There's no denying it; control rackets lost some of their "cool factor" when Nadal showed up in the mid-2000s.
People were curious about his crazy spin and power game and wanted to play with a racket that complemented those characteristics. Power and spin rackets became commonplace on the junior and club circuit, and control frames took a back seat.
But like in fashion, trends in tennis ebb and flow, and it was just a matter of time before control rackets made a comeback.
While they never went fully extinct, they have had to adapt to the modern game. 90 square-inch frames were all the rave when Sampras and Federer were tearing through the tour, but now, they are entirely gone.
Even 95s are slowly flickering out, with a few notable exceptions. In a way, when Federer transitioned from his 90 square-inch Pro Staff to his RF 97, it signified a changing of the guard as to what was considered the smallest viable head size to compete at the highest level. I will still say that, in the right hands, a 95 can do some serious damage; look at Wawrinka, Djokovic, and Shapo. That said, they are so difficult to use that I've chosen not to include any in this list.
It's tough to leave out a racket like the CX 200 Tour because, from a pure control standpoint, it's fantastic, but it requires such a high level of perfection that it's not as viable for most players today.
That brings me to my next point. This list will be in order and, of course, have some notable omissions. That means it's bound to stir up controversy, so I want to make my criteria as clear as possible.
1. This is not a ranking of the rackets performing best purely in control. It's a ranking of the overall performance of rackets made for control, with a strong emphasis on their control
2. For obvious reasons, we must carry these rackets at Rackets & Runners.
3. "Feel" plays a big part in determining control, and feel is highly subjective. I consider myself good at setting personal biases aside to objectively qualify feel, but there will still be an element of personal experience here.
4. This is a personal preference list, meaning I must have played with and enjoyed the rackets. There is no 95-square-inch racket on this list because, as much as I appreciate their qualities, I find them too difficult to use for my game, and I think there are more complete options.
Without further ado, let's get into number five.
#5 Tecnifibre T-Fight 305 Isoflex
As we go down this list, you'll notice a theme: with one exception, every racket has 18 main strings. That's because rackets with 18 main strings have a lower launch angle, making them feel significantly more consistent than other frames.
What stands out on the T-Fight 305 is that even with its lower launch, it doesn't sacrifice nearly as much spin potential as other rackets on this list. That's also why it has less control, but the 19 crosses (rather than the more traditional 20) help open up the string bed a bit more for that spin potential. It also has a slightly thicker beam (22.5 mm) than the other rackets on this list, and that helps make it more forgiving and powerful.
The T-Fight's feel is also excellent. It has a well-defined sweet spot and a fantastic connection to the ball as it enters and exits the stringbed. At 64 RA, it does have a slightly higher flex than the most traditional control rackets, but that gives it a point-and-shoot precision and instantaneous response that is incredibly addictive.
It also has a swingweight over 330, which makes it stable and rock solid on contact. It's a racket that will never randomly develop a mind of its own; you'll know exactly what to expect during every shot, and if you screw up, it will be your fault, not the racket's.
I'm not going to lie, picking between this one and the later honourable mentions was difficult, but I had to go with my gut. It may be the clear number 5, but its consistency, solidity, and feel were too good to leave it off the list.
#4 Wilson Pro Staff 97 v14
Some of you will gasp at the fact that it's not number one, and others will question its existence on this list. First, it's a 16x19, which is less controlled than an 18x19 or 18x20. The Pro Staff has a higher launch angle and a more powerful response than the other rackets on this list, but that doesn't mean it isn't still elite for control.
It's not your classic "sit behind the baseline and ping backhands to your opponent's backhand until someone misses" type of control. Instead, it packs incredible variety into a package that still oozes class and control from everywhere on the court. That variety will be perfect for more offensive players who like to go for lower percentage shots, serve and volleys and pull their opponents around the court playing cat-and-mouse tennis. It's got control all around the court but more of a playful attitude than other frames.
That great control comes down to the racket's precision. It has the smallest head size of any racket on this list, which makes the sweet spot so precise and addictive. This means that when you hit the Pro Staff 97 well, you get a fantastic response, and the ball goes where you want it to go.
Like the T-Fight, the Pro Staff is a little stiffer (although the v14 feels noticeably softer than the v13), so it has similar pin-point precision.
#3 Wilson Blade 18x20 v8
Now we're getting into the true, classic control rackets. All three remaining rackets are 18x20s, and, to be honest, if you want the most control, it doesn't get better than an 18x20. If you've never tried one, this string pattern provides stability and consistency that you won't get with 16x19s.
