This simple weight change seems somewhat cursed. You hear regular tennis players talking about a big deception in the racquet industry. It is true; it's really there.
After I exchanged several letters with Head, they agreed to meet me at the Super Show and talk in person. When I got there, they left no credentials for me to get in. But I had been talking to Paul Kidd at ProKennex. I called him and he got me in. Every time I went to the Head booth, I could not get an appointment. I explained the whole thing, the fact that they had invited me there. Finally it was over, and I never talked to Head.
The racquet has to be precise. 5 extra grams in the head, and it won’t work. From 1990, Sampras used a 1970-era Pro Staff with no head guard. The headguard weighs about 5 grams. They tried to get him to add weight to his racquethead, but he refused to let them, and they said, “Sampras is a spoiled child when it comes to racquets.”
But I did get through to Head with letters they answered. They made some racquets according to this weighting theory. The racquet has to be designed for this weighting from head to butt by the racquetmaker. You can't convert a racquet that has been designed according to another weighting concept. All the parameters are too narrow.
Agassi got the Head version of the racquet, thanks to my letters, even though Head would not talk to me at the Super Show. Agassi and Sampras started having amazing matches.
That made tennis insiders mad. They thought tennis was becoming a different game because of power baseline play. It was becoming different, but it was a better and more popular game. They forced Head to take the racquet away from Agassi – that cannot be documented – what can be documented is they made a rule in 1995 that said racquets can’t be 16 ounces.
That meant they changed Sampras racquets in 1995, adding the head guard, making the head heavier. That’s when Nate Ferguson started setting them up, making them 14 ounces instead of 16 ounces. But we can remember the weird tennis Sampras played after 1995, nearly losing to qualifiers ranked in the 300’s: things like that. They were trying to change what was working in order to reduce the power game in tennis.
I got a job as a stringer in a famous tennis shop, Don's Tennis
in Charlotte, 9 months ago.
I know the feel of racquets, and did extensive experimenting with stringing, stringing almost a thousand racquets so far. I learned how to make all the current racquets work by precisely adjusting head length. My racquets that I string work better than people expect them to. But Don is supposed to be the local racquet master. When people come in and say, “This racquet is wonderful! It has never hit this well before!” Don cringes. A woman said yesterday, after testing two demos, “I hit with another player’s racquet. The ball was doing everything it was supposed to do. Springing off the strings, I really liked it.” Don cringed again. He said to me, “I can’t control my shots with your racquets. They are cannons. I can’t allow you to string racquets different from me.” Most other players say my racquets have more power as well as more control; and I say they are supposed to be cannons: that’s the idea. The tennis industry is doing the same thing that Don is doing to me. They think a player is not supposed to go from second tier junior to world-beater and back to second tier player because of the racquet; then win the US Open with ease, and then retire and never play again like Sampras. His racquet must be dangerous, they have to discontinue it. And they did.
Rich Janes designed the original 1970’s Pro Staff. I talked to him on the phone when he had a job with Penn. I think he got a job with Babolat and designed the first Pure Drive. The Pure Drive is very similar to the first Pro Staff. It has a lot of thickness up the shaft. I have one Babolat with a light head. In every way it is just like a 1970’s Pro Staff. I added 2.2 ounces to the top of the grip, like Sampras' racquets, and kids and old ladies like it.
In Sampras’ Pro Staff, they could have lightened the butt half of the handle and made it weigh 12 ounces, easy, with 3½ ounces at the top of the grip. It would have had the same performance.
My one Babolat is the same design and only weighs 249 grams strung. (I just weighed it.) It has the same light head and overall design as the 1975 Pro Staff. I think the same man designed it, Rich Janes, but it uses modern weight saving technology. When I added a lot of weight to the top of the handle, like Sampras' racquets, it still weighed under 11 ounces, and a kid loved it; so did a 50-year-old lady: threatening the myth that says average players can't play with racquets that can be used successfully by pros.
I can't add the same weight, or a lighter version of it to any current racquets, and have average players like them.
I can string current racquets making them work better than expected. People like my racquets, but I am about to be fired by Don because he can’t tolerate a stringer who is better than he is in his shop, even though one customer after another praises racquets I have strung. I am about to lose a job. It isn’t that great a job, making $8 per racquet when I was the one who showed Wilson the weighting concept that dominates tennis. I am not really mad about that, in fact, I like the fact I have done all of this. My life is not bad, but I have to work with other experts to make my ideas work. I am not good enough to do it by myself. That could mean working for ProKennex. I talked to Paul Kidd about working for Pro Kennex, at the Super Show in 1994, but nothing happened.
Later that year, 1994, Agassi changed tennis and made it much more popular, using ideas in his racquets that I had told to Head. Head wouldn’t talk to me in person.