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Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Tech It Out: Prince Tour series

By Matt Wilansky


Never mind all the work that goes into winning a tennis match, the process of selecting a racket can be equally, if not more, backbreaking at times.

Where do you start? Head size, weight, power level? Company? Maybe color? A combination of all. The truth is that there are more permutations out there than you can possibly imagine when it comes to selecting an ideal frame. But Prince, by and large, has separated itself from other companies with its recent production of arm-friendly rackets -- in other words rackets that fit into “flexible” category.

Some folks prefer a stiffer frame, something in the vein of a Babolat Pure Drive or Wilson Juice. There’s nothing wrong with going that route, especially if you like a precise, crisp feel, but these sticks can come at a price, one that very well might require an ice pack after a lengthy hit. It’s true that firm and crisp rackets pack a good punch, but they can often become jolting and uncomfortable after a while. This isn’t an absolute, of course, but it’s certainly a real possibility.

David Ferrer
David Ferrer, a longtime Prince user, is currently using the Tour 100 16x18.
That’s where Prince and its latest line of Tour rackets comes in. From the Tour 98 to the Tour Pro 100 to the Tour 100 16x18 (the three I recently play-tested), they are arguably the three most comfortable rackets out there right now. While all three have a unique set of specs, there was one consistent combination across the board: comfort, control and spin.

Each of these Tours, while unique in their own way, felt like, well, butter. I could swing freely and with confidence without any semblance of arm pain, thanks to their lower flex.

So how do these three rackets stack up against each other?

Tour 98

There’s something alluring about the oblong head that this line of rackets have. Before the Tour 98, I used various other iterations of this frame, including the EXO3 Rebel 98 and the new extreme-spin friendly Tour 98 ESP. Because the egg-shaped head creates a more uniform response across the entire string bed, the one commonality I found was confidence to go for your shots. In the Tour 98, however, I also noticed a deeper pocket at contact, a trait I personally like a lot. The ball sat on the string bed just a fraction of second longer, enough so that there was a discernible increase in power. At its stock weight (11.4 oz), the racket has solid plush, but I added a couple inches of lead tape around 10 and 2 o’clock, which really helped in hitting heavier balls. The Tour 98, like the other two rackets I will talk about in a moment, has a nice thin beam, making maneuverability seamless, especially when returning serve.

The bottom line: I had no compunction taking full rips, and the response was cushioned, comfortable and mostly spot on.

Tour 100 16x18

For a good two years, I have kept this racket’s predecessor, the EXO3 100 16x18, in my bag. As new rackets have come and gone, I never was willing to part with this one. It was off-the-charts comfortable. So needless to say, I was eager to try the Tour 100, David Ferrer's choice of rackets, which is essentially the same mold as the EXO3, but with a few slight modifications. If there was one small complaint I had with the EXO3, it was the fly-aways that would pop up on occasion. Given its flex, it was lively, almost too lively, though. We’ve all been there: in the middle of a rally and … whoops, a double off the back fence. (It’s always the racket’s fault, eh?) But this year’s model, the Tour 100, has added just enough stiffness to prevent those ill-times shots while maintaining the comfort of the EXO3. In other words, the Tour 100 has corrected its one small flaw. The first time I used this stick, I had a full bed of poly, but I swapped out the mains to a something more playable, a multifilament string, which though not as durable, provided a smoother feel.

The bottom line: The EXO3 is now gone from my bag, only because something better has come along. A mega-comfortable, lively stick with power and added control. It won’t be leaving my tennis bag anytime soon.

Tour Pro 100

If you’re not a fan of Prince’s o-ports, if you’re a person who prefers a more classic frame, the Tour Pro is certainly worth a hit. It’s crisp, and though its mold is very much on the flex end of the spectrum, the Tour Pro players with quite a bit of backbone. It was extremely maneuverable, but the biggest difference I noticed in this racket compared to the Tour 16x18 was how well it performed on volleys. I was able to stick them with full confidence, knowing the ball was going to drop where I wanted it to. I really enjoyed serving, too. Although I didn’t have a radar gun handy, I felt the Tour Pro produced easy power; more specifically, I didn’t need to overtax myself hitting through the ball to maximize power. The one issue I originally had was good plush. But I swapped in a leather grip and added tape around 3 and 9 o’clock, which made all the difference in the world when it came to swinging out.

The bottom line: Lively and smooth, much more of a classic-racket feel than the other two. Solid power, large sweet spot and great control, making this stick, fittingly, a winner.