Tungsten. Basalt. Giant holes. "Smart" materials that morph from hard to soft. Tennis rackets, like everything in life, seem to get stranger and techier by the minute — but do they actually make you hit the ball better? We gathered four of the hottest new upper-end models from the biggest brands in the U.S., put them in the hands of enthusiastic players, from college-age to middle-age, and headed to the courts to find out.
Likes: Stiff, balanced racket with excellent control. Several players thought it was especially well-suited for doubles and heavy net play, where control is key. Strong hitters seeking more control liked it best. "I feel very comfortable following through my swing with this. The Prince is more powerful, but I don't need that," one player said. 10.6 ounces unstrung. Head size: 100 square inches.
Dislikes: White handle tape looks dirty all the time.
Price: $189 unstrung. (877) 316-9435; http://www.babalot.com.
Ground and pound
Head YouTech Six-Star: Designed by Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, this all-round racket squeezes in another 7 square inches of head size (to 107 square inches) and a larger sweet spot with a unique "quadface" frame that lengthens strings in the four sculpted-out corners of the head. It also utilizes D30, a so-called smart material that supposedly changes behavior on impact — staying soft during slow hits and locking together on hard hits.
Likes: Bulges with power. Quite top-heavy (weighted more to the head than handle), it's a good baseline racket for not-so-strong singles players who dream of being able to stand back and wail. 9 ounces.
Dislikes: Control suffers a bit from lack of "feel," said some. The foam-based D30 material and a unique, built-in dampener may contribute to this.
Price: $250. (800) 289-7366; Head.com.
The hole shebang
Prince EXO 3 White 100 and Black 100: Well-balanced rackets featuring huge O-Tech holes, ½- to ¾-inch wide, that supposedly increase strength, stability and swing speed by eliminating the small drilled string holes that compromise the integrity of the carbon fibers.
It also has subtle grooves and other design elements that purportedly enhance energy transfer, lessen vibration, and aid ball spin and control.
Likes: Good all-round power and control. The heavier black model (10.8 ounces) is better for aggressive baseline pounding.
Not sure if the holes actually make the rackets move any faster through the air, but they are a good conversation piece. 100 square inches; 10.4 ounces (white).
Price: $200, white; $220, black. 800-2-TENNIS; princetennis.com.
Wilson Pro Open BLX: The composite frame, slightly larger than that used by Roger Federer, is interwoven with a fine fiber-matrix of basalt, a volcanic rock that supposedly insulates and dampens "bad" vibration while maintaining "good" feedback.
Likes: Good balance of control and power; a similar feel to the Prince. 100-square-inch head (Federer's is 90 square inches). 10.5 ounces.
Dislikes: The basalt may muffle vibration too well for some, hindering control. One player complained of less-than-optimal ball "feel."
Price: $210. (800) 272-6060; http://www.wilson.com.
Wallack is the co-author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."