Shopping: Stop that terrible racket

With summer approaching and thoughts turning to Wimbledon, it's time to say `new balls, please' and update your tennis gear. By Shaun Phillips
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The Independent Culture
It's been a while since tennis has genuinely got the blood racing. Remember the days of "You cannot be serious. The ball was in"? The Davis Cup and Britain's Greg Rusedski have recently been doing their damnedest to reinstate the sport in to the collective consciousness. Rusedski may have done it for the ladies but he is always a little too George Lazenby to truly galvanise the interest of both sexes.

Whether he ever graduates to being the Sean Connery of tennis remains to be seen, but in the interim, at least, Rusedski's back-handedly upped the ante for the sport this coming summer. But how to emulate the feats of our begrudgingly-adopted national hero? Well, the starting point must be to throw out that sad wooden Dunlop Max-ply that your mum bought you when you were 14, and get to grips with some of the sport's latest technological developments.


Name: Wilson Hyper Sledge Hammer 2.0

Price: pounds 229

Stockists: 01294 316 200

Description: Many of the leading brands are made in the same country (Taiwan) by the same company (Pro Kennex) using similar materials (titanium/graphite composites), so recommending a brand of tennis racket can seem an arbitrary business. What is important is choosing a racket that reflects your standard of play. (Although there is no universally agreed scale, all manufacturers grade their rackets according to level of competence.)

The Wilson Hyper Sledge Hammer 2.0 looks similar to many other carbon/titanium composite rackets but it utilises the latest technology, Hyper Carbon, which - surprise, surprise - was previously used by Nasa in satellite space stations (wouldn't it be ironic if it turned out to be the hinge of the toilet seats?).

The racket is so light (221g unstrung) that when I first picked it up I hit myself in the face with it. Yet despite being featherweight, the Hyper Sledge Hammer 2.0 is four times stiffer than its peers, making it more powerful and less prone to vibrations. It also has the biggest sweet spot among leading commercial rackets.

Suitable for: The 2.0 is a good model for beginner/intermediate players (more experienced players should go for the Hyper Pro Staff 5.0 (pounds 170, available from 1 June).

Style: HHH

Anything else worth recommending? If you're an Agassi wannabe, then opt for Head. He uses the Ti.Radical (pounds 149, 01635 555 800), which will be available here in May, but if you couldn't hit a barn door with an oversize racket, then go for the Ti.S5 (pounds 200).


Name: Wilson Titanium Tennis Balls

Price: pounds 7 for four

Stockists: 01294 316 200

Description: Since the average life span of a tennis ball in a pro match is nine games, the idea of toughening them up to maintain their pressure for longer with a titanium-lined core is persuasive. Although early types of titanium balls were weighty like conventional longlife balls, the new Wilson balls manage to combine durability and lightness. They're still the same boring green colour, though.

Suitable for: Hard hitters and skinflints.

Style: HHH

Anything else worth recommending? How about one of those cages that tennis coaches nonchalantly flick tennis balls into, using their heel, as they stroll around the court? The Ballport-Mini holds 36 balls (pounds 40, 01268 548 987) and the Ballport-80 holds 80 (pounds 45).


Name: Bolle Competivision Vigilante

Price: pounds 85

Stockists: 0181-770 1766

Description: It sounds like the name of a Cruise missile, but Vigilante are funky, steel-framed wraparounds with lenses designed to optimise the colour yellow, thus enhancing ball vision. And they come with a spare set of smoked lenses for when you're lounging around the club bar afterwards. Impressed? What do you mean, professional players don't wear sunglasses? Bolle supplies photographic evidence that Martina Hingis wears them, and if they're good enough for the world's top-ranked tennis player, then they're good enough for us.

Suitable for: People who are not happy until they have spent all their savings.

Style: HHH

Anything else worth recommending? Slazenger's High Visibility tennis balls (pounds 6.50 for three, 0171-267 8000), the spheres of choice at Wimbledon since everyone moaned about the poor light there ruining their games.


Name: Babolat Tennis Bag

Price: pounds 45

Stockists: 01628 472 466

Description: Companies like to call these carriers thermo bags, the idea being that they keep your racket at a constant temperature, thus keeping the strings nice and taught. I'm sure this was uppermost in Babolat's mind, as it is the world's top string manufacturer. You, though, may be more interested by the fact that this bag has a compartment for sweaty shoes and wet towels, and a side pocket at the front for your wallet, mobile phone and car keys (remember: turn off the phone before you start playing).

Suitable for: People who perspire.

Style: HH

Anything else worth recommending? Wilson's Premier Super Six Pack (pounds 30, 01294 316 200), if you've got more rackets than sense. It sounds like an inflatable chest but actually it's a bright red bag that can hold six rackets.


Name: Tennis Tutor 3

Price: pounds 1,500

Stockists: 01202 396 610

Description: Sadly, the Tennis Tutor 3 looks more like a guitar amp than a Gattling gun but don't be fooled into thinking it's a soft option. This machine holds more than 100 tennis balls which it fires at up to 90mph every 2-10 seconds for up to three hours before the heavy-duty battery requires recharging. The speed and trajectory of the ball are adjustable and it also has a time delay, so you don't have to sprint to the other end of the court.

Suitable for: Nobby no mates

Style: HH

Anything else worth considering? If this seems steep, then the Tennis Tutor Jr is only pounds 900 (and operates at up to speeds of 60mph).

Shaun Phillips is deputy editor of `ZM' magazine