Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Yonex Voltric 70 Review

I have taken the plunge and bought myself a Voltric 70 for the eye watering price of £140. This goes against all my principles of buying expensive badminton rackets, however, the fact that about 99% of all serious badminton players on the planet want to know if this thing is any good or not has swayed my better judgement. Having said that i also have an 8DX in my bag and that wasn't cheap either, although i will be selling it pretty soon if anyone is interested?

Ok back to the review. My Voltric 70 is actually a 4U spec, which is pretty rare to find in the UK, most Yonex rackets that come to the UK are 3U. This means it is slightly lighter than usual. I have strung it at 28lbs with BG65Ti string which is my usual tension. The 70 has a head heavy balance and a medium flex, and the Yonex marketing proclaims this racket is the best thing since sliced bread, it gives 5% more power, and although it is head heavy it is still easy to manoeuvre for fast reaction rallies and net play. So in essence you get the best of both worlds. Is this possible? Lets find out...

What Yonex have done is to add weight near the top of the racket with tungsten, and then balance this extra weight by adding more weight at the bottom of the head, on either side of the throat of the racket. One other thing to note is that yonex have added sound filters which are supposed to make the Voltric sound different when you hit the shuttle. Now we have got that out of the way lets get on to what it is actually like to play with it.

As soon as i hit the first shot i could tell the 70 was going to be good. There was no vibration, no distortion from the head, it felt solid as hell, which is what i always look for right away. This was impressive because you usually get some vibration when you string at 28lbs. As far as the sound filtering goes, well i have to say i am really not bothered at all. If you have higher tension you will always get that crisp sound from the racket when you middle that shuttle. I did a few shots with my lethal 70 which is strung at the same tension and the voltric did sound different, but it makes no difference to how you are going to play. A nice marketing gimmick i think.

The 70 is an easy racket to play with, it makes things easy, so for me it is a low work racket, which is the best kind to have. It is a funny combination really, to have a head heavy racket with a medium flex shaft and high string tension, but the main thing for me is that it works perfectly. I have had it for 2 weeks now and i have played with it about 8 times, so i think i have got a very idea of what it is like to own.

Around the net it is very responsive and easy to move around. It appears that Yonex have managed to pull it off by making it easy to work with for fast reaction shots. I also think the fact that it is a 4U helps quite a lot, perhaps a 3U would be a little more difficult for faster shots. Overhead it was also easy to use, exceptionally stable on impact, in fact i have never played with a more stable racket, and that includes my lethal 70, so that is high praise indeed.

I would say the Voltric 70 is a bit of an all rounder. Power players will enjoy the head heavy balance and the stable head on impact. Yet defensive players will enjoy how responsive it is on drives and net shots. It really does offer the best of both worlds.

This racket is probably more suited to intermediate and advanced players. The flex is stated as medium but to me it still feels stiff so you need to be capable of bending the shaft with your swing speed to get the best out of it. The recommended tension is a maximum of 24lbs, but mine is just fine at 28lbs, and it could no doubt take much more than that if you so wish.

The Verdict

I am going to stick my neck out here and say it is one of the best racket i have played with. It suits my game down to the ground, it is more stable than the lethal 70, but more impressively is just how much more responsive it is on defensive shots compared to both my lethal 70 and my 8DX. Yonex have made a future classic with this voltric 70. Next up will be the voltric 80, and i have high expectations for this as the 70 is a pretty fantastic racket.

Just a quick update, the Voltic 70 is selling for £117 from Amazon.co.uk for everyone based in the UK. This is just about the cheapest i have seen it advertised anywhere on the internet. The shipping charge is also very reasonable at £3.99. Click on the link below to take a closer look.

