Head Titanium Ti.S4 Racquet Review
While the rallying cry for many people and many companies in the year 2000 is "the future is now!", the rallying cry of tennis racquet manufacturers seems to be "more of the same!" More Hyper Carbons, more Triple Threats, more 200Gs, more Kinetic 15gs, more this, more that. Tennis racquet design enters the new millenium not on a wave of new ideas but on the coattails of past successes.
For those racquet companies that were doing well at the end of the 1900s "more of the same" is a sound business strategy. Wilson, with the recent success of their Hyper Carbon racquets, and Head with the tremendous response to their titanium tennis racquets in 1998, would be silly to try something radically different. Improving on a good product is a lot easier than inventing a new one.
The new Ti.S4 from Head is a prime example of this philosophy. The Ti.S4 is an extension of the Ti. racquet line that transformed Head from a struggling racquet company into one of the top two racquet manufacturers in the world. With a minor head size and weight change here, and a string pattern change there, Head has created another titanium racquet that they hope will fill the gap between the Ti.S2 and the Ti.S5.
At first glance, the Ti.S4 looks like a Ti.S2 painted yellow. However, if you look closer you will notice the S4 has a slightly larger head (5 square inches larger), and a more open (16x19) string pattern. If you hold both racquets you'll also notice the S4 is lighter than the S2. Although the differences seemed small to the eye, they had a large impact on how the racquet played for our play testers.
The S4 feels good when picking it up - it's light but has a solid feel. On groundstrokes, the racquet's light weight translates into quick maneuverability which may or may not improve your game. Mark says, "the racquet is so light, I could swing it very fast. It has limited power though, so I HAD to swing it very fast. I had to swing faster than normal to hit a hard, deep shot. However, the racquet's light weight made it easy to catch up to the ball when late. Players who are used to swinging very fast will probably enjoy the racquet head speed and the control you can get with this racquet." Drew adds, "the racquet is light and very easy to maneuver but is a little lacking in power and stability. A full stroke is required to hit any sort of penetrating shot."
Dan thought the S4 was reminiscient of another recently reviewed Head racquet, offering, "it's actually a scaled-down version of the S8, in my opinion. The S4 requires fast swing speeds to generate any significant pace on groundies. I was fooled into thinking I might only need half my normal swing speed with the S4 but was mistaken. Once I was on all cylinders, the ball found some depth but this required a conscious effort to swing consistently fast." Gran concurs, offering, "players who like to drive the ball with authority with fast swings will appreciate the control of this racquet. Slower swing-speed types, however, won't find enough power."
Comparisons to the S2 are inevitable, considering the S4's physical appearance and positioning. Don concludes, "the drop in weight is immediately noticeable - increased maneuverability and control, decreased power. I don't swing fast enough to appreciate this type of racquet. It's really a lightweight player's racquet in an oversized head."
The S4 is a natural at net. It contains all the elements required for quick, controlled and touch volleying. Granville offers, "volleys were very nice - good stability, response and control. The same applied to overheads - no real issues, except for a lack of power." Mark adds, "I didn't have to worry about hitting my volleys long because of the racquet's low power level. Of course, it's very maneuverable but I'd prefer a little more weight in the head to stabilize it more on off-center hits and to provide slightly more power. However, it's a good volleying racquet as is. I really liked it on half-volleys. With its low power level, I could take a good solid swing and still keep the ball in the court." Don comments, "it's a good touch and drop volleying racquet. Just setting the racquet and blocking hard hit passing shots won't put the ball deep in the court. I had better results taking these shots and hitting shorter, angled volleys. Dan adds, "Getting the racquet down quickly for low or half-volleys was a snap. The racquet practically walked itself through the motions - it's at home on the attack at net."
There were no surprises for our play testers on overheads. They were able to get the racquet on a lot of lobs, but the lack of power limited the effectiveness of the S4. Says Mark, "It's easy to get to most lobs, due to the racquets lighter weight. Unless they were short lobs, though, and I was able to get all my weight into the shot, my overheads lacked pop." Dan enjoyed the S4's quickness and flex, "There was no extra luggage when it came to overheads and reaction volleys. Overheads were easy to prepare for but good technique is required to put the ball away."
Serving with the S4 is similar to hitting groundstrokes - if you swing fast, you can hit hard. Mark liked serving with the S4, commenting, "I was surprised at how much power I was able to generate. If I had a good toss and good motion, I was happy with the results on my first serve. I was also able to place the ball where I wanted. On second serves, I could generate a fair amount of spin but not enough to hit a really good kick serve." Dan echoes, " I have a fast swing on the serve. The head-heavy balance, combined with the light weight made big first serves easy to hit. Kick second serves had good jump but weren't as 'heavy' as I like, probably due to the lack of overall mass." Don concurs, adding, "if I swung very fast, I hit good serves. On second serves, if I applied enough spin, I could swing as hard as I wanted and the ball stayed in, with good kick."
Returns must be driven to be effective; block returns don't have enough juice, even against hard-hit serves. The good news is that the S4 is light enough to prepare and swing against most serves. The bad news is its light weight can cause it to be pushed around by big booming serves. Dan offers, "the lighter weight made whipping the racquet into position for quick service returns easy. I like taking big cracks on returns so the 'give' on this racquet was a natural fit for my return style."
Approach shots are easy to hit but can sit up, or float, if not hit with authority. Drew comments, "my approach shots fall into two categories - slice or angled topspin. I had difficulty putting pressure on my opponent with either shot. Slices tended to float, which meant that while they had plenty of underspin, my opponent also had plenty of time to hit a passing shot. The racquet's quick acceleration made hitting topspin easy but the shots lacked pace, again giving my opponent time to set up and pass." Dan, however, found the S4 more effective on approach shots, adding "this racquet provided better bite on slice approaches than others I've tried in its weight class. I felt confident that short ball approaches would stay low enough to force my opponent to hit up, as opposed to gift-wrapping a fat sitter, which is normally the result when there isn't much frame weight behind the shot."
The S4 will appeal most to all-court players with fast swings. Mark comments, "I'd say this would be a good racquet for someone who swings very, very fast. I don't believe it has enough weight for baseline players but all -courters and/or serve & volley players who like to swing fast may like it." Drew sums up his impressions, saying, "the S4 plays like a trimmed down version of the S2, although I'm not sure the S2 needed any trimming down. I think a little lead tape at 3 and 9 o'clock would really bring out this racquet's best playing characteristics and put it on par with its older siblings, the S2 and S5." Most playtesters agreed that the S4 exists in the shadow of the S2 - it's difficult not to compare these two racquets. However, 4.5-6.0 players seeking a lighter, more control-oriented oversize racquet may find the S4 to their liking.