An Extension

Well, this is what every contractor likes to hear – “you’ve been extended.”  Although relatively short, it means that between the gig, taking care of family, and supporting users of the Freehand Drawing Library, my lack of blogging will also be extended for a while.

On a personal note, I hope to get back into tennis after being out of practice since April due to a foot injury.  Looking forward to hitting this afternoon instead of just watching the US Open 🙂

Texas Tennis Open

If you live in the D/FW area, the Hilton D/FW Lakes is hosting the Texas Tennis Open in less than two weeks!  This is an exciting women’s pro tour event, featuring a number of well-known top-100 players in the world, and about a dozen of the top-50.

For more information and tickets, visit the tournament site at http://www.texastennisopen.com/

Hope to see you there!

Grapevine Tennis Classic Wrapup

I was really pleased to be in a position to sponsor this year’s tournament.  Although the single’s final was not as dramatic as last year, I’d actually have to rate the overall action as better than the prior year.  Numerous improvements to the organization and process lead to a smoother operation.  Night matches and covers for the stands were greatly appreciated.

Many thanks to the other sponsors and people like Tom Coyle who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the tournament moving smoothly.  Chris Giordano and the Hilton D/FW Lakes put on another great pro circuit event.

Good news is that we get to do it all over again in November, which becomes our regular date on the pro circuit calendar.  If you live in the D/FW area and missed the action this year, check out the official tournament web site for more info and follow them on twitter to stay up to date.

See you in November!

Babolat RPM Blast Review

I wanted to postpone this review for a couple weeks in order to hit with the strings for a substantial amount of time under a variety of conditions. My prior configuration was a hybrid of Pro Hurricane Tour 17/VS Team Gut 17. I replaced that with RPM Blast 17 on the mains. Tension is 53lb on a Prince EXO3 Black frame. In general, I think strings like PHT/RPM need to be on stiffer frames. Interestingly, Rafa’s stick, the AeroPro Drive GT (stock frame) has a stiffness of 70, swingweight of 331, and balance is 4pt HL. The EXO3 Black has a stiffness of 71, swingweight of 328, and equivalent balance. Nadal can afford to swing away with a fullbed; I prefer a gut hybrid for a little more control and feel. Maybe that’s why he’s French Open champ and I’m writing Flex applications for a living 🙂

The observation I want to counter with this review is that RPM Blast is just PHT in a different color. On the subject of color, black is a great choice. The difference does not stop there. I could tell from the very first hit that this was a different string. The responsiveness was there, but with a little something extra. The ball even sounds a bit different at impact. I do not have specific measurements, but over the course of several weeks, I can see increased spin on the ball. This is generally from getting a bit more dip on the ball with the same stroke. If I really try to put some spin on the ball, I can get some wicked action 🙂

Two other observations of note. First, I always disliked restringing because I thought it took several days of hitting before the PHT/VS Team hybrid started to ‘feel’ right. Some of that may be that I’ve always thought gut plays better after it starts to fray. With the RPM Blast/VS Team hybrid, I liked the feel from the very first hit and it’s even better after a few weeks of hitting.

Second, the RPM Blast silicone coating does seem to let the strings slip more, but I kind of have a habit of adjusting the strings after every point anyway. The side effect is that the mains do not cut into the gut as much, which will probably increase the durability of the hybrid configuration. I rarely worry about that in any event because at the low tension the hybrid becomes mushy before it breaks.

Now, for what you really want to know about – power. Revenge was marketed as a power string, but it kind of underwhelmed me. RPM Blast delivers the goods, although to achieve the string’s potential you will probably want to string a bit lower than you are used to. I can’t vouch for feel in a fullbed and you may lose some control depending on your current configuration. It may be okay in a fullbed for very advanced players, but intermediate or between intermediate and advanced may prefer it in a hybrid.

For me, the extra feel and control from crossing it with gut is worth the extra cost. I also found RPM to be easier on the arm than PHT, a nice bonus recovering from an arm injury.

RPM Blast is an upgrade over PHT in every aspect of the game. Serve, volley, groundstroke, overhead, drop shot, whatever. So, if you don’t mind a bit more coinage for a poly, go string up some bad-ass black RPM Blast and kick some on the court!