YONEX Voltric 70 Badminton Racket

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Badminton Round Up

Well the dust has settled on the world championships, and once again Lin Dan has bagged yet another world title, in one of the best finals ever seen. In my opinion it comes second to the 1997 final between Sun Jun and Peter Rasmussen. Lee Chong Wei was pipped again in a major final. I really wanted to see him lift the title, he lost with a lot of dignity, and i guess that says a lot about him as a person. Watching him through the rounds he looked on top form, his overall game is there, i just think he lacks the total belief that he can beat Lin Dan in the biggest games. Top level sport usually comes down to just a few critical moments, and i think Lee Chong Wei will learn a lot from that final. It would be fitting if he could win the 2012 Olympic title before he hangs up his racket.

I was also impressed with Peter Gade. To be at the top of any sport for so many years takes real dedication and mental strength. He may have lost a bit of speed and power, but his tactical play is second to none. Of course as a Brit i was astonished that we got a silver medal in the mixed doubles, so well done to Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier. That result must have secured more lottery funding for Badminton England, and i know that funding had been getting smaller due to a poor run of results in the past few years. English badminton has been going through a rough patch in recent times, we have fallen a long way back.

On a brighter note it is great to see the BWF and Google teaming up to stream live badminton via youtube. Here in the UK, we hardly ever see any live badminton. Sky Sports do cover the All England, and the World Championships when they are in the UK, but you obviously have to pay to see this. Now us Brits can see live coverage of all the Super Series events, which is like Xmas has come early. I think it is great initiative to promote badminton around the world. I have noticed that coverage does not go out to countries like Malaysia, and i guess this is due to tv rights. I don't know what the situation is in Malaysia regarding who covers live badminton, but if it is like football coverage here in England, then the Satellite companies like Sky and Espn have all the broadcast rights, and you have to pay to watch any Premier League football, which has been the case for the past 17 years or so.

There is delayed coverage of the televised matches for the events, which is fantastic for all badminton fans. I have already watched the China Masters event, and have seen some of the Japan Open today. Once again Lin Dan has withdrawn to allow Chen Long to go through to the final nice and fresh to face Lee Chong Wei. China are very good at doing this sort of thing, i remember Lin Dan being "injured" in the All England final a few years ago, and allowing Chen Jin to win (it was Olympic qualifying year and it helped China get 3 mens singles players into the Olympic draw) This kind of thing is not good for badminton, and especially not for the fans who have paid to see the best players compete. The BWF should take a close look at this.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

World Badminton Championships 2011

Next week the world badminton championships come to sunny old England, namely Wembley Arena. The last time i went there was to watch the All England, many years ago. I am going down to London on the wednesday, and staying 2 nights, so i will be watching 3 days worth of play, ending with both sessions of the quarter finals on the friday. The total cost of this little trip is looking at being about £350- £400. Is it worth spending that much money to watch badminton? Of course it is! I have been watching this sport for about 20 years now, and there is just nothing like watching the best players playing live. You get to hear the sound of the shuttle on the racket much better than watching on television. You also get a much better perspective of movement and footwork.

I have just been looking at the draw, and unless i have missed something, there are no Korean entries for the mixed doubles. I wonder why this is? As far as mens singles goes, well i think it will be Lee Chong Wei vs Lin Dan in the final. Yeh i know i am really sticking my neck out with this prediction, but those 2 are in a different class to everyone else, and have been for many years now. Lin Dan has been a bit up and down during this year, whilst Lee Chong Wei has been winning virtually every tournament he has entered. As soon as he started being more aggressive a few years ago, he became a much better player, and the results started to come. He will have a lot of pressure to win his first world championships, but it is about time he did win it.

Looking at his section of the draw, he could face Park Sun Hwan in the 3rd round, and probably Chen Long in the quarters. These are the matches i will be looking out for when i go watching.

The mens doubles is a much more open tournament for me. We are blessed with some very good pairs who can all beat each other on any given day. You have Cai and Fu, TBH and KKK, Jung and Yong Dae, The danes, and Kido and Setiawan. Take your pick out of any of those, i can't predict that one.

