It only takes one look at the new Prince O3 racquets for them to make a lasting impression. To say the O3 racquets have a unique look is an understatement. Giant holes, which Prince calls O-Ports, positioned around the racquet head give the racquets a space age look. However, while the look of the racquets may be space age, the concept is relatively simple - larger holes, or O-Ports, allow the strings greater movement. The result is that the strings are able to move more on shots hit near the frame, effectively expanding the sweetspot to areas of the racquet which would normally offer a very firm and low powered response. As with the More racquet line, the O3 racquets only feature grommets at the throat. The grommetless O-Ports make for a very sleek looking design. Prince claims the O-Ports provide an additional aerodynamic benefit of improved racquet head speed and mobility.
The Prince O3 racquet line currently comprises two racquets, the game improvement O3 Silver, and the O3 Red tested here. A third O3 racquet, the O3 Tour (currently used by ATP pro Guillermo Coria) is due out in April of 2005, adding a player's model to the O3 line-up.
To see how the new Prince technologies worked out on the courts, we took the O3 Red for a three-week playtest.
From the baseline our team found a pleasing blend of comfort, power and control with the O3 Red. Quickly finding the groove was Don. "The O3 Red is one of those racquets that you can just pick up and play with. There was no time required to get used to the racquet's weight, balance, etc. First impressions - it was very maneuverable without feeling flimsy. There was still a very solid and dampened feel when hitting groundstrokes. In fact, that was my lasting impression of the O3 Red, too. It was quite comfortable without robbing the racquet of feel. Power was adequate during routine rallies, but I could also go for winners with few control problems. In fact, my best shots came when I really hit through the ball. Spin was easy to generate and helped with control. When I went for short angle or drop shots, I was pleasantly surprised with how the racquet responded." Also enjoying the feel of the O3 red was Granville. "The O3 Red has very nice feel off the ground. A nice 'thwap' sound is what I was greeted with, NOT the 'ping' I have become accustomed to with widebody racquets. Furthermore, I was not overwhelmed with power - I could take full strokes, giving the ball exactly what I wanted to, YET, when necessary I had power on reserve to juice the ball down the line or knock it off the opposite corner from the baseline. I found a good blend of touch and power dictated by the player, not the racquet (or its' designer/engineer). I did not notice the extra 1/4 inch of length until I read it in the specs after playing with it, which was a first."
Wendi had taken a short break from tennis before this playtest and her first time back on court was with the O3 Red. "The O3 Red was very comfortable in my hand, with good weight and feel on contact. I liked the power level, and didn't have any trouble hitting the ball deep into the court. It had a generous sweetspot, and regardless of my time away from playing, I was able to really keep the rallies going. My numerous mis-hits and off-center shots fared OK, thanks to the O3 Red's forgiveness. Although my accuracy wasn't quite there, I was able to hit crosscourt and down the line pretty consistently. I was surprised with my results when I went for a running forehand and my husband was stuck in his tracks. The O3 Red has great directional ability to move the ball around the court. I did try some slice shots but I wasn't having much success. Come to think of it, I'm not too good at slices anyway. After so much time off, I didn't have the finesse to pull them off." Also finding a good level of control was Chris. "I found some nice pop off the ground with the O3 Red. The level of power allowed me to take a good swing at the ball without worrying about over-hitting, yet I didn't have to use much effort to hit deep and with pace. Spin came easily and I preferred hitting topspin rather than slice. When brushing up the back of the ball I found some good bite from the stringbed, making the O3 Red an easy racquet to rally consistently with. I felt like I could hit three-quarter pace balls about 3 feet over the net all day long with this stick. I was also happy with my slice backhand and found good accuracy with the O3 Red. However, the amount of topspin I was finding had me neglecting my slice somewhat."
Enjoying the versatility of the O3 red were (new TW playtester) Jeremy and Josh. Jeremy said, "the Prince O3 Red was very solid from the baseline. The larger sweetspot was very apparent and pleasing to my arm. Even off-center strokes came off the racquet with good pace, while muting the usual elbow jarring shock associated with racquets in the ten ounce range. While my flat and topspin shots had added pace and spin, I did notice that this was at the expense of some accuracy, which is also to be expected with this category of racquet. I did have to pay much more attention when slicing the ball, as the beam width played a role in how quick I could slice through the ball." Josh offered, "this was one of the more refreshing playtests I have had in a while. The O3 responded to just about everything I tried on the court. Whether I was sitting on the baseline or rushing the net, the racquet felt pretty good. I was able to hit deep cross-court groundies and could go for the high risk backhand down the line consistently without hitting wide. More importantly, I didn't over-hit the ball with the O3. When I first picked it up, I thought it would play more like a game improvement racquet than a tweener. I was comfortable letting the racquet do the work, but wasn't afraid to go for a winner in the tighter points."
