly two 15cm strips of lead on either side of the lower half of the frame but also two smaller 4cm strips under the bumper on either side of the top of the frame. The frame has a nice even balance of 32.8cm. I unfortunately wasn’t able to measure the swing weight but if I would have to guess I would estimate around the 340gram mark. Novak uses a grip size 3 (4’3/8) with a calfskin leather base grip and one Wilson Pro Overgrip on top.

So on to the fun bit; what does it play like? The clearest way to describe it in my opinion is solid. Simply solid. People often confuse the words solid and stiff, a racket can be stiff but not solid. For me, a solid frame is one that when you hit the ball you can feel the frame just doesn’t move, no twisting, turning, bending or anything else. All your energy that you put into a shot is reflected into the string bed and poured right back into the ball as it leaves the strings giving you a clean crisp sensation. The frame is certainly powerful. It’s also worth taking into account his string set up in that the crisp feeling of the ball trampolining off the string bed is partially due to the high quality hybrid he strings with. Anyone who’s played with a gut hybrid knows what I mean and anyone who hasn’t should treat themselves. The racket swings through the air effortlessly promoting cleaner swings and better timing. It really is a great racket.

My question is often this; why don’t the racket companies just mass-produce the pro’s actual frame? I know that the top pro’s specific frames’ are often hand made, which is understandable but there’s nothing to deter Head form mass-producing this racket once again. It is most definitely a whole lot better than the racket he’s supposed to be using. And if people really knew they could get Novak’s actual racket, no lie, it would sell like crazy. And anyone who thinks that his racket would be ‘too good’ or ‘too difficult’ for us mere mortals to use, are most definitely mistaken.

Obviously my headline is merely a flippant line to catch your attention. I’m confident you could give Novak any racket and he would still do well. And his personal strengths long outweigh the significance of his choice of racket. However it doesn’t hide the fact that the racket he uses is a lot better than the one they sell in the stores. All I’d like to know is; why?

If you have any more questions leave me a comment or get in touch with me directly.

 

 

Babolat Play Connected Racket Test

So as always it’s been a little while since I last wrote. Apologies. Rewind a month or so and I’m at Wimbledon with the chance to test out Babolat’s brand new Play Connected racket. I’d heard a lot about it and being the equipment nerd that I am, was extremely excited to try it out.

Over a period of 5 sessions I was really able to give the Babolat Play racket a full test. The racket in essence is a Pure Drive, Babolat’s greatest selling racket of all time, (and in my opinion one of the greatest racket of all time, largely due to it's versatility). Babolat have been preparing for the Play technology for some time now ever since they introduced the Cortex system some years back. This was so they could start producing the rackets in two pieces for when the time came they could seamlessly make the switch to the handle with the Play technology.

Babolat Play at Wimbledon
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Their plan worked faultlessly. The racket played exactly as a Pure Drive should, crisp, powerful and easy to use. The people’s racket. With no hint of any “technology” rattling around in the racket you can enjoy playing with it like it’s regular your hardworking Pure Drive.

So, onto the Play technology. The racket has 6 fingernail size sensors integrated into the handle which pick up all the information from the racket’s string bed. Once you’re done with your session, you effortlessly sync your racket with your smartphone via Bluetooth and you’re presented with more information than you could ever imagine. It tells you how many forehands, backhands, serves, 1st and 2nd, how much spin and power, where on the racket you’re making contact and much more. The data is then presented to you in a way that’s easy for even the most novice of us tennis players to understand.

Setting up the racket for play is extremely easy. Charge the racket, (which is a strange sight at first, seeing a racket plugged in for charging) via a standard micro USB charger. On the butt of the racket you’ll find the button to turn the racket on ready for play and off you go. The battery boasts 6 hours of playtime so it’s sure to catch every shot you hit. The software is clever; it doesn’t log any shots that might be anomalistic. For example bounces of the ball before serve or passing the ball to your opponent don’t get counted as ‘shots’. Then once you’re done you simply sync the racket via Bluetooth to your smartphone after installing the Babolat Play app.

