I thought I would try something a little bit different that is making a video about the racquets of the three GOATs – Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal.
The idea of this video was to explain why the three GOATs use different racquets. Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal all have different styles as tennis players and you need a racquet to work with your style of play. That is why the choice of racquet and string matter not only to the pros but also to recreational players. It needs to suit your style, level of play and physical ability.
The race to be the Greatest Player of All Time will be on for a while, but frankly, I find the discussion a little bit pointless. These players are all GOATs and are already in the top three spots when it comes to achievements on a tennis court. Can't we just leave it at that? 🙂
There is a lot of content around the specs of their racquets already on Tennisnerd, but not so much about WHY they use the racquet they do. One of the main reasons is that they got used to that style of racquet in their junior years, but it is obviously mainly because it fit their game so well and felt right to them.
Federer and his Pro Staff
Federer started out with the Pro Staff 85. A difficult racquet to use, but which gives you pinpoint precision and feel when you play aggressive tennis. The Pro Staff Line went from 85 to 90 (where he won most of his slams) and in 2014 he changed to the 97, which is by far the most powerful and easy to use of them. The extra power and spin he can achieve with this racquet have helped him stay dangerous on court and at the time of writing, he has won three slams with the Pro Staff 97.
Federer is an attacking player who needs a racquet with a good balance of power and control. He needs the power to finish off points, but also directional control to be able to go for the lines. The stability of the Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph, will help him to pick up balls from the baseline and keep the opponent on his toes.
Read more about Federer's racquet.
Nadal loves spin
Rafael Nadal learned how to hit with a massive amount of topspin early in his tennis career. His uncle taught him that by doing so he gets himself a better margin for error and would make fewer mistakes. Besides, a ball loaded with topspin is not as easy for the opponent to attack. Nadal took this to extremes and often played two meters or so behind the baseline and chased down every ball. He played the margins and made it extremely difficult for his opponents to win a point. This style of play worked well for him and he became the legendary “king of clay”. But in recent years he has become much more aggressive as a player and is now a threat on all surfaces.
Nadal always used a 100 sq inch racquet that gave him a nice margin for error and the ability to produce a lot of spin on his shots. He started with the Babolat Soft Drive, moved to the Pure Drive and since 2004 he has played with the Aero Pro Drive – an aerodynamically designed racquet made for spin.
Read more about Rafael Nadal's racquet.
Djokovic is all about control
Djokovic plays tennis like a game of chess. He needs a racquet that gives him precision, stability, and feel. In his younger years, he used the HEAD LM Radical Tour, then he switched to the Wilson H22 before he got back to HEAD again with a racquet called the PT113B (based on an older Radical racquet). In 2018 he made some changes to his racquet, he changed the mold slightly, extended it, reduced the weight and changed string pattern from 18×20 to 18×19. This gave him a bit more free spin and power.
Djokovic uses the most controlled racquet of three GOATs and he plays a very precise game of tennis where he holds his opponents at bay with excellent depth. He is a master at covering the court and turning defense into offense.
Read more about Novak Djokovic's racquet here.
Jonas – great article and video! It is really interesting to see how perfectly the racquet characteristics of the pros match and compliment their styles of play. Moreover, learning to think in this way can be a useful tool to help us “tennis nerds” in choosing racquets that are best suited to our own unique playing styles. I could see future articles detailing the many different playing styles and the specific racquet characteristics that would best support them (e.g., weight and balance, head size, string pattern, etc.). Good job!
What I would love to see is a final played between each of them and without them knowing beforehand and say “The new rule for this final is you have to switch and play with the other persons racquets” and see how they do and who adapts the quickest to each other’s racquet and ultimately wins.
What’s amazing (or perhaps not) is that each of the GOAT’s rackets are at least 10-years old, if not 20. Despite all the current marketing hype, also around strings, the graphite/Kevlar lay-ups started in the 1980s and perfected in the 1990s have not been surpassed. I recently played with a Slazenger Pro Braided, 1998 vintage, and I was astonished how good it was. Not from a ‘this is an old racket’ perspective, but from a ‘this is way nicer than a Clash, Pro-Staff 97 or basically anything I’ve ever hit’ perspective. I would pay serious moolah for one of them.
The rackets not being current gens or close to current probably has less to do with quality of rackets then and now but rather what rackets and characteristics they liked coming up on the tour. So Alcaraz isn’t using a 90s racket and neither is Sinner, for example. Alcaraz uses a current gen Pure Aero VS and Sinner uses a version of the Speed MP from a couple of gens or so back. They will likely stick with these throughout their careers and then people will be discussing rackets in the same way we are now, ie, Alcaraz using an older Babolat versus whatever is available at that time.
I think what is true though is that what people want in a racket is changing. Prestiges aren’t the same anymore, for example. Larger head sizes now and slightly more modern. The market changes. Players use more spin in general and it’s affected head shapes, sizes, and so on. I’ve also noticed a trend among younger gens now to use lighter, stiffer setups with larger had sizes than older gens. This suits me fine but for sure those that love more classical feeling rackets won’t be pleased with this direction. Like seemingly Head dropping the 93 inch version of the prestige or the pro staff getting a significant boost in power in 2014 or whenever it was. I think it’s up to the smaller brands to capitalise on this to fill the gaps in the market but ultimately the bigger brands will focus on what sells the most.