ProKennex Core1 No. 22 Racquet Review
Has racquet technology come full circle? We've gone from wood to aluminum to graphite and now...back to wood? Well, sort of. While Pro Kennex's newest racquets incorporate a wood "spine" around the hoop, the wood is fused with carbon graphite in an attempt to combine the best features of wood and graphite. By not extending the wood spine to the edge of the racquet, two independent graphite cylinders are created, one on each side of the spine. This is done to provide a more natural feel, while dampening vibration. According to Pro Kennex, "when you strike a ball with a Core1 racquet each of the independent graphite cylinders creates a separate, opposing shock wave. When these two opposing shock waves meet at the wood spine they counteract or cancel each other, eliminating all of the harsh negative impact shock and vibration. The wood spine then transmits only the remaining clean, responsive, organic feel to your hand. It's lightweight power with feel!" This should appeal to traditionalists trying to re-capture the benefits (and glory?) of wood in a graphite world.
The first generation of Core1 racquets consists of the No. 22 and No. 24. Both are game-improvement models designed for beginners and intermediates. The Core1 No. 22 is 29 mm wide and has a 115 square inch head. The No. 24 is 31 mm wide and has a 120 square inch head. Both racquets are 27.5 inches long and feature a wood-grain cosmetic to play up the wood beneath the graphite. We playtested the Core1 No. 22 for two weeks and have these observations.
Despite weighing only 9.3 ounces, the Core1 No. 22 has a medium swingweight of 324, giving it good heft from the baseline. Gran begins, "the Core1 No. 22 was a pleasant surprise. From the first groundstroke, I was very comfortable with this oversize plus racquet. I attribute that comfort to a good balance to weight ratio. It's maneuverable, yet does not sacrifice power, which is unusual for a sub-10 ounce racquet. It really is easier (less effort) when playing with a racquet that does in fact generate some power for you. Eileen offers, "when hitting practice groundstrokes, or when I had enough time to set up during a match, I really enjoyed this racquet from the baseline. Under pressure, it felt a bit heavy and I had a few problems getting it around. It provided a nice combination of power and control and had a nice, solid feel. I could have perhaps used a little more power."
Dan says, "the first thing that caught my attention was the generous sweetspot offered by the Core1 No. 22. It has a firm feel throughout the stringbed, including the top but doesn't have that empty, hollow feeling provided by most light, widebody racquets. Players with shorter or medium swings will have best results with this racquet. When I took a full swing, the ball rarely stayed in the court. However, this racquet provides more than adequate spin control and I was able to generate excellent slice and topspin. Mark continues, "this was the stiffest wood racquet I've ever hit with; the most powerful, too. During baseline rallies I was afraid to hit out with it and needed to apply substantial spin to keep the ball in court. Fortunately, the open string pattern allows for good spin. Unfortunately, the frame is very wide (29 mm) and I frequently "framed" the ball when trying to apply spin."
John comments, "I found the Core1 No. 22 to be very stiff, moderately lightweight and extremely powerful. I had no problem generating more power than usual and surprising topspin thanks to the open string pattern. Although I couldn't actually feel the wood core, I was impressed with the racquet's damping properties. It was relatively shock and vibration free. Don adds, "I found less power than expected, possibly due to the racquet's light weight. With my medium-fast swing, I was able to keep the ball within the lines by applying moderate topspin or slice. I really enjoyed hitting slice backhands with this racquet. It had a solid feel for being a stiff, widebody racquet." Drew offers, "An abundance of power - this racquet was obviously built for players with slower swing speeds than I have. I could rocket my groundstrokes, but getting them to touch down in bounds required spin and hitting lower over the net. I hit some great winners but had my share of fence-rattling errors. The Core1 No. 22 stood out on slices - I could impart tremendous underspin. Someone who thrives on hitting funky spins could have some fun with this racquet."
With its 115 square inch head and 27.5 inch length, the Core1 No. 22 seems to be an ideal racquet for net play. John says, "it's a volleying machine! Buoyed by a wide cross-section, the Core is stiff, stable and dependable at net. I was able to hit clean, crisp, deep volleys consistently. If stretched wide, I was able to block suitable replies by just putting the racquet in front of the ball. The frame was impressively stable during off-center volleys, even when hit hard by my opponent. The racquet never felt 'tinny' or 'slight'." Eileen adds, "I would probably improve my volleys using this racquet. It was maneuverable, yet still gave me a solid feel and had plenty of power."
Drew says, "Although there's always a chance of over-hitting, I found the Core1 No. 22 to be very easy to volley with. If you can control the depth you can hit a solid volley by just sticking the racquet out." Granville says, "the sweetspot is larger than what I'm accustomed to and it was quite enjoyable having such a large stringbed. I could get the racquet on just about anything that came my way, and with good comfort. Maneuverability is a great asset to this racquet at net." Don offers, "I normally don't like volleying with head-heavy racquets. However, the Core1 No. 22 has such a large head that its top-heavy balance is less noticeable. It offered great maneuverability and I was able to get to shots I normally wouldn't reach. For a lightweight racquet, it provided good stability and plenty of pop."
