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Saturday, April 5, 2014
Tech It Out: Prince Tour 98 ESP/100T ESP

By Matt Wilansky


It turns out less could me more, at least when it comes to tennis rackets.

The contemporary game has gone through various stages. But if you haven’t heard, spin is in. So in late 2013 Prince decided to go extreme. Extreme spin that is.

By truncating the number of strings, Prince introduced its Extreme String Pattern (ESP) line. The idea is that a more open pattern will allow players to hit with increased spin. Most sticks have either 16 or 18 main (vertical) strings. There are generally 18-19 cross strings (horizontal) in today’s rackets. But Prince created a series of eight rackets that have either a 14x16 or 16x16 pattern.

The effect is indeed spin, spin and, yes, more spin. I have no way of judging the revolution of a tennis ball, but a simple eye test if all you really need to see that the ESP rackets are far more than a ploy for players looking to generate more gyration. Granted, it took a few minutes to get accustomed to the feel off the string bed. It felt a little loose, both figuratively and literally. But once I became acclimated, you could see the ball drop far more violently, reminiscent (in baseball parlance) of the bottom dropping out of a pitch.

Prince claims you’ll see an increase of 30 percent more spin, which sounds about right. Recently, I player-tested to of the company’s ESP frames: the Tour 98 and Tour 100T.

The Tour 98 is a frame that will cater to players on a wide spectrum because, along with excess spin, it generates controlled power, which is not something I was expecting when I first picked it up. If you like a more dampened feel, this racket is a smart choice, given that you get a clean response on off-speed hitting like drop shots and slice. It was a racket that felt an extension of your arm; in other words, there was nothing cumbersome about this stick.

If there were any shortcomings, volleys felt a little unstable. But that also comes down to personal preference. I like a stiffer racket at net, but like groundstrokes, it just takes a little court time to conform to the specs. But make no mistake, this racket generated heavy hitting, more than I have been able to produce with almost any of today’s rackets, except …

The Tour 100T ESP

On the surface, I didn’t think I was going to like it as much. It’s a little lighter than the Tour 98 (11.1 oz strung compared to 11.5 oz) and with a 16x16 string pattern, I thought it might generate the same kind of discomfort as trying to throw a wiffle ball 100 mph. There’s just not enough mass.

But I was wrong. The Tour 100 played more like the Prince EXO3 Tour 100, which is the racket I’ve used for the past two years. Groundstrokes felt solid, but with a discernible difference in spin, especially off my forehand. The Tour 100T ESP is a racket that lends itself to customization. With a decent amount of lead tape, which I placed around 3 and 9 o’clock, the racket suddenly felt more stable. The modern game is geared toward baseline bashing, with topspin the salient aspect, of course. So adding a little weight really helps hitting through the ball, the plush effect if you will.

Maneuverability was great; I especially noticed how easy it was to swing seamlessly through a serve and still produce good pop, even with a trimmed-down string pattern.

Both the Prince Tour ESP 98 and Tour 100T ESP performed as advertised. And if you’re going to give these a whirl, we encourage you to hit for 20-30 minutes to get used to the spin-friendly specs before making any judgments. And don’t be afraid to add a little weight for stability. It’s a combo that will help any player generate more juice, especially at the 4.0-4.5 level.

And the beauty of both these rackets is that you can take a full swing without fearing you’re going to be taking batting practice and hitting balls off the back of the fence.