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Home GearTennis RacquetsRacquet Reviews The Gear of the Year 2018 – Tennis Racquets

The Gear of the Year 2018 – Tennis Racquets

by Tennisnerd
Wilson Clash Racquet Review - Complete

This is my annual post where I list the best gear I’ve tested during the year. This time it is 2018 and the many racquets and strings I tested during last year. Welcome to The Gear of the Year 2018.

I want to start this Gear of the Year 2018 post by separating products into categories. In a way, it is easiest for tennis racquets to do it by head size, but sometimes a 100 sq inch racquet can be a control racquet and a 95 sq inch racquet can be more of a power racquet so it is difficult to find the best way to do this. I decided to create a hybrid categorization where I describe who the racquet is for and its key attributes.

Gear of the Year 2018 – Game improvement and power racquets

HEAD Graphene 360 Extreme Pro Racquet Review

I personally often gravitate towards player frames where control is key, but I am often tempted to switch to using a powerful, game improvement racquet. With “game improvement”, I mean that you get some things for free, such as more power and spin. But…and a big butt, you need to be able to control all this power for you to use the racquet the way it is intended. However, no matter if you hit flat or with lots of spin, these racquets will give you extra juice on the ball without you increasing your swing speed. They are usually lighter and easier to swing.

I tested quite a few powerful, game improvement racquets this year and I want to give you my top three, but first some comments with a link to each review.

Babolat Pure Drive Tour Plus – A monster with power and spin. If you can manage the swing weight of 330+ and still put enough spin on the ball you will like this one. Still, a bit too powerful for my taste. I think this racquet plays very close to the HEAD Graphene 360 Extreme Pro. Both racquets offer intoxicating power and spin, but sometimes simply too much of the good stuff. Still, both racquets are a lot of fun to hit! Keep in mind though that if you have any arm issues, these racquets can be quite harsh for your elbow and wrist.

Babolat Pure Aero 2019 Racquet Review

The Babolat Pure Aero 2019 showed that more of the same isn’t always a bad thing. So many tennis players love the Pure Aero line and the update with its lower stiffness is a step in the right direction. I think the Pure Aero offers a bit better feel than the racquets above, but it is still a rather stiff racquet with a lot of power and spin. It is a bit too much for my game style, but if that is what you are looking for and you don’t have a history of arm issues, I think you will really like this update.

I was a bit late on the review of the Tecnifibre Tflash 300 Powerstab, that was made famous (among tennis nerds) mainly due to that Tennis Warehouse play-tester legend Chris Edwards uses it as his racquet of choice. I did not like this racquet as much as Chris though. It felt a bit more sluggish than the Pure Aero and the stiffness was definitely there although they had done a good job on the dampening.

My favorite powerful and spin-friendly racquet of 2018 is the not-yet-released Wilson Clash Prototype. Yes, an extremely hyped-up racquet, but I really think they nailed this one. You don’t get as much power as you get with the Pure Aero or HEAD Extreme, but you get better comfort and feel. Simply a very well-balanced racquet that I am looking forward to hitting with more when it is released on February 15th.

Wilson Clash Racquet Review - CompleteCategory winner: The Wilson Clash.
Runner-up: Babolat Pure Aero 2019

Gear of the year 2018 – Control-oriented 100 sq inch racquets

You want a bit of both worlds? You like a large sweet spot, but still want to be able feel completely connected to the ball? And you can generate spin yourself? Well, then the Prince Phantom Pro 100P might be a good racquet for you. I really liked the thin beam and the low stiffness rating of the new Prince Phantom series. I had two issues with the Phantom Pro 100P: the round-ish head shape and I lacked some spin despite the 16×18 pattern. Otherwise, it is a top racquet! This racquet slices like a knife through butter and the touch on volleys is dream-like.

HEAD Graphene 360 Speed Pro - SpecsThe HEAD Graphene 360 Speed Pro was not far from becoming my next racquet of choice. Somehow HEAD had made a 100 sq inch racquet that moved FAST through the air, played controlled despite being 100 sq inches and felt crisp in a good way. I loved this racquet on my first couple of outings with it and it is still one of my most memorable frames of 2018. Slight soreness in my wrist, however, started worrying me and regarding comfort, I don’t take any risks. It is definitely not as comfortable as the RA suggest and the hollow feel of the Graphene racquets is still there in the 360-updates.

