Did you know that the shiny new tennis racquet endorsed by your favourite player isn't the same racquet they use on tour?
Welcome to the world of Pro Stock tennis racquets. In this post, I'll give a quick rundown of what a Pro Stock racquet is, how it differs to a racquet that's on general sale and we'll also look at a former Top 10 players Pro Stock racquet thanks to fellow tennis fan Nico.
What is a Pro Stock Tennis Racquet?
The term Pro Stock is exactly how it sounds. A tennis racquet produced specifically for a professional player.
Most of the mainstream tennis racquet brands like Head, Wilson, Dunlop et al. produce tennis racquets exclusively for their sponsored players. Every 3 or 4 months, the top players will take delivery of a new batch of racquets built just for them.
While these racquets may look visually identical to the racquets we see on the wall at our local tennis shop, more often than not, the similarity ends there.
Pro Stock racquets usually weigh more than their retail counterparts, plus the balance, swing weight, stiffness and string pattern are matched to the requirements of the specific pro in question.
Take for example, Nick Kyrgios, he is currently the poster boy for the Yonex EZONE 98. A top quality racquet that I recommend but it is not the frame Kyrgios uses.
The Australian instead uses a Yonex AI 98 which is an earlier version of this racquet from 2014. Similar in some ways to the EZONE 98 sold today, but it's stiffer and is made from a different mould.
How Are Pro Stock Racquets Made?
What's interesting about Pro Stock racquets and how they are made is that they instantly make you play like Federer, Djokovic or Nadal irrespective of your previous level.
This explains why they are so hard to find for sale and why those guys have won over 50 slams combined! If only the next-gen could get hold of one.
Just kidding 😀
The truth is they're made just like any other retail racquet. The difference is the mould that's used and what leaves the factory.
Most Pro Stock frames are based on the moulds of old retail racquets that have long since been discontinued.
An example here is Novak Djokovic who uses a racquet manufactured from the mould for the Head iRadical/Ti.Radical MP which was sold in the early 2000s.
This is vastly different from the Head Speed X Limited Edition MP which he endorses. Its weight and stiffness are different, but even the head size is much smaller at 95 square inches compared to the 100 square inches on the Speed X.
That's one of the more extreme examples, but it does highlight how different the racquet a pro is wielding can be from the one the general public can buy.
Pro Stock racquets are also produced in a bare-bones fashion whereby they tend to be lighter and not the finished article so no grip pallet, nothing in the handle cavity etc. This is often what is known as the ‘hairpin' in the industry, and the best analogy is that of a blank canvas.
Once the grommet holes are drilled and the racquet painted to the current design, they're sent to the player's racquet customisation house of choice. This can either be done by the manufacturer in their own customisation department or by a third party.
This is where the guys like Priority 1 come in as they'll match the racquets, add weight, mould the grips, put silicon in the handles etc. to produce the final product to the exact specification of the player.
The fact the racquets leave the mould in an uncustomised state does shed some light on why pro racquets tend to offer more feel than retail counterparts.
Mass-produced racquets are leaving the mould at their finished specification, so they're getting extra layers of carbon added in certain areas and weight in the handle to hit the quoted weight on the spec sheet.
Pro stock racquets, however, are leaving the mould often at under 300g and are beefed up with lead and silicon by the racquet technician.
The video below doesn't look at Pro Stock frames specifically, but it does give a quick look at the manufacturing process and how the racquet is moulded.
The Making of a Tennis Racquet
Why Do Manufacturers Produce Pro Stock Racquets?
The reason Pro Stock racquets exist is because of the requirements of their sponsored players.
Many professional players are very particular about their equipment and have come through the junior ranks playing with a specific specification of tennis racquet.
Once they have landed on tour and tasted success, the racquet becomes a trusted extension of their arm that they become very attached to.
The problem, however, is that racquet manufacturers need to launch new racquets every year to stay in business.
New paint jobs and moulds are created yearly to encourage customers to upgrade to the latest ‘technology' and get the best tennis racquet currently available.
However, no professional player is willing to change racquets at the same pace manufacturers release them.
It can take years to adapt to a new racquet, and if the specs of the new frame aren't anywhere close to the existing one, it just won't work.
