The last 35 years have brought newer, lighter, stronger materials to tennis rackets -- steel, aluminum, titanium, boron, carbon fiber. Now, the next wave of technology to hit the courts is virtual customization. Need relief from tennis elbow? Hate spraying balls off the edge of the frame? Can't get enough topspin? Have trouble returning 100 mph serves? Maybe one of the following four models can help you.
Babolat Aerotour OS: Graphite racquet with a streamlined frame that tapers to an edge at the strings.
Likes: Increased topspin; solid power; great all-round control for intermediate players. Babolat's claim that the "aerodynamic" airplane-wing-inspired frame moves 15% faster through the air with less work seems bogus, but it works. Also, the frame's tapered rim doesn't seem to deflect chopped or mis-hit shots as much as a standard racquet.
Dislikes: As loud as a tin can. Harsh vibration irritated a tester's tennis elbow (yet can be lessened by inserting a small rubber damper, common to most rackets, at the base of the strings).
Price: $189; (877) 316-9435; www.babolat.com.
Easy on tennis elbow
Wilson Triad T3: A control-power racquet that absorbs shock with a unique design -- a separate head and handle bound by a layer of polymer.
Likes: Noticeably less vibration than other rackets (it absorbs 60% of shock, Wilson says); the tester with tennis elbow was elated. Ultralight (9 ounces); good control; crisp hits.
Dislikes: May be slightly less powerful than other control-power models because of the shock-absorption.
Price: $230. (800) 946-6060; www.wilsontennis.com.
Superb for top players
Head Liquidmetal Radical: Control racket used by Andre Agassi; made of Caltech-developed titanium-zirconium-nickel-copper alloy formerly used only in aerospace.
Likes: Solid feel; good control. Liquidmetal material (exclusive to Head) is not deformed on impact; excels at returning hard serves.
Dislikes: Not enough power for an average, beginner or older player with a compact or weak swing. (If that's you, check the stiffer Liquidmetal Four [$225] or Eight [$250] models).
Price: $200. (800) 289-7366; www.head.com.
Power to the people
Blackburne DS 107 Double Strung: Only racket with two independent sets of strings -- one on each side of the racket head.
Likes: Although called a gimmick by some testers, it has good power similar to that of typical power rackets designed for recreational players. Because there is no raised lip on the frame, frame hits don't go askew and hitting accurate slices is easier. Strings may not wear out as fast. Not as heavy as you might think.
Dislikes: More expensive to restring; harsh vibration irritated tennis elbow. Not available in stores.
Price: $210; (888) GUTS-WIN; www.blackburneds.com.
-- Roy M. Wallack