Angell is a small racquet manufacturer that produces high-quality racquets that you can spec yourself when it comes to their Custom line. I had the fortune to try a bunch of their racquets in 2018 and one was the Angell TC 100. This felt a lot closer to the Phantom Pro 100P than the Graphene 360 and is a racquet that offers surprisingly good control and feel for a 100 sq inch racquet. Nothing really stood out to me with this racquet, but it was just an all-round, competent and comfortable frame.

I was also late to the game on the HEAD Graphene Touch Prestige Tour, that is 99 sq inches and still a very controlled frame. I liked this racquet quite a bit. It felt more forgiving than other control racquets and the 18×19 string pattern offered a good blend of control and spin. The power level is really low though so you need to string with low tension. In the end, I did not feel quite as connected to the ball as I did with the Graphene 360 Speed or Phantom Pro.

Category winner: HEAD Graphene 360 Speed Pro.
Runner-up: Prince Phantom Pro 100P (better comfort)
Honorary mention: Angell Custom TC 100

Gear of the year 2018 – The In-Betweeners, 98 sq inch racquets

98 sq inch racquets are the new 95. You get a bit more real estate and playing around with string patterns you can give good power and spin in a maneuverable package. There are many good 98 sq inch racquets on the market. I only tried one with extended length, however, the Yonex DR 98+. Extended length racquets give you more swing weight, better reach, but obviously move slower through the air. The DR 98+ was comfortable and still offered a good balance of power and control, but the extended length is not just for me.

Prince kept impressing me with their racquets. I like how they offer comfortable, highly playable frames without lots of technology lingo. The Prince Beast 98 offered a really nice balance of spin, power, and control in a comfortable package. The beam is a bit thicker, the head is a bit too round, but if you want a bit of help with power and spin in a 98 sq inch package, this one is a great option. It plays similar to the Babolat Pure Strike 98, but with better comfort.

Prince Beast 98 Racquet Review

Yonex is also a reliable performer in the racquet market, but they did not wow me with the Yonex VCORE 98. I simply could not connect with this racquet in a good way. I think the 16×19 pattern is a bit too open for this frame and you get a bit too much power/spin which moves it more into the Game Improvement category. Control and feel were simply lacking.  I would go with a Pure Aero instead if I am looking for power and spin.

Solinco is more famous for their strings (Hyper-G being one of my fave strings of all time), but they do make some racquets. The Solinco Shadow 305 was a competent stick, but nothing really stood out to me the way it did with the Diadem Elevate 98, another company more famous for their strings, but with a racquet that offers a really nice balanced response, a 16×20 pattern (my fave for a 98 sq inch racquet), and good feel.

Angell K7 Red Racquet Review

The Angell K7 Red is one of the racquets I have recommended most often in 2018. I simply loved the balance of feel and spin in this racquet and made it my racquet of choice for a while. It is ultra-comfortable and yet offers decent power. Sometimes the string bed felt a bit too open so it did eat some strings, but this racquet is just a great all-rounder and I am very curious about its 18×20 big brother, the Angell K7 Lime that I will review soon.

Category winner: Angell K7 Red
Runner-up: Prince Beast 98
Honorary mention: Diadem Elevate 98

Gear of the year 2018 – Advanced player racquets – Control and precision

This is my own favorite category and I tested many frames in 2018. I liked the Wilson Six One 95 18×20 re-issue as I used to play with the nCode version, but it wasn’t as good as nCode in my opinion (stiffer and less maneuverable). I tried two Angell Custom 95 sq inch racquets, in 70 and 63 RA and in 18×20 and 16×19 string patterns: Angell TC 95 18×20, Angell TC 95 16×19. Both were competent frames, but nothing mind-blowing. I also tested two Donnay racquets: Donnay Pro One 97 Penta and Donnay Pro One 97 Hexa with low RA ratings and they both offered good feel but felt a bit mushy in the string bed. These sticks are very low-powered and you really need to swing at the ball to create good power.

