Home GearTennis Racquets A love letter to the Prince Vortex

A love letter to the Prince Vortex

by Oak Gast

Our prolific racquet reviewer, Oak Gast, has written a love letter to the Prince Vortex. A unique racquet in many ways.

A love letter to the Prince Vortex

Before you dive into Oak’s writing, you can check out our Prince Vortex review here. The Vortex is on sale right now at Tennis Warehouse.

Where are all the Prince pros?

It’s no secret Prince are not what they used to be in terms of professional endorsements and usage at the recreational level. With John Isner retiring last month, the lone top 100 player on the men’s side with a Prince frame ended Prince’s streak of instantly iconic active players. Some of us might recall not too long ago in 2020, when Iga Swiatek won her first slam with a Textreme Tour 100. Seasoned fans of course, remember the likes of David Ferrer, Michael Chang, and, for a while, the Bryan Brothers all using Prince frames.

The Prince fanbase

What’s left of a once dedicated fanbase is now a hardcore user group who know exactly what they want from their Prince frame of choice. I’m of course, thinking of the buttery-soft Phantom lovers out there, the OG’s still rocking the Graphite 107’s, and the evergreen O3 or “O-port” fans. Prince has updated their lines mostly marginally and at times, sporadically over the years, perhaps not wanting to alienate their purists. Elsewhere, their ATS lineup remains an overlooked and highly legitimate Blade or Pure Strike alternative. However, another part of the company seemingly teems with this desire to innovate through new additions to the existing racquet landscape.

Enter the Vortex

Fourteen mains, twenty-one cross strings. It is a practically unheard-of 14×21 pattern compared to the traditional 16×19 or denser 18×20, coming in both a 300 and 310-gram variety. This racquet is indeed the unicorn level of rare it claims to be. So what is the intention here? While debates about authorial intent can detract from the subject itself (thanks Roland Barthes), it still is worth considering what Prince was possibly hoping to achieve with this pattern that is more open and yet more dense than anything else I can think of.

After over a year with the frame, I’d say it plays most closely to that of a 16×20, sometimes giving me shades of the Pure Strike VS, Vcore 95, and the more recent Aero 98. These frames all feel like their hitting box is more rectangular upon impact if that makes sense. This rectangular contact allows users to hit more laterally across the ball when shaping shots like an inside-out ball. But what 16x20s boil down to is ample spin access with just a hair more precision than a 16×19. It often makes for a super fun frame that can be a deadly weapon in the right player’s hands (I’m talking about Carlitos, the 16×20 user).

How does it play?

The Prince Vortex sees all of this and raises the stakes. What if the mains were both fewer and longer to have increased dwell time via deeper pocketing and increasing power? Done. What if the crosses were greater in number and in proximity to each other to have more string contact in the direction spin is most often generated in? Done. The 14×21 is an incredibly bold statement, not seen since the days of the Asics 109 racquet…

But what you get from this highly unusual pattern is a ridiculous level of spin. I’m talking Pure Aero levels of spin with maybe even less effort, thanks to the lack of mains and their length (more on this later). For someone who loves to hit across a shot with heavy pronation, the crowded set of crosses will grab the ball and rip it along one by one to create a highly satisfying shape for topspin drives. Slices with the Vortex feel like a joke in the sense that the absurd level of cut and fade can be too tempting to resist, causing maybe some overly hasty drop shots. Spin-based shots perform as advertised: highly volatile and appropriately heavy RPM-wise. The fourteen-main layup won’t be for everyone, but those willing to branch out will notice the difference in pop.

Here, the 100” head size lends a hand also. By having a more forgiving hoop to work with, the frame’s power aspect feels more rational and mitigated upon impact. This is not to say that the frame is soft, though, as the one admittedly fair complaint I have heard from this racquet is that it can be “tinny.” Some users will balk at this experience and leave the frame altogether (think of your friend who won’t touch a Pure Drive or a Tecnifibre racquet). But with a middling 63 RA for stiffness, this frame doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.

Talk about standing out…

Where the Vortex starts to become even more unusual, though is how it responds to all the aforementioned design choices. The eight most central mains are extended into the v-shaped throat, elongated to allow for more elasticity in their middle, where the racquet’s overall sweet spot is located. But what is particularly interesting about this geometry is how far the mains extend beyond what a normal oval hoop would allow. The Vortex essentially “cheats” its way to a 100” head size by having a couple of square inches at the bottom be more or less useless for contact. The only way I’ve been able to describe the feeling of this is by noting how the pocketing feels geometrically like that of a 95” or a 97” frame while maintaining the forgiving impact nature of a 100” head size. For me, it’s a frame that plays more precise than what a 100” head size would normally offer.

But it is certainly not lacking for power either. I hit primarily with the 310g version of the frame, which has some additional mass to help stabilize the massive power array the frame has due to several features. The frame can be a little hard to hit flat and drive the ball with, especially on the forehand, but it never hurts from the defensive side. Groundstrokes are reliable enough, but it’s a good idea to have a string setup that will help you achieve a smooth and comfortable experience (Yonex Polytour Pro, Kirschbaum Super Smash, Isospeed Cream, etc.). The overall contact point of the frame feels closer to one’s body compared to most traditional oval hoops, but the rectangular hitting zone helps smooth over that difference.

The Prince Vortex is pretty much a must-try

Serving with the Vortex is rewarding, as the elliptical beam twists easily, allowing for heavy wrist flicks and any kick serves. The power access here is nice, letting you hit big without too much effort. At times, the closer hitting zone can be a little hard to time, and the frame may not have quite the level of control one might crave for hitting certain spots. Volleys with the Vortex are so spin-friendly and fast that the hardest thing will usually be slowing down your motion enough to compensate for what it allows you to do. The closer contact point also helps for jammed shots at the net, wherein fewer options are available.

The Vortex is a frame that I love for its uniqueness. If you see one floating around or are looking for a fun one to try, don’t be afraid to be caught in its whirlwind.

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glou October 23, 2023 - 14:46

Damnit, you basically tempted so much I have bought one at a very fair price to test :)

What really appeals me to this frame is the spin and feel that I already get from my Phantom 03, with an extra help on serve and at net with this pop you mention, and that the Phantom of course hardly gives you, even with O3 ports… Also the more even balance with the 300g weight will bring a little more free plowthrough :)

I am just a bit cautious about this “tinny” feel you mention? I think it is surprising for a 63RA frame, and reminds me of what I felt with the Pure Aero VS, actually a 16×20 that was not comfortable and tolerant I think.

But as you mention globally a nice level of both comfort and tolerance from the Vortex, I will give it a try as soon as I receive this funky beauty home :)))

Will come back here to review this of course!
Thanks for your great input here

Kevin October 28, 2023 - 22:18

I just ordered a Vortex after reading the love letter. I hope the author didn‘t exaggerate.
Mine will come strung with Grapplesnake Tour Sniper. I am really curious how the Vortex plays in comparance to my Prince Tour ATS 310/290g.


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