Womens singles and doubles should go to China, they are usually the winners at the major championships. The mixed doubles is also pretty open, so that should be interesting to watch.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Yonex Voltric 80 Price Fixing

Ok i actually managed to get a reply from the office of fair trading in the Uk about the £160 price point for the Voltric 80. The e-mail said that they had looked into the pricing and that it did not consider Yonex to be fixing the price. They mentioned something about price maintenance, but that price fixing was not going on. They also stated that they would keep an eye on Yonex prices in the future.

The result is that all of us in the UK will still have to pay £160 for the voltric 80, and no doubt for any of the future Yonex rackets that come out. This sucks big time in my eyes, and there is nothing that can be done about it i'm afraid. All the online retailers can do nothing about it either, and i am sure they would love to sell at a lower price. Yonex have tied their hands and the badminton players suffer for it.

Rest assured that when the latest top end racket does come out, the prices will all be the same, and i will send off another e-mail to the OFT and see what happens. Understand that it is not just yonex who do this sort of thing. All of the big name players in the racket industry do this. The same thing happens in the tennis racket world with Head and Wilson, and no doubt Yonex as well, as they sell quite a few tennis rackets. Funnily enough yonex do not manufacture squash rackets yet. This has always baffled me, as there is a pretty large market for squash rackets in Europe especially.

I think i will send an e-mail to the guy who owns the racket doctor website and store, and see how far he got with the price fixing in the USA, i am sure he will know much more than i do at the moment. This practise is legal in the USA, and it looks to be same story in the UK now as well.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Yonex Voltric 80

I have noticed something a bit fishy about the new Yonex Voltric 80 and it is the pricing for it here in the UK. Funny thing is, the racket is almost exactly the same price at every single online store i have looked at. This price is £161 GBP. Is this price fixing? Oh yes it is, and many major racket brands, not just yonex, have been at this for years, not just in badminton but in squash and tennis. I did a little searching on the internet and found a very good story of this price fixing from a very successful racket store in California called The Racket Doctor and if you follow the link it tells the story of their battles with the big racket manufacturers over the years.

The sad part is that those of us who buy rackets are being ripped off by the big companies. The retailers have their hands tied because they have to sell the latest offerings at a certain price, or else they will find their supply being cut off and therefore will not be able to sell any rackets or other equipment. The guy from racket doctor actually challenged this in court, as he believed he should be able to sell rackets for whatever price he wanted to, the free market is what i am talking about. He lost, so we all get ripped off legally.

This price fixing means that the voltric 80 is the same price no matter where you look, or at least it has the same minimum cost, some retailers may take the piss and sell it at £170 or £180 for a short while until they realise they have failed to sell any because they were greedy. So what we are left with is about 50 online stores all selling for the same price because Yonex will dump them if they try to go below this magical £161.

This forces the online badminton retail stores to be more creative, or at least it should if they have any sense. Being creative means offering little extras to the deal so the customer gets something more than just the £161 Voltric 80. This comes in a few different forms such as free delivery, free stringing or free grips, or a free t-shirt, or free towel, or free whatever they can think of. Ok, so lets take a look at what deals there are out there in the UK online market for this Voltric 80.

Of the main players in the Uk market we can take a quick look at who is advertising on google for this racket, and who ranks on the first page of the organic listings for "yonex voltric 80". Here are the main retailers..

central sports
uk rackets
direct sports e shop
tennis nuts
millet sports
advanced rackets
maurice robinson sports
pro sport uk
badminton warehouse