Playing with flexible racquets - VCORE Pro 97 330I compared the Yonex VCORE Pro 97 330 with the Wilson Pro Staff 97 RF Autograph and although I liked both frames, the VCORE Pro lacked some stability and I would have preferred it with the 16×20 string pattern of the predecessor due to its slightly uncontrolled launch angle. The RF97A (short for the Pro Staff Autograph) is stiff, but with thanks to the weight and with the right string setup (Champions Choice) it plays fantastically. The issue is that it is a LOT to swing over a two-hour match. But I can see why Roger Federer plays with it.

Yonex did, however, launch a really nice racquet with the Yonex VCORE 95. More spin and more power than most other 95 sq inch racquets. Really enjoyed that one! Felt larger than a 95 for sure. Another racquet that felt larger than its head size was the Prince Phantom Pro 93P – a real gem! Ultra-thin beam, yet still stable and relatively powerful despite the 93 sq inch head size and the 18×20 string pattern. If you like midsize frames, this is one of the finest ones ever made.

PS. If you want an even smaller head size, the Angell TC 90 offered a nice response. But you need to make sure to hit the ball in the sweet spot! DS.

Dunlop Srixon CX 200 Tour Racquet Review

In the end, the racquet that impressed me enough for me to switch to it was the Dunlop Srixon CX 200 Tour 18×20 and its brother Dunlop Srixon CX 200 Tour 16×19. Sure, I could have played with Yonex VCORE 95 or the Prince Phantom 93P too, but the Dunlops offered a good balance of everything and a really nice feel on serves and volleys. A really well-balanced frame in every way if you are an attacking player.

Category winner: Dunlop Srixon CX 200 Tour
Runner-up: Prince Phantom 93P
Honorary mention: Yonex VCORE 95.

Many good racquets were released in 2018 and above are some of my favorites. Now I am curious to hear what your racquet journey was like in 2018. What racquets did you test? What did you fall for? Please comment below.

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31 comments

Javier January 1, 2019 - 4:01 pm

Hi, except for the strings and tension, are there others ways to reduce the racquet’s stifness?

Happy 2019

Reply
Tennisnerd January 2, 2019 - 3:26 pm

Hi,
Well, you can add some blu-tack or silicone in the handle to dampen vibrations. Otherwise, there is really no other way besides strings and tension. Happy new year!

Cheers / Jonas

Reply
Olivier Drinkwater January 1, 2019 - 8:13 pm

Hi Jonas, Happy new year! I have similar but different questions to the one above. I’m looking to buy and try out a racket that matches the most to Novak Djokovic’s racket specs and setup to see how it suits my game. However, the two rackets that I could find available that seemed to match his setup the most with customisation are the two Dunlop rackets: Dunlop Srixon CX 200 Tour 18×20, and the previous version, the Dunlop Srixon Revo CX 2.0 Tour 18×20.

Both rackets are 95 sq. inch head size 18×20 and can be customised very similar to Djokovic’s setup. However, although on Dunlop’s website it has both rackets as the same stiffness rating, TennisWarehouse.com and other places have the previous version (CX 2.0) at 61 RA and the new update (CX 200) at 63/64.

Since Djokovic’s old/new racket has a 60-62 RA, I was first thinking of buying the older 2.0 version. However, every review of both rackets, including yours, states that the new 200 update is not just simply stiffer, but a better racket in general. It is said to have more precision, spin, comfort, stability, easier power and bigger sweet-spot with better and more advanced technology.

Some of these things like very good stability and power might perhaps come in the previous version by matching Djokovic’s lead setup, but the two main questions I have are: Which racket should I get if I wanted a great racket that matched his setup the most?; and If I get the new update but still wanted the racket to be as close to his setup as possible and still play exactly like his, what exactly should the setup be, in your opinion, to accommodate for the higher stiffness? For example, if Djokovic’s old/new racket has a 370 SW, what SW should the new Dunlop be, i.e. 363? Additionally, if Djokovic’s string tension is normally 61 mains and 59 crosses, what should the new Dunlop tension be, i.e. 64 mains and 62 crosses?