Pro Tennis Returns to Grapevine, TX

One a personal level, this is pretty exciting.  The Grapevine Tennis Classic Women’s $50K Pro Circuit event returns to the Hilton DFW Lakes again this year, July 5-13.  I was excited to be a volunteer at last year’s event and was working the court during the Dubois-Tetreault final.  What looked like a comfortable run to the championship for Dubois turned into Tetreault fighting off multiple championship points and coming from behind to win in three dramatic sets.  All with temps approaching 120 degrees on-court!

Check out the tournament blog here and please consider sponsorship or coming by to watch the tournament this year if you live in the area.  I hope to upgrade from volunteer to sponsor myself this year 🙂

More Indoor Tennis in D/FW Area

Do you play tennis in the D/FW area and live relatively close to the airport? Bummed out by the bad weather this winter? Well, the Hilton D/FW Lakes has the solution for you. They have reopened indoor courts. The court area alternates between meeting space and tennis, so it’s important to check ahead for availability and make a reservation.

Rates are very reasonable for indoor courts, $15/hour for sports club members and $20/hour for non-members. I’ll post some pics or video whenever possible. In the mean time, contact the sports club for more information at 817.481.8444.

Black History Month Robert Walter Johnson

Over  the past two years, I profiled several black mathematicians, many of which had an indirect influence on my own career.  I’ve been very busy taking care of family issues as of late, so blogging has gone off my personal radar.  Even so, I recently realized I have yet to profile a single black contributor to the sport of tennis.

Modern players like Blake and Monfils capture the public eye with their incredible talent.  Who has not heard of the Williams sisters?  Some of us may even remember greats such as Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, the first male and female black winners at Wimbledon.  Whatever the Williams sisters achieve on the road of success, that road was paved by athletes such as Gibson.  In 1950, she was the first black woman to compete at the US Open. Gibson achieved the same status at Wimbledon in 1951.

But the history goes back even further than that.  Black tennis players have a godfather whose achievements paved the way for players like Gibson and Ashe.  Both these players were coached by Robert Walter Johnson.  Johnson was a physician by trade, but an intense tennis player.

Due to segregation, black tennis players in the South had no access to public courts and often little if any money for lessons.  Johnson established a tennis camp for African-American children where expenses and instructor fees were paid.  In some cases, blacks were denied access to hotels, so Johnson offered his house as lodging to distinguished African-Americans passing through the Lynchburg, VA area.

In 2002, the house and tennis court were added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 2007, Dr. Johnson was nominated for inclusion in the International Tennis Hall of Fame to which he was inducted in 2009.

While you enjoy the success of modern black players in the time, I hope you also make time to search the web for more on “Whirlwind” Johnson, the person on whom much of the foundation of black tennis can be firmly pinned.

Aussie Open Wrapup

Well, this was a really good tournament.  On the mens side, I’m always pleased with a Federer win.  Last year, he seemed to be weighted down with the effort to match Sampras’ slam record.  Running into an inspired performance by Nadal, his serve broke down in the crucial fifth set.  This year, he seemed very relaxed and held off a strong challenge from Murray in the third set.  Some will say that the win did not come against Nadal, however, the hyper-physical style of play that lead to much of Nadal’s success has now come back to haunt him.  At  that level of physical intensity, the window of time to play at one’s absolute peak is very small.

Speaking of wear and tear, it seems like the grind of the tour has really caught up to Roddick.  I had higher hopes for him coming off the prior tournament win, but the two-week format of a major championship does not bode well for injuries, especially to your playing arm.

Also on the US mens side, I had hoped for slightly more depth from John Isner, but he ran headfirst into a strong performance from Murray, who seems well on his way to becoming the first Brit since Fred Perry to win a slam.  If Murray continues to improve at his current pace and remains fit, it’s truly only a matter of time.  I do believe he needs to learn how to adjust to a more aggressive level of play.  Had he come into the net more, it might have been a different final.  Federer was playing lights-out from the baseline, although he did not appear to be hitting passing shots all that well.  Murray was winning a very high percentage of points at the net when he did come in throughout the entire tournament.  When pressed, he seems to revert to his more comfortable role as a baseline counter-puncher.  Get beyond that and we should see several majors from Murray.

Congrats to the Bryan brothers on regaining the doubles championship.  Interesting move by their coach to switch court coverage for the brothers.  Seemed to work well, though, and the result speaks for itself.