Dan comments, "I had a difficult time finding tempo when volleying, but once I did, my feeling was this would serve as a great doubles weapon. It came as no surprise to me that simple, blocking volleys yielded best results. Any excessive movement sent the ball long. As with groundstrokes, spin control was excellent and I was able to manipulate short angle and drop volleys with ease. Mark continues, "I volleyed better than I expected to with the Core1 No. 22. I was afraid the racquet would be too powerful at the net, but I found I could easily take power off the ball with underspin. Also, since my volley stroke is so much shorter than my groundstrokes I didn't didn't have to worry about catching the ball on the wide frame. Generating power when volleying slow balls was a snap. A quick, short stroke drove the ball deep and hard to either corner. The one thing that bothered me at net was the shock to my arm on miss-hits. I really felt it in my elbow if I didn't hit the sweetspot on a hard-hit ball."
While many lightweight, oversize racquets tend to offer more spin than power potential on serves, the Core1 No. 22 seemed to offer both for our playtesters. Mark offers, "the power and maneuverability of the racquet came in handy on serves and overheads. I hit good flat serves and good spin serves as well. Overheads were easy to hit hard and fairly accurately." Granville adds, "well, the stringbed really kicked up some heat on my serve. Same serves, more power! It's nice to see the ball bouncing three feet off the back fence and that's what happened while serving with the Core 1 No. 22. Game improvement players will like the control this racquet offers and some 'players' may actually find this a good transition racquet. An obvious advantage of the additional head size and fairly open string pattern was spin potential. I definitely got some added slice and kick on my serves."
Eileen comments, "I found it easy to swing and liked the power while serving. It also gave me control I didn't expect in an oversize widebody." Dan says, "this racquet is stiff enough and big enough for speed junkies to get their fix. However, it really shines on kick serves. If you play an American twist, or utilize a kick second serve, you'll find excellent results with this racquet. This bodes well for doubles specialists or serve and volley players where spin control is especially critical." John continues, "thanks to the racquet's light weight, I was able to increase my swing speed which produced additional zip on my serves. Even with the added power I could effectively move the ball around inside the service box with ease and consistency."
Drew offers, "A highlight and lowlights of sorts. I could really unload on flat serves and get some tremendous pace. Second serves had plenty of spin and good action. However, a few mis-hits really zinged my elbow when I was really swinging hard." Don comments, "it was quite fun serving with the Core1 No. 22. I was hitting hard, flat first serves for winners or even outright aces, while second serves saw exceptional jump. Possibly the most effective serve with this racquet was the slice out wide. Unlike some other oversize models, these serves had pop and placement. I had to be careful not to throw out my arm though, as it's easy to swing this thing real fast."
The Core1 No. 22 is versatile on returns; it's light enough to allow taking some backswing, yet powerful and stable enough to block back booming first serves. Dan begins, "in most instances, short or blocked returns were enough to send the ball deep when returning. It's also maneuverable enough to chip and charge against short serves. I felt like I was returning with a 110, not a 115." John counters, "I didn't have as much confidence in returning serve with the Core1 No. 22. The width of the frame caused some mis-hits when I didn't have time to prepare. If the racquet face was even slightly open the ball sailed. The most effective return with this racquet was the block return. The stiffness and stability of the frame enabled me to return with surprising depth."
Don offers, "once I let the racquet do most of the work my returns started working. It's tempting to swing too hard on returns. My best results came when blocking back hard-hit first serves, especially against net rushers, and chipping approach shots against second serves. The ball stayed nice and low, forcing my opponent to hit up for an easy volley." Eileen adds, "I was able to hit good, hard returns with little effort, and I didn't feel the racquet twist in my hand like with some other racquets.
Drew comments, "The quickness of the racquet proved to be an asset, but over-hitting was my biggest worry. A few returns got away badly." Granville comments, "returning serve with the Core 22 was an interesting exercise in response time. While the racquet is as stable, or more so, than other racquets of 115+ head size, it was challenging when returning serves because off center hits and bad timing errors were exaggerated on returns. If you stay ahead of the ball and hit out in front there are no issues. It's a very stable and solid racquet. If you're late and off center, you're not going to get too much help from the Core1 No. 22."
The Core1 No. 22 isn't a wood racquet. In fact, it's technologically 3 to 4 generations beyond wood. However, it has a solid feel that isn't normally associate with lightweight, oversized, widebody racquets. Could it be the wood? We don't know for sure, but we like the possibilities presented by this "new" technology. While the Core1 No. 22 (and the Core1 No. 24) will appeal to players looking for a powerful racquet it'll be interesting to see how the wood core works in a thinner, less powerful frame.
The Core1 No. 22 will work best for 3.5-4.5 players who want a lighter, power-oriented racquet. Doubles players will especially enjoy the advantages provided on serves and volleys.