My final question is what the difference in tension is between a pre-stretched and non-pre-stretched poly string, in your opinion? The following link: https://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/pre-stretching-poly-in-light-of-new-twu-data.460115/ states that the difference for a pre-stretched string is something like 4-8 lbs higher in tension with no adverse playability but much longer and better tension sustainability.

All the best with your fantastic website and videos,

Olivier Drinkwater.

Reply
Tennisnerd January 2, 2019 - 11:26 am

Hi Olivier,

I think the older Dunlop Srixon flexes a bit more and is therefore closer to Djokovic’s setup. It is easier to generate power with the more recent model, but if you really want to get a racquet that plays like Djoker’s actual frame (the older one, since he uses a 18×19 pattern these days). I think a racquet such as HEAD LM Radical Tour which he used to use, gives you a similar feel but with more power. Another racquet that I think is probably even closer in feel is the Prince Rebel 95. Especially the heavier, green/yellow version.

I have one LM Radical Tour and Prince Rebel 95 that I can sell you cheap if you are interested.

Regarding the pre-stretching of polys I have not tried it myself so I suggest you do and see what happens. My instinct is similar to one of the writers there: “Pre-stretching improves tension maintenance, but lessens the amount of hours you have before elasticity is lost.” I think polys play best when about two hours in so I think the pro’s sometimes pre-stretch polys to get a better feel straight away for a match, but for an amateur, this means less playing time.

Thanks for your support / Jonas

Reply
Olivier Drinkwater January 1, 2019 - 8:31 pm

Hi Jonas, Happy new year! I have similar but different questions to the one above. I’m looking to buy and try out a racket that matches the most to Novak Djokovic’s racket specs and setup to see how it suits my game. However, the two rackets that I could find available that seemed to match his setup the most with customisation are the two Dunlop rackets: Dunlop Srixon CX 200 Tour 18×20, and the previous version, the Dunlop Srixon Revo CX 2.0 Tour 18×20.

Reply
Olivier Drinkwater January 1, 2019 - 9:42 pm

Apologies, I only meant to send the first message. Just wasn’t sure if it was sent as it doesn’t appear within a 5 minute period.

Reply
Tennisnerd January 2, 2019 - 10:49 am

No problem, Olivier!

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Brian January 2, 2019 - 3:34 am

Do you like any of the Volkl racquets? I got a C-10, but can’t seem to get it right. I’ve re-strung it several times with Solinco Hyper g at 50#, but I think it still needs to go lower. Awesome racquet when you get your strokes right. I’m just not consistent enough.

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Tennisnerd January 2, 2019 - 10:49 am

Hi Brian,
Yeah, I like both the PB 10 Mid and the C10. I agree that you should string the C10 quite low, but remember that it is a heavy racquet to swing so it might be the weight?

Regards / Jonas

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Olivier Drinkwater January 2, 2019 - 6:07 pm

Hi Jonas,

Thank you very much for your reply. Yes, I do really want to get a racket that plays just like Djokovic’s actual frame, and it would be amazing if I could buy one off you. To clarify, are you saying that the Prince Rebel 95 (heavier version that you have) plays the most like Djokovic’s racket?; When you say ’feel’ you mean specs right? And should I buy both of them off you or just one? I want to use the one that is like his racket the most. Are they going to be a lot different than the the racket he currently uses? He’s playing amazing tennis at the moment, but I guess he did win a lot with his previous racket before his injury. Hopefully that won’t happen to me! If you could also send me the specs of both rackets, that would be great, along with the price. Specs like SW, Strung weight, strung balance, head size, string pattern, Flex, and Grip size.