Speaking of results, how about those Williams sisters!  When Serena serves the way she’s capable of, it’s pretty much a question of whether or not she will beat herself, not whether her opponent will beat her (unless someone on the women’s side every matches that serve).  Great performance by Venus to put the singles loss behind her and take the lead in an impressive doubles championship.

Great tournament to start a new year.

Prince EXO3 Black Review Part 2

My recent two hitting sessions were against a heavy, cold wind.  I was quite pleased with how the frame held up against the wind.  Here are some pics of the racquet, courtesy of Tom Coyle (Hilton D/FW Lakes).  The EXO3 Black is shown by itself and compared right next to the O3 Speedport Black (both with the exact same string job).

EXO3 Black is on the right, Speedport Black on the left (with the blue grommets).  I have to keep the pic sizes small for the blog.  Contact me if you want the full-size images.

The racquet has the same 16×19 string pattern and head size as the O3 Black.

Here is a side view.

Yes, that’s me – sorry, we were going low-budget on this production 🙂

Now, here’s the frame straight on.

And last, the two side-by-side.  BTW, the EXO3 Black is shown with the stock grip; the O3 Speedport Black has an overgrip.

Sorry about the left hand over part of both frames, but it was *very* windy when these pics were taken, so it was pretty difficult to keep the two racquets steady for the camera.

Prince EXO3 Black Review Part 1

This is the first in a multi-part review of the Prince EXO3 Black.  I’ve hit with this racquet four times with my standard stringbed of Pro Hurricane Tour 17 on the mains and VS Team Gut 17 on the crosses.  I previously used an O3 Speedport Black, although have been hitting with the Black Team for many months while recovering from an arm injury.  I’m still not back to 100% on the arm/shoulder, so I feel this is a good condition to report on any wear/stress caused by the new frame.

Here are the racquet specs, right off the frame

Head Size: 100 sq. in

Length: 27 in.

String Pattern:  16×19

Unstrung Weight: 10.8 oz

Unstrung Balance: 12.6 in

Swingweight: 295

Power Level: 975

Grip: Prince Resi Pro

Stiffness: 72 (from the internet)

Strung balance appears to be a few points head-light.  Although the EXO3 Black clearly feels heavier than the O3 Black Team, the swingweight is such that it’s pretty easy to get the racquet to the ball.  I do experience some timing issues and that’s just a matter of me getting used to the frame.

My style is all-court (1hb) and what I never do under any circumstances is stand several feet behind the baseline and trade mondo-topspin groundies with the young whippersnappers.  I like to step up, take the ball on the rise, and hammer it back deep and hard.  For that, you need a rock-solid frame and the EXO3 Black delivers with flying colors.  I can’t describe how much I like the solid feel at impact.  I can stand closer to the baseline and take half- or three-quarter swings at deep balls and pound them back with complete confidence.  It was a bit hit-and-miss with the prior frame.

Speaking of feel and response, I got a dramatic upgrade on volleys.  I never liked being at the net with the Speedport Black Team, despite the excellent maneuverability of the stick.  With the EXO3 Black, I can’t wait to get there 🙂

Serves are a bit different.  I’m taking more of a half-stroke motion, starting with the racquet raised in the air.  The EXO3 Black needs a bit more work to generate the same service speed.  However, I noticed that I hit my spots with more regularity.  I suspect that the previous frame was more susceptible to slight twitches in forearm or wrist motion.

I was quite pleased with the arm-friendliness of the heavier, stiffer frame.  As expected, stroke timing is a bit different.  When balls are being hammered to you by a pro or a 4.5+ player, tiny fractions of a second really matter.  The first two sessions, I noticed some slight soreness in the front of my shoulder near the chest.  It faded pretty quickly.  By the fourth session, I didn’t notice much at all.  With the Speedport Black Team, I had a problem with the head-heavy frame and a responsive stringbed at lower tension.  Even sweet-spot impacts at very low racquet speed (like a drop shot) had some perceptible low-frequency vibration (the type a damper does not inhibit).  Nothing but solid feel from the EXO3 Black.  I should note, however, with this particular hybrid string job at lower tension, I prefer the feel of the frame with the small EXO3 vibration damper that comes with the racquet.

Stock grip feels really good, although I’m not sweating much in the colder weather.  For most racquets, I can’t wait to apply an overgrip.

I’ll post another review as soon as I have pics.  I don’t own a digital camera, so I have to find someone to take the pics for me.  I want to compare the EXO3 Black to the Speedport Black in the same pic.