The mood around Vancouver is at an all time high (if time encompasses only the Covid era of 2020 and 2021). The sun is shining, the days are long, and we have consistent warm weather. What's more? We are living in an era where tennis rackets are coming out left, right and center, and each one is pushing the next to be even better than before.
The industry is currently less focused on creating the next “big thing” with drastic redesigns and revolutionary ideas. Instead, they are perfecting what is known to work. We are living in a neo golden age of racket design and technology and in this article, we will highlight 5 of the best rackets for the summer of 2021.
Babolat Pure Drive 2021
The Pure Drive is a racket that needs no introduction, but I’ll introduce it anyway. Since it came to the North American market in the year 2000, it has dominated sales, year in and year out. The Pure Drive truly upset the apple cart when it ﬁrst came out. Originally, powerful and forgiving rackets like the Hammers from Wilson or the Ti. S6 from Head had a ceiling to their potential. They were generally light, oversized and fairly head heavy, making them a no go for any advanced player with a fast, full stroke. While they got the ball over the net easily, they failed to provide the adequate stability, balance and feel for the ball, like traditional player's rackets did.
The Pure Drive introduced the concept of the “Tweener," a racket with a 100 square inch head size, thick beam, 16 by 19 string pattern and very average weight and balance. As its name suggests, its specs sat in between those traditional frames, and the powerful ones. But rather than sitting as an alternative racket to the established styles, the Pure Drive revolutionized the game. It's forgiving nature, but still precise and powerful feel, gave way to a faster, more spin-friendly and harder-hitting game.
The frame’s open string pattern allowed advanced players to take huge cuts at the ball without risking overhitting, as the ball would dive in when it approached the baseline. Over the years, the Pure Drive dominated sales worldwide, and allowed frame manufacturing newcomers, Babolat, to establish itself as a leading brand in the ultra competitive tennis market. Nowadays, the classic blue colour of the Pure Drive is prevalent, not only in the Babolat line, but also in each other company’s lineup. As the saying goes, “adapt, or die”. The newest edition of the Pure Drive is not unlike its predecessors. When a racket is as good as the Pure Drive, it is important that its evolutions be subtle improvements, rather than drastic redesigns. Babolat did just that with its newest edition.
With the introduction of SMAC technology in the hoop, the 2020 Pure Drive has incredible ball pocketing, and better comfort than ever before. Whereas in years past players sacrificed some feel and control in order to play with a Pure Drive, this edition feels more connected to the ball, while maintaining all its core elements that have made it one of the true classics of the game. With its four different weight categories, there is also a Pure Drive for everyone, the lightest one being geared most toward the beginner looking to improve their game and the heaviest, a racket that will compliment a fast, powerful stroke.
Head Graphene 360+ Gravity MP
It’s no secret at Rackets & Runners that this particular staff member has a fairly sizeable affinity toward this frame. As the proud owner of over 50 different rackets in my time as a tennis enthusiast, I have settled on the Gravity line as my racket of choice.
What makes the Gravity so special? Many players, myself included, have a hard time swallowing their pride, and moving from 95 or even 98 square inch rackets. We are addicted to the incredible connection to the ball that those frames provide us. But, we know deep in our hearts, that our games could do with a bit of forgivingness. Yes, that is a word. The Gravity fills this void.
While the Pure Drive mentioned earlier falls under that traditional “Tweener” style of rackets, I like to call the Gravity, the “Tweener of Tweeners” as it falls between Tweeners and more traditional rackets. Traditional Tweeners all feature a thick beam, stiff ﬂex and 100 square inch head size. The Gravity keeps that 100 square inch head size, but drastically softens up the ﬂex, thins out the beam, and even tightens up the string pattern ever so slightly to 16 by 20 - all in line with more traditional, players’ frames. With the soft ﬂex and thin beam, the Gravity offers incredible ball pocketing and feel. The sweet spot is sweet, like it should be, with these more traditional looking frames, but the 100 square inch head size offers up all the benefits of a traditional Tweener.
It is also worth mentioning that Head finally got it right with Graphene 360+. Once a turn off to Head purists, “Graphene” should no longer send you packing, but rather pull you back to the Head brand as it features spiral ﬁbers, a molding technology that is synonymous with some of the most legendary Head frames in history. With its bold 2-tone and now gradient paint job, the Gravity will certainly turn a few heads. But under its ﬂashy exterior, is a truly great racket. And, dare I say? It's a modern legend in the Head brand.
Yonex EZONE 98
Yonex is a brand with a feverish, cult like following. Their quality control, made-in-Japan precision, and bold, different styles make those who use their rackets swear by them. Their mainstream support ebbs and flows with the years, but those who support them, will rarely touch another brand.