All the best,

Olivier

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Olivier Drinkwater January 3, 2019 - 12:48 pm

I’ve just seen this post of a prince rebel 95 it says you’re selling 2 of: https://tennisnerd.net/product/prince-rebel-95

It’s says it is 350 grams strung and I found its specs here: https://www.tennis-warehouse.com/Reviews/PXOR/PXORReview.html
It has a 337 SW. If I added 8.5 grams at 12, I would get 367 SW, similar to Djokovic’s. However, I would not have a leather grip, and with a Wilson Pro Overgrip, the racquet would be 364 grams strung. That seems okay but I’m not sure if the racquet will be like Djokovic’s as a result, I’m wandering what your opinion about this is? Also, is the racket as good as Djokovic’s in terms of performance? TennisWarehouse didn’t give it good reviews…

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Tennisnerd January 3, 2019 - 7:17 pm

Hi Olivier, sent you an e-mail just now!

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Joe January 4, 2019 - 10:10 pm

Hi. I’m coming off of a wilson six one 95 18×20 and I’m looking for something with more power and spin. I’ve searched quite a bit but I’ve landed on the babolat pure strike 98. It’s the only racquet that seems to be “similar” enough while offering upgrade in spin and power. What are your thoughts on the new pure strike and do you have any recommendations?

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Tennisnerd January 6, 2019 - 8:58 pm

Hi,
I think you will really like the Pure Strike if you are familiar with the Six One 95. I added a leather grip and 4 grams of lead tape and 3 and 9 and really enjoyed it. It will be a bit stiffer than the Wilson so find an arm-friendly string for it, perhaps a hybrid or softer poly.

Cheers / Jonas

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Lucas almeida January 5, 2019 - 3:38 am

Hi im using a prince exo 3 tour team im looking for a new racquet because i have One and my model is impossible To find. I tried the phamtons but i dont like it very thin and low powered im looking for a something with 100-98 head size , faster feel , softer , beam 22-23-21 One of these, and a weigth of 300-310 unstrung im 15 years old i looking more weigth but not much . i play a competitive level im 23 national so pls help me

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Tennisnerd January 6, 2019 - 9:01 pm

Hi Lucas,
Here are a few options to consider:
Prince Beast 98 (nice mix of power and spin, yet comfortable).
Yonex VCORE Pro 310 or VCORE 98.
Diadem Elevate.
HEAD Graphene 360 Speed Pro.

Good luck! Cheers / Jonas

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Tom January 5, 2019 - 12:52 pm

Hi Jonas

Have you had a chance to hit with any of the PK Q Tours, especially the 325 ? They are very comfortable racquets and rock solid especially with a leather grip added. They are also priced well.

Reply
Tennisnerd January 6, 2019 - 9:06 pm

Hi Tom,
Sadly, not! Heard it is a great stick 🙂

ProKennex deserves more respect and notice…

Cheers / Jonas

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Mark January 6, 2019 - 12:27 pm

I bought the Head Speed Pro 360 and I love the frame. For 100sq inches it has unbelievable control and decent power. However, like you, I started getting wrist pain which I’ve never had before. It was on the outside part of the wrist.

I stopped using it for a while and went back to my Pure Strike 98 and the pain subsided. I’m going to try it with a dampner because I’m not yet ready to admit it’s not the frame for me 🙂

Why can’t Head ditch Graphene and give us pure graphite frames? I’m thinking of trying Angel next.

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Tennisnerd January 6, 2019 - 8:30 pm

Shame to hear you also got some wrist pain from the Graphene 360 Speed Pro! I really loved it from everywhere on the court, but potential arm problems is a no-no for me. And the Pure Strike should be stiffer so that is strange indeed. Try customizing it a bit with lead tape and see what happens, some players have reported that doing this has improved the stability and comfort.

I agree in general that old-school graphite is the sh#t! 🙂 PS. Angell makes some nice racquets! DS.

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Mark January 7, 2019 - 1:46 am

When I bought the racquet I added 2g at 12 and 2g at the top of the handle. So 4g in total. Should I add more? Where would you recommend? I don’t want it to be too sluggish. Although I’m used to heavier frames, the idea with changing to this frame was to get some more free power and forgiveness while maintaining control. The manouveribility of the frame is not something I want to negatively impact too much. Maybe more at 12 is the best…? Thanks!

