Power versus control. That has always been the trade-off when choosing a tennis racket. A stiffer racket gives a player more power, while a more flexible racket provides more control.
Every company in the business has poured money and effort into research and development trying to let players have it both ways. Now Asics has entered the fray—complete with a new technology that gives the apparel and footwear brand a toehold in the performance hardware market.
What is it?
Asics’ first performance tennis racket, the BZ100, launched in December. To differentiate its product in the saturated market of 100-square-inch-head rackets, Asics developed a bending zone technology in the neck.
How does it work?
Terry Schalow, Asics' director of specialty sales for tennis, tells Edge’s Tech Talk that—using the same “high modulus graphite as the rest of the frame”—the company's developers strategically adjusted the flex distribution in the frame by reducing the height of the throat by 30 percent compared to an average racket. The lowered throat height reduced the stiffness of the frame, yielded a larger “sweet spot” on the stringbed and reduced the vibrations and drag a player feels coming from the head.
Why is it significant?
In the tricky balance between power and control, the new technology offers a "controllable power," Schalow says.
“We felt it was crucial to have a technology that is a first in the industry, a visible technology and a technology that is patentable,” he says.
The 30 percent reduction in cross-section height creates a 50 percent reduction in the stiffness in the bending zone for better control, but an increased stiffness in the racket head returns “raw power” to the swing.
What are the implications in the world of tennis?
With proven leaders such as Wilson and Babolat dominating the world of tennis equipment, having another international brand enter the fray with added technology will only further spur research and development of tennis equipment.
What are the downsides?
At 27 inches and 11.2 ounces (strung weight) with a rounded 100-square-inch-head shape, the BZ 100 looks similar to other products on the market—although Asics made the bending zone visually noticeable—and may not feel vastly different to the average player. The increased stiffness in the racket head will make finding the sweet spot that much more important in a player's swing. In the end, having introduced this technology, Asics will need to show that it makes a difference, and isn't just a design element to draw attention.
Who’s using it already?
With Asics never having produced a performance racket before, even the most prominent players on the company's roster—such as Gael Monfils and Samantha Stoser—have separate racket sponsors. Beyond a few eager tennis-tech fans, Asics will need to work to get their new technology into the hands of players the world over.
What’s the future of it?
While Asics had some non-performance frames on the market, with the BZ100 the company enters into an entirely new world. Introducing a new technology will certainly give them increased feedback to improve on the bending zone technology while they continue to search for new ways to stand out.
While Asics continues to solve the power-vs-control dilemma on the racket, it will need to balance power and control in the marketplace to show it's here to stay.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.