The 2020 Yonex EZONE 98 is one of the latest frames in a long list of fantastic Yonex frames. The EZONE separates itself from more traditional 98 square inch head size rackets not only because of its striking Isometric hoop shape, but also because of the, far from traditional, proﬁle of the racket. When marketing a racket as a mid plus (98 square inch head sizes fall within the mid plus category), one of the key elements the brand must get right, is the feel on contact and connection to the ball. Most mid plus frames achieve this with a thin, constant beam and a soft ﬂex. The thin beam and soft ﬂex, however, require a heavy racket to make the contact outside the sweet spot forgiving enough to use with any consistency. The EZONE 98 goes against this traditional proﬁle and thickens up the beam drastically in the hoop, while remaining thin and ﬂexible in the throat. The thick beamed hoop allows the EZONE to remain forgiving and powerful without adding a lot of weight, and the thin throat keeps the ﬂex and pocketing that players love from traditional mid pluses.
This edition of the EZONE features VDM (Vibration Dampening Mesh) and is a huge step in the right direction when compared to its predecessor. It is always dangerous to mention the DR 98 in any comparison because of the adulation tennis aficionados had for that racket, but it truly feels like Yonex reverted back to the DR’s feel, rather than the more jarring one of the 2018 model. While every brand has their historical, stand out frame (the Pro Staff from Wilson, the Prestige from Head, and the Pure Drive from Babolat), Yonex has never had the same, standout line. If it keeps making EZONEs as incredible as the 2020, DR, and AI 98, surely Yonex has found its ﬂagship racket.
Wilson Blade 98 (16x19) v6
No, this is not the current, top of the line, ground breaking Wilson Blade V7 with all its ﬂashy elements in FreeFlex nor is it the aero space grade Countervail ﬁlled V6 Blade. This is a Blade without any of those technologies, re-released for 2021 at a discounted price, and a low proﬁle marketing campaign. To a lot of people, this may sound like a down grade, as it makes no bold “feel” claims and features nothing that one could deem as “modern”. But to some of you out there, this may be just what the doctor ordered.
While those Blades certainly have their following, I believe there is something to be said about the Blade returning to its pure, unadulterated feel. With a ﬂex rating of around 63, it does not feel as soft and, dare I say, mushy as the current blade. And, without the element of Countervail, the connection to the ball is certainly more precise and crisp. What are the stand out elements of this racket? This racket is a Blade, its standout element is just that. It will not give you anything for free, but when you swing it right, and make proper contact with the ball, the response will be in line with what this ever popular series has had to offer over the years.
Many Blade fans have been looking for a racket to replace their 2015 version. While it may not be the exact same frame, it is about as close as it can get, and it won’t be around for long. Soon it will make way to the V8, a new Blade that will certainly make a splash.
Babolat Pure Aero Rafa
Much like its cousin, the Pure Drive, the Pure Aero has been a staple of Babolat’s lineup for over 15 years. Sometimes it is a bit difﬁcult to distinguish between the two, but it is important to state that they are by no means the same racket. Although their specs align nearly identically, there are several key elements that separate the two and make each racket suitable for different types of player.
The Pure Aero is a thick beamed, 100 square inch, 16 by 19 string pattern Tweener style racket as well, however, its aero, thin throat design lends itself more to the modern, spin friendly forehand found most frequently amongst juniors. Those players whose racket face ﬂies through the air parallel with the ground and produce loads of spin on their forehand, will certainly appreciate the whippy sensation the throat helps to provide. If you are more of a visual learner and don’t understand the type of stroke I am referencing, have a look at “Rafael Nadal's slow motion forehands” on Youtube. You may even learn a few tricks. It comes as no surprise that a legend like Nadal deserved a line of rackets tailor-made for his game. It also comes as no surprise that thousands of players model their games after the tennis great and will beneﬁt from the line of rackets that have served him so well.
In 2021, the classic banana yellow of the Pure Aero has made way for the gorgeous Rafa-speciﬁc color of the racket. With its purple and orange-red paint-job, the racket oozes royalty and references the slippery surface of Roland Garros’ terre battue. Fitting for the King of Clay.
Like I mentioned earlier, we are living in a golden age of rackets. The brands are pushing each other to create better and better frames and I truly feel that we are at a new high in racket technology. While I have highlighted speciﬁc models within each line, because of the variety offered from brands nowadays, there is certainly a frame within each line that will work for you! Come visit us in store or on our website to grab a racket, head out to the courts and enjoy the rest of this beautiful Vancouver summer.