Our team found plenty of maneuverability, power and comfort at the net. Granville said, "once again I was greeted with the familiar and welcome feel of a performance stick. Solid and maneuverable, with good feel. I was playing very well with this racquet from the first point. Even the drop shots were falling in the zone." Finding good results with his high volley was Chris. "This was a nice racquet to volley with. If the oncoming shot was above the height of the net, the O3 Red was the perfect racquet for punching the volley away. I also found enough power to punch low volleys deep, and the racquet's mobility helped me get down for the tougher volleys. The only time I got in trouble was if I tried to get a little too fancy on a touch volley. I would have liked a little more feel for the dropper and angle, but as long as I kept things simple, the racquet was flawless." Jeremy's experience was similar. "The Prince O3 Red felt very comfortable at the net. Its light weight made it quick on reaction volleys. The large sweetspot was also apparent at net. Most volleys felt crisp and clean and the racquet had adequate power. Touch volleys, however, didn't have as much feel.
Finding a good blend of maneuverability and stability were Don and Wendi. Don said, "needless to say, the O3 Red's maneuverability was a real benefit on volleys. Despite its mobility, though, it held up well against hard-hit balls from my opponent. A bit more weight would make it ideal for me, but I was impressed with the racquet's overall stability at net. Excellent touch too, even with the dampened feel." Wendi also enjoyed her time at net with the O3 Red. "This racquet was great at net! It played very solid and maneuverable. I was able to get some good touch and I was able to get to most balls. I didn't get to the net as much as I would have liked, but when I did my results were positive."
Josh found the O3 Red a solid racquet to volley with. "I was surprised by how easy volleys felt with the O3 Red. I was able to hit more angled winners than usual, and I picked up just about everything hit to my feet. The racquet was easy to maneuver and responded well when I needed to hit an overhead backhand or stretch wide for a passing shot. The large sweetspot was also a factor in my ability to put away winners. Typically, I will frame a few easy volleys into the net if I relax too much, but not with the O3 Red. The racquet also offered good control and some spin potential when I needed to mix things up."
While the O3 red impressed our team from the baseline and the net, it really blew them away on serve. Having a blast was Chris. "I loved serving with this one. I found some extra zip, as noted by my regular hitting partner, and easy access to spin. After a few points I realized that my serve was strong enough for a little serve and volley action, which is a rare occurrence for me in singles. Finding good consistency on flat and spin serves allowed me to mix things up and keep my opponent guessing. I also had the confidence to go for more pace than usual on both the first and second serves, without increasing my unforced error rate. When serving with the O3 Red it felt like I was getting a little more snap. It was almost like I was finding a better angle into the service box." Jeremy agreed, "the serve was the shot that I enjoyed the most with this racquet. I was able to get a lot of pace on my serves. Of course, with the added power I lost a touch of control on flat serves. Because of the racquet's open string pattern, I was able to put a lot of spin on my serves to help with control. When hitting with some spin I was able to put the serve in the corners or into my opponent's body with more accuracy."
Like Jeremy, Don found the most success hitting spin serves with the O3 Red. "I didn't overpower my opponent with serves using the O3 Red, but I rarely missed. I could generate good power, but not the same as with a heavier, more head-light racquet. However, whatever was sacrificed on power (which wasn't much) was made up for in spin. I hit some of my best spin and kick first serves, and my second serve just didn't miss. Best of all, I felt very confident serving with the O3 Red. I could swing as hard on second serves as on first serves, just applying more spin to the ball. I think I double-faulted once during my last 1-1/2 hour session." Even after a long lay-off, Wendi found a good rhythm serving with the O3 Red. "I was pleasantly surprised with the O3 Red on my serves. If there is one area of my game to go, it is usually my serving game. After missing six months, I wasn't sure how it was going to go. My serves were, for the most part, in play with good pace and consistency. The O3 Red felt so good in the air, I was able to generate good swing speed. I did utilize some topspin, and the O3 Red seemed to really grab the ball and give it some movement."
