In this week’s classic tennis racquet review we take a look at the stick used by the legendary American player Pete Sampras.
Sampras played his entire professional career with a Wilson Pro Staff 6.0 85.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion customized the racquet, adding lead tape and natural gut strings to make it weigh in at close to 385 grams. It was one of the heaviest racquets ever used by a professional tennis player.
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The Wilson Pro Staff 85 – which had a small 85 square inch head size – was launched in 1983 and initially endorsed by Jimmy Connors.
Connors only played one season with it before moving back to his trusted old Wilson T2000. Other noteworthy pros who also played with the Pro Staff 85 were Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier and Roger Federer.
Federer, though, moved to a bigger 90 square inch head size in 2002, before changing to the Pro Staff 97 in 2014. The Swiss won 17 of his 20 Grand Slams with the 90 square inch Pro Staff.
Sampras used the Pro Staff 85 racquets from St Vincent – the renowned factory in the Caribbean where they were produced. These racquets were also produced in Chicago and China.
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The Pro Staff 85 is not used by players in today’s modern game, with the small head size proving unforgiving in the topspin-heavy environment.
It’s quite remarkable that Sampras persisted with this racquet his entire career, given the fact that many players moved to larger head sizes in the 1990s when topspin became more prevalent.
Nowadays, most players on the ATP Tour play with racquets between 95 and 100 square inch head sizes.
The Pro Staff 85 had a small sweet spot but it was a great racquet for attacking-minded players like Sampras. It suited his serve and volley style and gave him great stability at the net.
However, it was less forgiving from the baseline and could be a reason why Sampras struggled to win a Grand Slam on clay at the French Open.
He admitted in later years that he regrets not trying a bigger racquet. Sampras quit the ATP Tour when he won the 2002 US Open but did feature in exhibition matches and the ATP Champions Tour in subsequent years.
There he initially played with a slightly bigger Wilson K Pro Staff 88, before moving to a Babolat Pure Storm Tour GT which has a 98 square inch head size. It’s 320 grams unstrung but Sampras beefed it up quite a bit with lead tape.
“I was at an exhibition in Jersey with (Andy) Roddick and I picked up his racquet and went ‘wow’… I felt a lot of power, it was easier on my arm, easier on my back. So I got a (Babolat) racquet and put in the string that everyone’s using and it felt a good combination for me,” Sampras said in 2010.
“Wilson is a great racquet but it’s hard on my arm, it’s a stiff, hard racquet… and now I need a little bit more pop. I’ve gone from a Blade to a Callaway,” he quipped.
The Pure Storm has unfortunately been discontinued by Babolat in recent years.
Picture: Roger Federer and Pete Sampras/ATP Tour – Twitter
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