The Saber is a brand new tennis training tool from the guys over at Functional Tennis designed to help players hit the ball on the sweet area, increase their concentration and improve their contact point.
There are a few sweet spot training tools on the market, but this one is designed and weighted like a proper tennis racket, only with a mini head compared to your typical 100-square-inch racket.
I preordered mine, received one of their first batches to ship, and soon took it to the courts to test it out.
How does it play? Is it any good? Find out in this full Functional Tennis Saber review.
What is the Saber?
For cricket fans, there is a well-told story that the great Sir Donald Bradman used to practice batting with a stump instead of a cricket bat.
Nowadays, there are specialist training bats made where the blade of the bat has the edges trimmed down, so it is around two-thirds the width of a standard cricket bat.
The Functional Tennis Saber applies that same concept to tennis by reducing the racket head size from your typical 98-100 square inch racket to 37 square inches.
This helps improve your hand-eye coordination, and the smaller surface area is designed to encourage cleaner hitting, meaning that by the time you come to use your full-size racket, finding the sweet zone will be easy.
- Head Size: 37 sq in
- Weight (Unstrung): 300g
- Weight (Strung:) 312g (mine was 309g)
- String Pattern: 12×12
- Swing Weight: 270
- Beam size: 22mm straight beam
- Grip size: L2 (4 1/4)
- Strung: Yes
- Material: Mixed composites of Carbon Fibre and Fibre Glass
The Saber arrives packed in a long slimline box that almost looks like it could fit through a letter box.
It comes with a soft, draw-string racket sack which is a nice touch.
After unwrapping it and doing a few shadow swings, I was excited to try it. The Saber felt good quality; if you close your eyes, it feels like swinging any other racket.
The cosmetics also look good, and the paint job is high quality. I didn't notice at first, but the placard also serves as a stencil should you want to keep the branding after a restring (yes, you can restring it!)
Functional Tennis Saber Playtest
Most people's reactions when they first see the Saber is that it must be near impossible to play with. “So many air shots”, “No way you can hit the ball”
However, having used a tennis pointer before, I knew that likely wasn't the case. Yes, it would be more difficult (that's the whole point) but if you have an eye for hitting a ball, then making contact with it isn't something to worry about.
Instead, the questions I had before playing were, could you hit with your usual technique, would it be spin-friendly, and would you have to switch to a more continental grip for a horizontal type swing path for consistency.
After my first few hits, the answers to those three questions were: yes, yes and no.
The Saber plays just like a regular racket; you can hit with your standard technique, you can hit with spin, and you don't have to alter your grip.
My grip is eastern, so fairly conservative anyway, but even those with more extreme grips won't have any problems.
From the first playtest, my biggest surprise was how much top spin you can generate with the Saber.
Despite the head size being not much bigger than a tennis ball, you can still generate plenty of RPMs on the ball, and I almost felt like the ball had more spin on it than the ball I'd been hitting last week when reviewing Toalson Rencon Devil Spin in my VCORE 98. Possible? Not sure, but it felt like it.
You can see Stan Wawrinka using the Saber below, hitting standard groundstrokes.
Aside from the spin and it playing like any other racket, the most significant plus point of the Saber, in my opinion, is that it allows you to hit the ball intuitively.
I am a big fan of letting players hit the ball naturally. Learn the fundamentals, but let your natural genetic predispositions come to the fore for striking the ball.
I think the Saber facilitates that as you have to focus heavily on the ball rather than thinking about coaching buzzwords like racket lag, pronation etc.
Things went awry for me when I started overthinking my shots and thinking about form. If you watch the ball as closely as possible, most other things slot into place.
You can see my first few hits with the Saber on the ball machine in the video below, where I hit some forehands and backhands, then switched to the wooden racket-type forehand to see what it felt like.
Aside from the obvious training aspect and improving hand-eye coordination, the Saber is also a good ‘reset' tool to get you back to basics.
If you played a bad match or had a hitting session where you felt like nothing worked, then picking up the Saber resets your mind and makes you focus on the only real thing that matters – hitting the ball cleanly and getting it over the net.
At 37 square inches, which isn't much bigger than a tennis ball, you don't have enough margin for error to let your mind wander or take your eye off the ball.
Who is the Saber For?
The Tennis Saber has several uses. The most obvious one is for the individual player.
If you're a keen tennis player looking to improve your ball striking ability, having this in your bag to warm up with and train with is ideal.
When I first tested it, I planned to hit 100 balls with it from the ball machine and then switch to my regular racket, but I ended up hitting 300 balls because it was super fun.
Is that just the novelty aspect? Maybe and it will be interesting to see how often I'm using it a year down the line. (If you're reading this from the future, leave a comment below and ask me.)
However, based on my first two sessions with it and how it feels to hit the ball with your regular racket afterwards, I can see myself using it pretty often as it makes the game feel more effortless.
If you have a regular hitting partner who also gets one, you could even play a match with it. It would undoubtedly be error-strewn when hitting on the run, but highly entertaining, and as a mini warm-up or forfeit type game a la Djokovic, I could see pro players using them.
It's also a helpful training tool for coaches to pull out of their bags and give to their students. Even for players new to the game, the Saber will make them watch the ball more closely and force them to work harder, which can only be good for development.
The Saber also works well as a tennis-themed gift; buying a racket for someone is tricky as you don't always know their specs, preferences etc., but because the Saber is a one size fits all, it works for all players of all ages.
Can you restring the Saber?
Yes, you can. The Saber comes prestrung with a synthetic string that should last a long time, and you don't need to worry about tension. But if it broke, or you wanted a different string, then you can restring it using the badminton attachment for a stringing machine. Or using the improvised method below:
The recommended tension is between 25 and 30 lbs (11 kg – 13.5kg).
Can you hit the ball normally with a Saber?
Yes, you can hit the ball just like a standard racket. The more pace on the incoming ball and the harder you try, the more chance for a mistake, but the Saber is more capable of withstanding heavy balls.
I have arm issues. Will the Saber be ok for me?
I am not a player with any elbow problems, but the Saber felt super comfortable to me. I do not have the RA rating for stiffness, but my guess is low 60s.
It is a soft-feeling frame, and with some fibreglass in the construction + synthetic nylon strings, there is no harshness to it at all.
The racket I play with is much lighter than the Saber; should I use it?
The Saber comes in at 312g strung, roundabout the racket weight that most adult males should be playing with.
However, even if you play with a much lighter frame, the weight of the Saber should be manageable, and heavier frames help promote better stroke mechanics.
With such a small head size, the weight naturally has to be in the handle, resulting in a ~270 kg/cm² swing weight So even if your racket is lighter in static weight, this is likely easier to swing.
Functional Tennis also has some plans to launch a lighter version in around a year.
The Functional Tennis Saber takes the classic wooden tennis pointer, invented by Czech coach Jiri Bartos in 2011, to another level.
It is a high-quality training aid that is fun to play with and will improve your ability to hit the ball cleanly.
You'll watch the ball more closely and get into position earlier so that when it comes to hitting with a more forgiving racket, you will ‘middle' the ball more frequently, resulting in more power and less vibration back into the arm for a higher-quality shot.
- Slick cosmetics
- It feels well-made/high quality
- A simple concept that's proven to work in tennis and other sports
- None I can think of so far. I will see how the grip holds up over time and update this if I spot any drawbacks with the Saber.
What do you think of the Functional Tennis Saber? Have you tried any similar training tools? Any positives or drawbacks I missed? Let me know in the comments.