When control rackets went through their less popular era, the Blade remained a successful flag bearer for this style of racket. That's because it packs some aspects of the modern game into a racket that still prioritizes control over all else.
It has a thin, constant 21-millimetre beam, which gives it a consistent flex ideal for control, but it also has a fantastic shape. There's a reason so many people love the Blade; something about this shape makes the racket feel somewhat forgiving without sacrificing any precision. It's quick through the air but packs a punch, and my absolute favourite characteristic of the Blade is its customizability.
Most rackets have a weight, swingweight, and balance "sweet spot". Usually, brands nail that upon final release, and the racket plays best in stock form. The Blade certainly plays well stock, but it doesn't have that same playability sweet spot where it's best at a specific spec. It responds incredibly well to different balances, static weights, and swing weights, making it ideal for players who want to dial their frame to whatever spec they prefer.
The v8 is one of the softest Blades ever produced. That means it will give you a sensation of control over your ball while it sits in the stringbed that only the best control rackets can provide. That gives you the ability to almost "edit" your shot mid-swing and control exactly where you want to drop it in your opponent's court.
My favourite Blade 18x20 v8 setup came in at 330 swingweight with a leather grip on the handle.
#2 Head Auxetic Prestige Pro
More on why it's not #1 later…
Throughout its storied history, the Prestige has always been one of, if not the best, control rackets available; that's still the case with the current generation. The Prestige is soft (60 RA), an 18x20, and typifies control in its purest sense.
Auxetic tech has improved this version of the Prestige compared to the 360+. It has fantastic feel and is one of the only true classic feeling rackets left on the market today. If you compare it to the Blade, the Blade feels more modern with its slightly more open and forgiving sweet spot. The Prestige is more difficult to use but also more rewarding.
It has a buttery thin beam (20 mm) and a Y-shaped throat (versus the Blade's V-shaped throat), further amplifying its feel. Nothing is better than this design to give you total control over where your ball will go.
Recently, Head changed the flagship Prestige from a 95 to a 98. While it might be easy to say this took away from its control, I don't think it did. It opened up the racket to the modern game, making it more forgiving but still the most controlled option for advanced players.
Wait a second; it's the most controlled racket? Then why isn't it number 1? Remember what I said earlier about overall playability? That's why.
But before we get into #1, I wanted to cover a couple of honourable mentions.
Head Radical Pro 2023
I recently reviewed the Head Radical Pro, and it's a phenomenal racket for control. Between the T-Fight and the Radical, it's about as close as it can get, but the fact that the T-Fight has a constant beam and, therefore, a more consistent flex just pushes it over the edge for me.
Yonex VCore Pro 97D
This is where personal preference comes in. Objectively, the 97D is incredible for control, but I'm not the biggest fan of the new shape and thicker profile that Yonex used with this generation. I also find that Vibration Dampening Mesh (especially with that half-centimetre increase in thickness) makes the sweet spot a little bit mushy, so I never felt as dialed as I wanted to.
#1 Head Gravity Pro 2023
The Gravity is a 100-square-inch racket, yet I've put it number one on the most controlled rackets list; shocking!
That's because, to me, the Gravity Pro is magical. It still feels just as precise on groundstrokes as the Prestige, despite two more square inches of head size; don't ask me how.
The Gravity is an incredibly addictive racket, with that buttery soft 20-millimetre consistent flex and an addictive feel for the ball up there with some of the best feeling rackets I have ever tried. It's stable, consistent, solid, and has that controlled racket x-factor where you never want to put it down.
But the main reason why it tops the Prestige is because of its all-around better playability. With those two extra square inches, the Gravity Pro has more spin potential, power, and a more user-friendly feel that makes it a better racket for the modern game.
That's just it with the Gravity Pro; it represents the perfect control racket in the modern game. Let's look at the best control rackets by generation. In the 80s, they had 85 or 88-square-inch head sizes. In the 90s, it was, well, 90s. In the 2000s, they turned into 95s, and in the 2010s, 98s. It shouldn't be surprising that in the 2020s, one of the best control rackets has a 100 square-inch head size.
It's still not an easy racket to play with, but if you master it, it's one of the best rackets ever produced.
I'm pretty happy with the fact that the top two control rackets both come from Head. They've always prioritized that style of racket over there in Austria, and while they went through a bit of a rough period in the 2010s, they are back producing the very best modern control rackets the sport has to offer.
Beyond Head, though, we've got fantastic control sticks throughout the industry. It's awesome that we're trending back to this racket style because they provide unique sensations that I equate with "the reason we love to play tennis."