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Jaime Vargas January 21, 2019 - 6:05 am

Jonas,

A question about why you don’t like “round” frames: what is the downside? I see the positives as being a little more latitude for spin, and perhaps a more consistent stringbed response. What am I missing? (except for one oversize Head Radical, all my frames are ovoid)

Thanks much,
Jaime

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Tennisnerd January 21, 2019 - 7:44 am

Hi Jaime,
Good question. I think it is mostly a visual thing for me. For some reason, they feel slower through the air. Not sure this is due to physics, but it is my personal feeling. Nothing wrong with round though.

Enjoy your round frames 🙂 Regards / Jonas

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Jianwen Lan January 24, 2019 - 2:55 am

Hey,

Let me ask a question about a racket that is not mentioned in your article. I am always curious about why TW give Speed MP a low grade compared with Pure Strike 17. I believe Speed MP is a decent control-oriented racket. Could you share your opinion of why Pure Strike is much better than Speed MP according to TW grade.

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Tennisnerd January 24, 2019 - 1:36 pm

Hi,
Which version of the HEAD Speed MP are you referring to? Cheers / J

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Jianwen Lan January 26, 2019 - 10:45 pm

Hi,

Speed Touch MP or 360 MP. I know that the touch and feel are quite different between this two (muted vs. crisp), but overall performance are similar. BTW, Tennis Warehouse always give Speed MP a grade at 80 no matter what version it is, while Pure Strike 17 is the first 90 of all time. So, why?

Thanks

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Tennisnerd January 28, 2019 - 11:36 am

Hi Jianwen,
I think the infatuation with the Pure Strike was because it was such an improvement over the previous version and besides the stiffness, it really is an excellent racquet. But I think there are good things to be said for the Graphene 360 MP as well. The Touch was good too, but I felt a little bit less connected to the ball with that racquet. I would not say that the Graphene 360 MP or Pro are worse racquets than the Pure Strike though. I can’t talk for Tennis Warehouse reviewers, but the design, the marketing campaign and the performance of the 2017 Pure Strike, probably left all of us a little too impressed. I used that racquet for a couple of months before I started feeling some wrist tenderness even with a hybrid string setup and then I gave it up.

Cheers / Jonas

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Leon February 8, 2019 - 3:31 pm

Hi,

I was wondering what you could advise me for my Pure Strike 98. I’m playing it since 6 month now. In the beginning it was really nice, gave me lots of spin which made the higher power, compared to my previous racquet, more manageable. In the beginning I used gamma io soft at 24 kg which felt quite good, unfortunately it broke after roughly 2 hours of playing. So I tried different strings for quite a while and ended up with Yonex poly tour pro 1.30 at 22 kg. After a while there are always since details which bother me. For instance it felt stiff ( got better with the drop in tension). I’m not having arm issues, but it’s not really comfortable. The other thing is that sometimes it feels quite unstable and takes some confidence away in play.
Is this also something you have experienced with it? Could customizations make it better (I don’t have any experience with customizations, so what could you suggest)? Or do you have any advice on a better suited racquet?

Thank you in advance.

I really enjoy reading your reviews and reports on the retail and pro stock racquets btw! It really opens up a new world if you were unaware of what difference there is. 

Cheers,
Leon

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Bas February 20, 2019 - 8:17 am

Hi Jonas,

Im missing the Yonex VCORE pro (310), just picked it up myself and loving it! What are your thoughts about that one?

Greets

Reply
Tennisnerd February 21, 2019 - 9:47 pm

Hi Bas,
It is a good racquet! Leaves more room for customization than the 330 version. I thought the launch angle was a bit high with the VCORE Pro series, but otherwise really nice racquets. Cheers / Jonas

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Songs for a dead pilot. May 24, 2019 - 12:05 am

Hi Jonas!

I guess I’ve missed Dunlop Srixon C2.0 Tour in recent months due to its really bad graphics. However I’ve just demoed both CX200 and I must admit they also impressed me very much. It is a perfect combinaton of best Prestige-like feel, low SW (however they are still very stable), precision and power. Both rackets even in stock form offer much more power than I exppected from control-oriented rackets.

Bought two CX2.0 Tour for now (lower stiffness catched me a bit more than CX200 power), but for sure I will be buying CX200 soon as well.

Thanks, Tomasz.

Reply

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