The last on the list, badminton warehouse is a US based retailer that appears to be advertising themselves in the Uk market, and after looking at their site they do ship internationally. So lets see what their price is for the voltric 80, well it says it is on sale for $229.95 and when you click through for more details they also offer a stringing service, however this is only free if you choose yonex BG65, all other types of string will cost you extra. If we take todays pound dollar exchange rate which is 1.62 it works out that the price i would pay in GBP is about £141.94. This is about £19 cheaper than the £161 price from the UK retailers. Great, so i can save almost £20 if i buy from the US right? Wrong. You now have to look at the shipping cost as well. Badminton Warehouse do offer free delivery if you live in the US but after entering my post code and country it turns out the shipping cost is a whopping $66.50 for UPS global express, or an extra $89.95 for UPS mail international. WTF! So now my bargain racket is no longer a bargain at all, in fact if i choose the cheapest delivery option of $66.50 or £41 in GBP, this puts the total amount payable to £182 GBP, which is an extra £21 more than i could get it for here in the UK. This begs the question of why the hell are badminton warehouse advertising for this racket here in the UK market? Those of you in the US are going to paying about £20 less for the Voltric 80 than us here in the UK.

Going back to the list i will take the first retailer which is central sports, the biggest badminton racket retailer here in the UK. If you go to the All England championships you will see them there, in fact they are the only retailer allowed to actually sell anything there as they are the approved yonex retailer for the All England. Yonex sponsor the All England and have a monopoly on all the retail equipment as well, as they do not allow any other merchant or brand to sell anything there. This is nothing new, and in all honesty without Yonex there would probably not be an All England championships, so i guess we must be grateful for their support. Central Sports have a great time every year at the All England, and they get lots of exposure as well so all the badminton players know their name. They also have a close relationship with badminton england, and if you are a member you can get a discount at central sports.

At the central sports website the advertised price for the voltric 80 is? Yep its £161.50, and rather annoyingly you have click a few buttons to actually see the price. Why do all these retailers do this? They all sell it for the same damn price! Ok so we have the price, but what about the little extras? Well this is where central sports raise the bar from the others because you can customise this racket, which gives you the choice of a free yonex grip and a free stringing upgrade at your chosen tension. There are 7 different yonex strings to choose from, and more importantly you can have the tension up to 28lbs. Central Sports do tell you that they cannot guarantee any tension that is above their recommended tension, which for the voltric is about 24lbs. We all know that the voltric can be strung above 30lbs without too much trouble, but they have to have this disclaimer to avoid returns from customers who may very well snap the strings after a few mis hit shots at 28lbs tension. Still, credit to central sports for stringing to 28lbs, which is my own preferred tension. They also offer free delivery on 2-3 working days. So with central sports i get the racket, free grip which they also fit for you, and my chosen string at my chosen tension, all for £161.50. In addition, they have an offer of another 3 free grips with this racket.

Next up we have UK rackets, and their price is also £161.50, with free delivery. Unfortunately there is no mention of any extras with the voltric 80, no free grips and no stringing upgrades, so the racket would come with the factory string and tension. Oh dear.

Direct sports e shop are next up, and the price is £161.50 funnily enough. What extras do they have? Well they offer a free grip upgrade, and also they offer 3 free grips, which is identical to what central sports offer. You can also choose your string and the tension up to 28lbs, and this is also free, and is the same as central sports. You get free delivery as well, so up to now the best deal is with direct sports e shop and central sports. Both have an identical offer.

Sweatband are next up, and they are selling it for £161.49 which is 1p less than the others. You also get a free yonex grip, but sadly they do not have any restring offer so you will get the factory strings at factory tension, which is just fine if you are not bothered about the strings, however i suspect that most badminton players who are going to buy the voltric 80 are pretty serious players who will be concerned with the strings so they will be looking for these upgrades, i know i would be. Sweatband also offer free delivery, so they only fall down on the strings.

PWP come up next, and they advertise quite heavily in the badminton magazine that gets sent out once every few months. Once again the price is £161.50 however we soon run into a problem. There is no free grip offer, and whilst they do have a string upgrade, you have to pay for it. PWP offer yonex BG65 for an extra £3.99, or £4.99 for BG65Ti. Worst still they will only string up to a maximum of 24lbs, so i would be out of luck if i wanted my usual tension of 28lbs. You do get free delivery, but this offer is not as good as the others.