Finding some added heat on his serve was Granville. "Here is where I felt some benefit above and beyond the racquet I compete with. I was placing the ball very well, but did sense I had a bit more power. It felt like the racquet moved through the air a bit faster, and with less resistance." Also having success on serve was Josh. "The O3 was an easy racquet to serve with. I mixed up my serves more since I wasn't hitting big first serves, but the control and placement was solid. I could hit slice serves to the deuce court just as effectively as a kicker out wide to the ad side. While the O3 didn't offer as much spin potential as I had hoped, I was able to generate enough movement to keep my opponent honest."
Again, comfort and maneuverability were standout features of the O3 Red when it came to returns. Our team continued to enjoy the large sweetspot and controlled power of the racquet. First up were Chris and Wendi. Chris enjoyed the maneuverable feel of the racquet on the return. "The racquet's mobility was a plus on the return. I found this one easy to maneuver, and for the most part I was able to return aggressively. I had good success blocking the ball back, too. When hitting the ball flat, I found the O3 Red to be a real point and shoot racquet. I found my targets well and had better than usual results punching returns low during doubles play." Wendi also found the racquet maneuverable and was able to keep returns out in front, making good contact. "On my returns, the O3 served me well. I was getting great contact and I was able to dish out some deep returns. I was especially pleased with my backhand returns down the line. It is very much a comfort racquet, with a great dampened feel. I wasn't really attacking my opponent's serve, but I was definitely holding my ground."
Both Don and Jeremy had the best results when being aggressive and taking a cut at the return. Don said, "the O3 Red was fairly versatile on serve returns for me. However, I had better results when taking some backswing. Fortunately, the racquet is maneuverable enough to allow for this against most serves. My attempts to block back returns often resulted in balls that were short. Here again, if I focused on hitting through the ball I could generate decent pace. Against second serves or slower first serves, I could take a healthy swing and hit an offensive return." Jeremy offered, "it was harder to block a fast serve back with this one, most likely due to the overall weight of the racquet. When I was able to get fully prepared for the return, it was very easy put the ball back in play with loads of power. And, I didn't have to worry about being off center on my return because of the large sweetspot."
Josh also preferred to stay aggressive on the return. "Serve returns felt good with this racquet. I was able to pick up more first serves than usual because of the lighter weight of the racquet. My returns weren't as deep as they could have been, but as with my serves and groundstrokes, each return was controlled. I was also able to return serves hit wide with the flick of my wrist. However, I struggled a bit on the backhand side. I had more success shortening my swing and picking up the ball early rather than slicing my returns. My returns had a tendency to float when I sliced them, which made me susceptible to serve-and-volleyers. Granville found good results on both offensive and defensive returns. "Here is where I felt what I'm calling 'power on demand.' If hitting out I could smack the ball with a full swing and put it where I wanted. If at all defensive, I could block the ball back with confidence that there was enough stick to: 1) get it over the net, and 2) place it where I could stay alive and have a play on my next shot."
Heading into the playtest our team had the general opinion that the O3 Red was a racquet for intermediate players. However, it proved to be a worthy stick for even our advanced playtesters - impressing them from all areas of the court. Add that to the fact that our lowest rated playtester also really enjoyed hitting with this one, and the O3 Red's versatility really comes to the surface. While there is no racquet that's perfect for everyone, there are certain racquets that offer performance across levels. The O3 Red is such a racquet. No matter what your level, if you're looking for mobility, comfort and some controllable power, you should hit the courts for a playtest with the O3 Red.
|Chris||5.0 baseline player currently using a Yonex RDX 500 Midsize. Chris uses a full-western forehand grip, has a fast swing style and hits a one-handed backhand.|
|Josh||4.0 all court player currently using a Wilson ProStaff Original 85. Josh has a long, loopy swingstyle, hits with a one-handed backhand and a semi-western forehand.|
|Don||4.5 All court player currently using a Volkl Tour 9 V-Engine (16x19). Don is an aggressive player with a medium to fast swing style, using a semi-western forehand grip and a one-handed backhand.|
|Gran||5.5 all-court player currently using a Head LiquidMetal Prestige Midplus. Granville is an aggressive player who uses an eastern forehand grip and goes continental on everything else, hits with a flat swing and a one-handed backhand.|
|Wendi||3.0 player currently using a Babolat Pure Control Plus. Wendi is a steady but aggressive player who hits with a semi-western forehand grip and a two-handed backhand.|
|Jeremy||4.0 Left handed baseline player currently using Dunlop Muscle Weave 200g 95 Fast swing style, swings two handed on both sides, aside from one handed slice backhand.|
Review date: February 2005. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
All content copyright 2005 Tennis Warehouse.