That's why manufacturers have to keep old (or custom) moulds in use to ensure their brand ambassadors can keep playing with the racquet they always used.
If you watched the video above, you'll see Andy Murray talking about how he has used a Head Radical since his junior days and would never change.
It's a bit misleading as Murray has never used a Head Radical racquet. He uses an old school Head Pro Tour 630 which is painted up like the Radical retail frames. Still, you get the idea: professional players seldom change racquets, and once they're comfortable, it's rare to see significant equipment changes.
Federer is another prime example; he used the Pro Staff 90 from the early 2000s right up until 2013. It took some mixed results, an injury and Stefan Edberg for him to make the switch. Had he won 2 slams in 2013, I don't think he'd have made the change, do you?
Are Pro Stock Racquets Better than Retail Racquets?
One of the common misconceptions you see on the tennis forums from players who have just found out about Pro Stock frames is that these racquets must be vastly better than retail models.
However, they're not. Pro Stock frames are made of the same quality of materials that all high-end tennis racquets are made from. There's no secret sauce or advanced technology; they're just racquets produced based on older retail frames.
Of course, it's not a stretch to think that more labour hours and attention to detail will go into a Pro Stock frame than a retail one. But again that doesn't necessarily mean they are better.
Even though the quality control might be slightly higher when it leaves the mould, a pro stock racquet has been customised for a specific player. So unless you play an identical or very similar game to the player in question, it won't be the right tennis racquet for you.
It might carry the price tag to make you think it's going to be a game-changer, but it will perform no better than hundreds of other models readily available elsewhere.
If a retail racquet that weighs 350g is too heavy for you, a pro stock racquet that weighs the same is also too heavy for you.
A Closer Look at a Pro Stock Racquet
Thanks to fellow tennis fan Nico B, we can take a look at a Pro Stock racquet as he's the proud owner of a frame used by Grigor Dimitrov.
The Bulgarian is a Wilson sponsored player and endorsed the Wilson Pro Staff 97S for a couple of seasons.
However, while his racquet was carrying the 97S paint, it was vastly different from the retail model it was impersonating.
This particular Pro Stock model is a 93″ frame and has never been available for retail.
You can see the specs of Dimitrov's match used racquet compared to the Pro Staff 97S it was painted as:
Comparison of the Wilson Prostaff 97S Retail vs Dimitrov's Pro Stock
|Head size:||97 sq. in. / 625.81 sq. cm.||93 sq. in. / 600 sq. cm.|
|Length:||27in / 68.6cm||27 in. / 68.6 cm.|
|Strung weight:||11.5oz / 326.02g||12.2 oz. / 346g|
|Strung balance:||–||334 mm|
|Grip size:||–||L4 (4 1/2)|
|Grip type:||Wilson Leather||Wilson Leather + Tourna Overgrip|
|String pattern:||18 Mains / 17 Crosses||18 Mains / 17 Crosses|
|Paint:||Wilson Pro Staff 97S||Wilson Pro Staff 97S|
|Silicone:||No||No (foam filled)|
|Lead:||No||No (at least not visible)|
|Pro stock code:||WRT73161||Custom 93-inch mould|
- Butt cap different to the retail version
- Longer throat compared to the retail version
- Dimitrov signature in the throat
- Wilson logo printed on strings opposite to the butt cap (personal request of G. Dimitrov)
- Power pads
- Wilson logo on throat different compared to the retail version
- The frame is much stiffer / stronger compared to the retail version
Since using this frame, after some very mixed results, Dimitrov has experimented with his equipment numerous times, moving to a 97 sq” head racquet, switching back to the 93 sq” and then back to 97 sq”.
He is currently using a different Pro stock frame with a Wilson Prostaff 97 Countervail tuxedo paint job.
Are There Any Players Not Using Pro Stock Racquets?
Not all professional players are using racquets released 20 years ago. Many players breaking through on tour will be using retail racquets. Many of them will be customised; others will be untouched.
The other exception here is Roger Federer's racquet. The Wilson Prostaff RF97 Autograph sold in the shops, is the same racquet Federer uses. So in some way his racquet is the first mass-produced pro stock racquet.
Do you have any questions about pro stock racquets? Have you owned any match used frames from former pros? Let me know in the comments.