Here’s a look at one of my sessions.

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So how about that data then? Are these nuggets of information really worth the double price of a regular Pure Drive? Will it make you play better?

Well this is the first racket of it’s kind so while it is both exceptionally innovative, it also has a long way to grow. The thing I like most about the Play Connected software is that it has taken the first steps to combine tennis as a sport with computer gaming. With your account you’re logged in the world according to your stats which gives you a chance to compete against a whole range of people. You can even compare yourself to top pros like Rafa Nadal, (see below.) It also constantly challenges you to new things pushing you to play more, which is never a bad thing! 

  

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I do really think the information can help improve your tennis. For me the impact spot on the racket is an extremely useful piece of information for someone looking to improve their tennis. Maybe they’d like to add more top spin or can’t quite understand why they aren’t hitting it as sweetly as they’d like. The impact display shows you exactly why. With a little understanding i think the information can be put to great use.

   

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Furthermore I think once the app develops further, for example the power percentage is a little ambiguous. It’s presented as a percentage, which begs the question; 'what is 100%?' Once they develop a way to give you a speed reading, which I have no doubt they will in the future, then you really have some great information to help stat your progression.

Some people might argue that a downside is that you’re restricted to the one racket. It’s not something you can take and add to any racket. But I would argue this is a good thing. You don’t want to be ‘adding’ something to your favourite racket because it will only go ahead and alter it’s playability. I know Babolat are soon likely to release the Aero Drive (racket choice of Nadal) with the Play software and I’m sure in the near future we’ll see more and more rackets with it integrated.

  

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Photo credit Babolat Twitter account.

So in summary; I firmly believe the data definitely has a value. Whether or not that value is worth the price of two Pure Drives or 3 hours of private coaching, is up to you to decide. Babolat have set the bar high for their competitors to follow. I would definitely recommend heading to your local tennis retailer and asking to demo the racket. Give it a go and decide for yourself. 

Back in Bucharest

So I arrived back from Bucharest a few days ago, it's certainly nice to be home again. I did actually really enjoy my time there because Bucharest was a really wonderful city. More on that shortly.

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'Heading Home'

My tennis in Bucharest unfortunately didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I won my first match quite convincingly but then had a little trouble in the second round. In the third point of the match I went to slide for a ball but the court was a little sticky so instead of sliding I caught my foot in the clay and jarred my groin. I injured my groin some 6 weeks ago but since then I hadn’t had any problems with it, but straight away I felt the power seep out of my leg. There was nothing I could do. It was odd because I could continue playing without feeling any serious acute pain, which is perhaps normally associated with muscle pulls, but instead I just had no power. I would go to sprint for a ball and it felt as if my left leg wasn’t working correctly. Like trying to accelerate in a car when the turbo has blown.

 Bucharest Courts

It was a bit of downer for me to finish on, especially after so long without competing I was really looking forward to playing some matches again. Although the time I did spend on the match court, I really enjoyed. I see the physio tomorrow for a prognosis on my groin. Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long!

I had my flight on Thursday so instead of changing it I decided to enjoy a few days in Bucharest. For this week I was joined by two of the guys I practice with so it was nice to be back with some friends. As a group we always do our best to enjoy the place that we’re in. There are many players that don’t make the most of this wonderful opportunity that we have to travel; instead they keep to their rooms eating the same food not really living. I think it’s something they might come to regret when their careers are over. Looking back thinking of all the cool places they’ve been but not really seen any of them, to me it sounds like a waste.

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Each evening the 3 of us would head into to the old historical town of Bucharest called Lipscani. This is where you can find an abundance of restaurants, bars, museums and shops. Lipscani has a really good vibe, regardless of day of the week or time of the day it was full of atmosphere and buzzing with energy. I would genuinely recommend Bucharest as a long weekend getaway destination. There’s so much to see and do, plus everything is very cheap compared to central Europe.

Below is a collection of photos from my time in Bucharest. Hope you enjoy them and with any luck they may inspire you to go check out the city, you wont be disappointed!

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