Tennis Nuts are next on the list, and again, they advertise in badminton magazines, but obviously their main focus is on tennis rackets and equipment. Still, they have all the latest badminton rackets on sale at the website, and after a quick look we find the Voltric 80 on sale for £161.49. The extras are either 3 free grips or a string upgrade in yonex string at a max tension of 26lbs. Delivery is also free, so their deal is just a little short of the best so far.

Millet Sports are a more general sports retailer, but they are currently advertising on google for the Voltric 80. The price is once again £161.50 but there are no extras, just free delivery on orders over £79, so Millets are offering less than the rest. I suppose that Millets are not badminton specialists, so their focus is on other sporting equipment.

Advanced rackets are also selling for £161.50 and you get a free grip and restring option with a good variety of yonex strings, with the max tension at 28lbs, so this deal is right up there with the best so far. Delivery is also free.

Maurice Robinson have the Voltric 80 at £161.50 with free grip and free restring upgrade, but the max tension is set at 24lbs, so not ideal for those who like their tension higher. Free delivery is also included.

Pro Sport UK surprisingly have it on sale for £161.50, but have no other upgrades so they are down near the bottom of the list for extras. One thing that made me laugh was the little comment box that came up when i had to click to see the actual price of the Voltric 80. It says "It is important to ProsportUK.Com and Yonex that as much technical information about the product is available, so that an informed decision can be made when choosing a racquet that will suit your technique and playing style rather than just on price". How daft is that comment?

So there we have it. It is impossible to buy the volrtic 80 for less than £161.49 in the UK. The best deal comes from central sports and direct sports e shop. I suspect that central sports are buying more voltrics than any other UK retailer as they have the most customers. The exposure from the All England and from badminton england means central sports are well known here in the UK. Of course when you buy more rackets you can expect to pay less for each unit, so central sports will making more profit on every voltric they sell. They have got very big, so they can offer a free restring and extra grips, and still make a decent profit on each racket sold. Credit to direct sports e shop for matching this deal. If i ran an online badminton store i would be looking to try and match this deal, especially if i was paying to advertise with google for this racket. To me it just makes sense to have the best deal if you want to actually sell more stuff. However, you would then need to buy a stringing machine and a stringer to upgrade the rackets sold, adding extra cost to your bottom line.

There is one more store that i have not mentioned yet, and that is my badminton store.com who are based in Hong Kong and have been trading since 2004. The big deal with this store is that they offer free delivery worldwide, so i went and checked them out about the Voltric 80. First of all the site looks a bit jumbled up and the layout is a bit messy, but what i am looking for is the price. I clicked through to the page on the voltric 80 and was confronted with 3 results. The first offer was for a JP version which costs $239 US dollars. Me being from the UK i want to see that price in GBP, and there is a currency converter on the site, so after pressing this i get the prices in GBP, and the JP voltric 80 comes in at £147.52. Hmm this is cheaper than in the UK. However, further down the page is an SP version which is only £122.83 which is a £24.69 difference. Why is this? Why does the JP (japan) version cost more than the SP (singapore) version? Is there a difference in quality or something? After digging a little deeper i found the answer on the site which states that JP country coded yonex rackets are more expensive in Japan than the rest of the world, and my badminton store.com (MBS) import them to Hong Kong to their store at this premium price, hence they retail at this higher price. Now who on earth would pay extra just for the JP version when, as MBS state on the site, that yonex themselves claim there is no difference in quality between the JP and all the other country coded rackets? Why would MBS even bother to import them in the first place? I have no idea either, but it seems to add extra confusion for no reason.

