Wilson Champions Choice String review
- Too powerful for some full-bed poly players
- Too pricey for some budgets
Combining the ultra plush feel of Wilson Natural Gut with the surgical precision of Luxilon ALU Power Rough, Wilson Champions Choice gave our team an impressive level of responsiveness. More importantly, it gave us the opportunity to play with the string used by Roger Federer, along with the hope that we too might hit a few jaw-dropping inside out forehands. While we appreciated the overall playability offered by these two very distinct string materials, it was the comfort that left the most lasting impression. As for control, some of our big swinging poly players struggled slightly with the increased power of the natural gut. Ultimately, though, for players who want to balance the crisp precision of polyester with the comfort, feel, and easy power of natural gut, this hybrid is well worth a test drive. If that's not reason enough to try Champions Choice, then do it for history. Indeed, natural gut and polyester, like wood and graphite, represent two absolutely pivotal themes in the story of tennis gear. This is your chance to combine them and see what all the fuss is about.
Power - Score: 86
Given that most of our playtesters use full-poly setups, it is not surprising that they noticed the extra pop supplied by the natural gut. Despite having to make some adjustments, Siobhan ultimately made her peace with the free power of Champions Choice. She said, "This had more free power than I'm used to, as I normally play with dead polys. I definitely noticed the effect of having the more powerful gut in the mains and would have liked to experiment with the gut in the crosses. This hybrid provided a different kind of power because it was controllable. I could get a lot of depth on my balls, and I definitely felt that was a product of this setup."
Chris preferred the responsiveness he got from the natural gut in the mains. He said, "I first tried this set up with the Lux in the mains at a couple of different tensions and I was not getting the pace and depth I like. After putting the gut in the mains I finally tapped into the power I wanted. The ball was exiting the stringbed with noticeably more height, which resulted in easier access to depth. I also found more pace on serves and enjoyed the zip I was getting. I've found more power with other gut/poly hybrids but was happy with the power level of this combo."
Opting for more control, Mark put the ALU Power Rough in the mains. He said, "Compared to my current setup, which is pretty low powered, I did get a little extra energy from the stringbed, but not as much as I anticipated. I thought the ball pocketing of my poly/synthetic gut hybrid was pretty good, but the natural gut created a better/deeper pocket (for lack of a better term)."
Compared with his typical all-poly setup, Jose discovered a little more pop. He said, "A full bed of ALU Power Rough gives me the same amount of power as my go-to string, ALU Power 16L. However, with natural gut in the crosses I did feel a little more pop coming off my strings."
Spin - Score: 84
While not the most spin-friendly string we've tested, Champions Choice gave our team good bite, along with great pocketing and feel. Jose found the spin potential to be very close to his all poly setup, only more comfortable. He said, "Since I had Luxilon ALU Power Rough I assumed I was going to get a great amount of spin. The bite of this hybrid seemed really similar to what I get with my standard full bed of ALU Power, but with more comfort."
After a short break-in period, Mark found a groove. He said, "After a few minutes of playing the string job felt like it 'set' and spin was easily accessed. At first there was a little string movement, as the surface of the natural gut was sort of slick. From five minutes into the first round of play until the 12-hour mark my ability to generate slice and topspin was enhanced with this setup."
Chris had enough spin to hit all his marks, and the added feel heightened his command over the ball. He said, "I found good spin with this setup. It was not the most spin-friendly setup I've used, but I found enough spin to hit aggressively and keep my shots inside the lines. The bite on slice shots was impressive, and I found I could drive my slice and keep the ball low off the bounce. I also liked the feel I had from the amount of spin I was getting, which allowed me to control drop shots, passing shots and lobs."
Siobhan loved the spin potential. She said, "The spin was my strength with this setup. I could put a lot of spin on the ball and get some great kick. I felt that this worked in partnership with the power: It just had a really wonderful spin and power combination. Sometimes the power may have been a little too much, but I could reduce some of the power by adding spin, and this added to my control."
Comfort - Score: 89
More than any other feature, our playtesters were impressed by the comfort of Champions Choice. This comfort can be attributed to the natural gut, which is the softest string material available and perfect for neutralizing the firmness of polyester. The high comfort paid dividends for Jose. He said, "The comfort was amazing. I haven't played with a hybrid in a while, but having that natural gut in the frame really does soften up the setup. The Champions Choice was a lot easier on my arm than my go-to setup, especially on off-center hits. I had more confidence since I didn't feel any elbow stress."
Equally enthusiastic about the comfort was Siobhan. She said, "I found a really comfortable combination of pocketing and feel. I had no complaints whatsoever here, and I never got even a hint of a sore arm. Every stroke felt good."
A fan of firm polys, Chris definitely noticed the extra comfort supplied by the natural gut. He said, "I usually hit with all poly or co-poly stringbeds, so I found this hybrid comfortable strung both ways. As expected, comfort was better with the gut in the mains, and I enjoyed the way the string cupped the ball, offering a soft feel. Shanked shots felt much less jarring, and the gut really upped the comfort level of every racquet I put this in."
Mark also picked up on the exceptional feel. He said, "The tension I use for my polys and hybrids make them pretty comfortable to begin with. With that said, using ALU Power Rough in the mains and the natural gut in the crosses gave me a more favorable feel than my poly/syn gut combo, without a doubt."
