Pat Rafter is fun to watch play tennis. His grinding, never-say-die, serve & volley tennis leaves spectators feeling they really got their money's worth. He's scrapped his way out of more than a few tough matches with his relentless net rushing and he's arguably the best volleyer on the ATP Tour since Stefan Edberg.
Then there's the Aussie thing. This is a big part of who Pat Rafter is and why he's so popular. He's the dinky-di, the duck's nuts. Spectators just love to hear his "C'mon mate" and other Aussie expressions. On top of that, he's always been fair dinkum, a real mate. Pat never plays sillybuggers by stalling or questioning linecalls. No, Rafter's not a spit the dummy kind of guy. He always seems to play in control. He's never toey, and is downright cobber to other players. He's the kind of guy who values a few XXXX's (Aussie beers) with his mates after a match almost as much as he enjoys winning. (See Aussie slang glossary at right.)
Rafter just seems more down-to-earth than many of the other top pros. More of a regular guy. He putts around Bermuda (his second home) on a Moped instead of a Ferrari, and he donated half of his 1997 U.S. Open winnings to a children's hospital in Australia. A few years ago, during the Lipton Championshiops, I heard Fred Aussie-Stolle mention Rafter's nickname - Skunky. Fred explained that while some people might assume the name was due to his pre-mature gray streak of hair, it was really a reference to Pat's wind passing habits - a nickname given to him by his best mate, Paul Kilderry. A beer drinking, drop yer guts guy - who couldn't like him?!
Today, Pat Rafter is Prince's main poster boy. His long hair and those zinc oxide stripes under his eyes give him the appearance of a warrior and the Sheilas just love him. He's a worthy replacement to Michael Chang.
Rafter switched from the Prince Graphite II to the Precision Response 660 in early 1997. While using the Response 660 he rose to #2 in the world and won the U.S. Open. Despite John McEnroe labeling him a "one-slam wonder", Rafter came back and won the '98 U.S. Open.
Since changing to the Response Titanium in late 1998 Rafter has retained his # 2 ranking and only the inspired play of Gustavo Kuerten kept him from taking over the #1 spot during the Italian Open. Quite an accomplishment for a serve and volley player on the slow European clay.
Rafter's style of tennis is better suited to the fast lawn surface of Wimbledon. He won the warm-up grass tournament in Holland and many believed the #2 seed had the best chance of de-throning Sampras at the All-England Championships. We can only wonder what might have been if Rafter had gotten past a revved up Andre Agassi in the semis..... Rafter got his revenge against those damn Yanks, though, during the recent Davis Cup match in Boston. Playing under intense conditions, he once again rallied from a 2-set deficit to beat Todd Martin in the deciding match and win the tie against a supposedly superior American "team".
On July 26, 1999, Pat Rafter became the first Australian to be ranked #1 since John Newcombe (Rafter's Davis Cup Coach) did it 25 years ago. Rafter is indeed on top of the world and he's gotten there using the Precision Response Titanium.
How the Response Titanium plays
There are precious few true "player's" racquets remaining in a market dominated by super light, head-heavy racquets. Of those that do remain, few have stood the test of time. With the Precision Response Titanium, Prince has taken a proven winner (Precision Response 660) and added the advantages of titanium technology.
Prince has combined braided titanium with graphite at the 2 and 10 o'clock areas of the frame to provide extra strength and stability. Carried over from the Precision Response 660 is Prince's Double Bridge to reduce vibration and their Straight Shaft technology for "predictable control". This combination of old and new technology has created one of the purest player's frames available.
All playtesters complimented the Response's stability, sweetspot and overall comfort. Says Drew, "I like this racquet better than any Precision racquet Prince has made in the last few years. It's weight and balance give the racquet great stability and more punch than some of its lighter counterparts." Mark adds, "a rock solid player's racquet. The extra weight made it very stable and easy to keep the ball deep." While Dan concludes, "this racquet felt much better during off-center shots than its predecessor (Response 660). Put simply, it possesses a larger and more generous sweetspot."
Much of the Response Titanium's stability and comfort can be attributed to Prince's use of titanium braid and their Triangular Weighting in the racquet head at 2 and 10 o'clock (upper shoulders). This effectively raises the sweetspot, making shots hit in the upper hoop more responsive and comfortable. Prince's Double Bridge also provides good damping, making the Response Titanium feel almost soft, but without sacrificing feel or touch.
The Response is no lightweight at 12 ounces. However, more than one playtester commented on it swinging lighter than expected. Dan says, "it felt a good 1/2 ounce lighter - more like a 11.5 ounce racquet. I had no trouble taking big cuts with this racquet while still maintaining solid control." Don continues, "the first time I played with the Response, it felt a little heavy. The second and third times, I had no problems with maneuverability, even against a much stronger opponent." While Mark counters, "the racquet's weight was a negative factor but only on my overheads and sometimes my serve. And while my arm got tired from lugging around the extra weight, I didn't feel any of the discomfort I get with lighter, stiffer frames.
