There appear to be several versions

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Describing tennis gear can sometimes seem like talking about wine- vague descriptions of “pop” and “fizz”, “plush” and “lively”. But once you’ve played with a few racquets, you can understand what they mean with the various terms.We’ll try to be more specific and detailed with our critique than we might with a bottle of bubbly, but even serious sports gear is a good part subjective art.

With that in mind, we brought one of the latest racquets from Prince out onto the court, the EXO3 Tour. Compared to the Yonex racquets we tried out in the winter, the packaging wasn’t as nice, but the immediate impression was more positive. Sure, there are patented technologies- like the oddly-shaped grommets that are easily visible on the edges of the stick, and are supposed to help “liberate your strings”. With violin solos running through our heads, we have to admit that we did notice a positive difference- as they suggest, shots hit to the edges of the sweet spot felt more likely to ring true. That can make a big difference, especially for when you’re on the run, where a bit of trade from power/precision towards balanced simplicity is a good one.

That isn’t to say that the EXO3 Tour is meant for, or best used by, beginners. In fact, the head is a bit small for newer players at 100 and at 11 ounces, a bit heavy for some. We’re solid intermediate players, and while this racquet does not offer the sheer power or spin we’ve seen from others, it’s a very capable baseline returner and super-fast at the net. We didn’t see curve or pace out of it- performance was solid but not spectacular in serving or with drop-shots. But it’s forgiving, especially when placed on the defensive. We liked it best when we able to really open up our swing- it feels best when used with full strokes. And the large sweet spot means that you can afford to be patient and not worry as much about a small window of return opportunity. In terms of wine, this isn’t a port or a rich cabernet, but more like a Riesling- pretty easily enjoyed, not too stuffy, and perfect for the summer. At $180, you’re getting a great all-around, multi-purpose racquet. And the frame is quite attractive to boot. Available widely now.

Of course, you can’t play a serious set without a good set of tennis shoes. The term “tennis shoe” may have all but lost its meaning, encompassing as it so often does every make and model of sneaker. But real tennis shoes have some requirements different from basketball shoes (often high-tops) and running (lighter weight and bouncier, with less ankle support). The Prince Rebels offer excellent shock protection (thanks to a technology they call Shock Eraser and we call comfortable). But as with other single-purpose shoes we’ve tried, they aren’t quite fashionable enough to wear out and about, though black and metallic orange certainly make a nice statement. They were sized correctly- a good fit, with plenty of snug protection around the ankle and the right amount of breathing room above the toes. Traction seemed decent, especially front to back. And we loved the feel of these side-to-side, which is where normal sneakers fail- during a game, you’ll be dashing and pressing on the sides of the soles.

Men, take note- these aren’t meant for the ladies. But they are durable- they’ve held up well against hard surface play- if a bit heavier than we like. The Rebels do come with a nice six month guarantee against wear, a definite and unique bonus that we heartily endorse, though their condition (outsole worn through to the midsole) is a bit stringent. At about $100, they might be best suited for teens and twenty-somethings who like a bit more flash in their step. There appear to be several versions, perhaps from previous years- ours was 8P333-087, and were this year’s edition.

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