Control - Score: 81
Preferring low powered polys, some of our playtesters had trouble reigning in the extra pop of Champions Choice. Others, like Chris, settled into a groove. He said "Even with the more powerful gut in the mains I found the control level to be very high with this string. I had excellent feel on my shots from all areas of the court. I liked the way I could stay aggressive with this string in my racquet and not feel any loss of control. I felt very dialed in on my volleys and loved the feel and touch I had. For whatever reason, I struggled with the ALU in the mains. Shots were leaving the racquet with a lower than expected trajectory and I was either hitting shorter than expected or frustratingly catching the top of the net. Putting the gut in the mains cured this issue and was my preferred set up."
Mark had to make some minor adjustments to manage the increased power. He said, "As I mentioned above, I did feel as though the power level of my racquet slightly increased with the ALU Power Rough/natural gut hybrid, especially compared to what I use. An adjustment was needed to bring the ball down in the court, but it was a small one."
Forced to concentrate more on her mechanics, Siobhan had enough control in the end. She said, "I lost the ball a little bit sometimes when I didn't put as much spin on it, but overall the control was great. I had to concentrate a little more when up at net or hitting drop shots, as the ball could just fly off a little bit. I think it was a matter of keeping my swing speed fast, short and concise, and letting the string do the rest for me. I would lose a little bit when I wasn't controlling things with a full swing and the appropriate level of spin. I had a lot more control over lateral placement versus depth. My depth control was a little lacking sometimes, as the ball flew a bit deeper than I'm used to."
"The downside with this set up was the control," said Jose, whose big strokes proved harder to tame with this setup. "The natural gut gave me more power and comfort, but the control faded away."
Playability Duration - Score: 83
While natural gut holds tension longer than the other string materials, it is more easily weakened during installation and can also fall prey to sawing and notching, especially when partnered with a shaped or textured poly. Champions Choice proved immune to these problems. Chris was impressed. He said, "I was surprised at how well this string held up during the playtest with the gut in the mains. The gut seemed to last longer, and I could only guess it was due to the lower friction Lux in the crosses leading to less notching. As the Lux dropped tension in the crosses the gut felt like it stayed true to form, and the playability felt good for the entire two weeks I hit it. I can see myself leaving this setup in my racquet until the gut breaks."
Also impressed with how well the natural gut held up was Mark. He said, "After a dozen plus hours I have yet to break this string. A wise individual once told me that hybrids with natural gut last longer than hybrids with multis or synthetic gut strings. I admit, I am surprised that the textured surface of the ALU Power Rough has not sawed the gut more then it has."
Joining the praise was Siobhan. She said, "The stringbed felt pretty lively long into the playtest. I didn't notice any severe drop in playability or comfort."
This one clearly went the distance for Jose. He said, "I got to play with the setup for about two weeks and there wasn't any significant changes. Usually natural gut lasts me about a month. This setup seems like it will last a couple more weeks."
Overall - Score: 86
Jose - "I really enjoyed the control this setup gave me. I was really impressed by the way the natural gut reacted and performed during the playtest."
Mark - "The sound and the feel, but particularly the pocketing. The durability, too."
Chris - "I liked the spin, the comfort and the control. I also liked the playability duration, which helps offset the price of entry somewhat."
Siobhan - "The combination of spin and power resulting in aggressive and spin-friendly shots."
Jose - "Control! I am used to playing with a full set of poly. Using a blend sacrificed some control for power and comfort. I do like the comfort, but usually I will sacrifice some comfort to get extra control."
Mark - "Although it is cheaper than a full set of the Babolat VS, it is still a pricey configuration for me to switch to."
Chris - "I didn't like this setup with the poly in the mains as I struggled to get depth, and I was making too many errors in the net. This is an expensive string and too expensive for me to use as my go-to choice."
Siobhan - "No dislikes, aside from a few depth control issues."
Comparing the string to others they've tried, our testers said:
Jose - "It's comparable to Babolat Hurricane Tour 16 + VS 16. Very similar characteristics."
Mark - "The Big Banger Original comes closest in feel to the ALU Power Rough. It would perform similarly with a high quality natural gut."
Chris - "I have hit Volkl V-Fuse a lot and found that to be a crisper version of a gut/poly hybrid. I thought the feel was smoother with the Champions Choice, but I also felt a little more disconnected than I do with V-Fuse. I have also hit Pacific Prime Gut with Luxilon ALU Power and found that to be a livelier set up than this one. The Pacific gut also gave the hybrid a softer feel, and I felt a tad more connected to the ball."
Siobhan - "I play mostly with polys now, and none of them quite compares because the feel of natural gut is so distinctive."
(Scores are determined by averaging individual play test scores)
Playtester String Setups
Racquet: Head Prestige Pro Mid
Usual String: Volkl Cyclone 16
Tension: 52 lbs
Racquet: Prince EXO3 Tour 18x20
Usual String: Luxilon ALU Power 16L
Tension: 50 lbs
Racquet: Dunlop 4D Aerogel 200
Usual String: Kirschbaum Pro Line X 17 / Gosen OG Sheep Micro 17
Tension: 51 lbs
Racquet: Babolat Pure Drive
Usual String: Polyester 16
Tension: 55 lbs
Review date: August 2012. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
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