A closer look at the Response's numbers shows why it feels lighter than expected. It's standard length (27") and 1 inch (8 points) head-light balance point make it feel lighter than, say, the Precision Approach Titanium. The Approach Titanum is 27.5 inches long, 11.6 ounces and is 6 points head-light. This results in a dynamic swingweight of 338, compared to 322 for the Response Titanium. Because the Response Titanium is very head-light and standard length, it will feel lighter in motion than many longer, head-heavy (or less head-light) racquets that weigh less than the 12 ounce Reponse Titanium. Length, balance and weight all influence how heavy a racquet feels in motion.
On groundstrokes, the Response can be effectively wielded by big hitters or those with medium-fast swings. Mark found pros and cons from the baseline, "I was able to swing as hard as I wanted on my backhand and still keep the ball in the court. On forehands, I could hit the ball hard and flat or hit the sharp topspin angle shots. Slice backhands (and even some slice forehands) are a natural shot with this racquet. If the racquet has an Achilles heel, it would be on shots hit above the shoulder. I couldn't swing fast enough to generate a lot of power. It was also tough to get the racquet back quick enough when I was hurried." While Don explains, "I was generating good pace and depth without having to swing hard. Just swing smoothly and let the racquet do the work. Slice backhands and approach shots were sweet! I hit some of my best short-swing approach shots with the Response... and deep!"
Hilary liked the Response's head-light balance, "good light weight feel, which made for easy swinging and fast racquet head speed." The Response's 16x20 pattern is quite versatile - open enough to generate good spin but not so much as to create big string breakage problems. Dan comments, "I found slice particularly easy to control with good bite - a big asset for chip and charge players and those dependent on good approach shots." Granville's baseline experience was similarly positive, "exceptional power on groundies, even when I didn't expect it (on the dead run) and with very little shock or vibration. A very smooth ride!"
We found string tension made a big difference in how the Response Titanium performed - more than with most racquets. Big hitters should string it tight (63-65) for control, while players with medium swings will prefer just above mid-range (60-62). Much lower and the ball trampolines off the strings. Of course, string type also influenced racquet performance. Drew thought, "the racquet strung with Prince Titanium Pro 16 at 63 felt a little under-powered but I could really swing away with it. The Response strung with Tecnifibre NRG2 17 and Prince Synthetic Gut Soft 17 at 60 had a lot more power. While these two felt more comfortable, I found control lacking with my fast-swinging, topspin game."
The Response Titanium offers great touch and feel at the net. Despite its heft, maneuverability was not an issue for most playtesters. Dan offers, "touch and feel at the net were predictable for a 12 ounce player's frame - let it do the work and your percentages go up. Swinging volleys can take a seat." Granville adds, "exceptional touch on volleys."
Early preparation is rewarded on overheads, but even here, the Response Titanium is forgiving. Don explains, "I got caught a few times setting up late on overheads but was still able to hit the ball effectively. Once I got into the groove and prepared early enough, see ya!"
Serving with the Response Titanium is much like other shots. Stronger players will still be able to swing it fast and hit booming serves. The rest of us may sacrifice racquet speed but not much power. Drew - "I could serve effectively with this racquet. It didn't feel like I was getting much racquet head speed compared to some other racquets but it felt like more energy was ending up in the ball. Topspin and slice serves seemed to have lots of action." Mark adds, "When my timing was right, I could hit some very powerful serves with good control. However, if I didn't use good form, I couldn't generate much power. I also started getting tired after about 1-1/2 sets and my serve weakened noticeably."
Serve returns, reaction and half-volleys are generally rewarded when using the Response Titanium. However, at 12 ounces, it may be necessary to settle for block shots. Only strong players will be able pull off flick shots and/or take big cuts at fast serves. Drew explains, "I was able to hit good returns but sometimes had to settle for blocking the ball back because I couldn't quite prepare fast enough to make a normal stroke. Slice backhand returns against hard hit serves are no problem but not the ideal shot if your opponent is serving and volleying." Don adds, "I was pleasantly surprised how much depth I could generate on my returns without much backswing. Stretch volleys, half-volleys and stab returns were some of my best shots. Very stable and comfortable."
The Precision Response Titanium is an ideal racquet for players who prefer standard length, traditional weight and head-light balance. It offers slightly above average power but good control, and an uncanny combination of comfort and stability. It's very reliable. Mark concludes, "physically stronger players will love this racquet. You can play any style of game and still benefit from its great playability."
Pat Rafter does. Maybe you will too...mate.