Ok so now i go and click on the buy button for the SP voltric 80 which is the cheapest option. I am now faced with a few things to fill in. The first is the shipping option. Here is where things get a bit confusing. You can get free shipping, but MBS recommend taking out the EMS shipping option if you are buying expensive rackets, which the voltric 80 certainly is. I have never used MBS before so it would be a bit of a guess as to whether i should choose this EMS shipping option. If i do choose this option it costs an extra £7.41 for tracking and 3-5 day delivery. However this is what is recommended so i would choose it to be safe. I can also choose my string and tension, so i would choose yonex BG65Ti which adds another £6.17 to the price. I can choose the tension by leaving a comment in the box at the checkout. If we add all this up the price is now £136.41. Look at the shipping charge of just £7.41 and compare that to the whopping £41 shipping charge from badminton warehouse in the US. How can there be such a huge difference in price? Are badminton warehouse overcharging for international delivery? It certainly looks like it from these figures. So what we are left with is a total price of £136.41 with strings and my chosen tension, and tracked delivery to arrive in 3-5 days, which is a saving of £25.08 if i import this racket from Hong Kong. If i choose free delivery i would save an extra £7.41 on top of that making a saving of £32.49.

If i was to go and buy this racket from MBS i would email them and find out what the best delivery option was and how reliable the free shipping actually is before deciding. I do know that they are legitimate and sell authentic goods. So basically the best option of buying a yonex voltric 80 in the UK is to get it from Hong Kong. If i was the owner of MBS i would be advertising on the UK google results just like badminton warehouse are doing. The difference is that MBS are the cheapest option by far.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Evolution of Mens Singles Badminton

You may want to grab a cup of coffee for this post because it is going to be very long. I have been playing badminton since i was 14, and i began watching professional badminton, by going along to the All England Chamionships a few years later. This was when the All England was at Wembley Arena. Living in the UK, there was hardly any badminton on television, unfortunately badminton is a minority sport here in the UK, so coverage of it back in the late 80's was restricted to one hour shows at midnight, and this was for the All England Open only. If you were lucky, you would perhaps get some coverage of the English Nationals and if you were even more lucky, you may get coverage of the Grand Prix Finals on Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon. So for me, and all us English badminton fans, television coverage was virtually non existent back then.

My first taste of live badminton was when i went to watch the Carlsberg Classic in Preston in 1988, just 10 miles from my home. The main man at this time was Morten Frost, so i was keen to see him play live. I went to all the sessions on all of the days, and i can tell you that watching badminton live is so much better than watching on television. Frost just glided through his opening rounds, dropping hardly any points in the games. I remember watching one match and his opponent had played a nice tight spinning net shot, and Frost was moving to the net with his racket back, ready to lift the shuttle to the back of the court. His opponent was already anticipating the lift and was inching back into court and at the very last second, after this huge back swing, Frost stopped the swing and played a return net shot, with his opponent totally baffled by what had just happened. Everyone watching was also amazed, i had never seen anyone do this shot, the racket head control to pull off a shot like that was unbelievable. To this day i have still not seen a professional player do this.

Frost went on to win the final against a young Indonesian by the name of Ardy Wiranata. I actually sat next to him and his mother when we all got evacuated from the hall after a fire alarm went off.

So what made Frost so good? He was as steady as a rock, had fast feet and smooth footwork, superb fitness, excellent net play and one of the best defences of any badminton player. His weakness was probably his lack of a winning smash, but he could move his opponents around the court to wherever he wanted. I also watched Frost lose the 1988 All England Final to Ib Fredrikson, and no-one predicted that outcome. I then wanted to see what Frost had done previous to this, as he had already won the All England in 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1987. I managed to find a video if him playing Liem Swie King in the 84 final. What a great match that was, Swie King smashing and Frost defending. At one point Frost had his arms in the air, getting frustrated at not being able to get Swie Kings smashes back. Another great moment in that final is when Swie King took a towel down break and he had a flask to drink out of. This was when play was continuous, so there was hardly any towel downs, which is spoiling the sport these days. Too many interruptions and gamesmanship goes on in modern badminton.

I also found a video of the 1987 final against Icuk Sugiarto, and i remeber one of my friends telling me to watch this final as there was a 100 shot rally in it. The first game was 15-10 to Frost, and some of the rallies were brutal, with Sugiarto just clearing with his backhand on many points, trying to wear Frost down. It didn't work like he used to do when they played in Asia, with the climate being much cooler in England, and after winning the first game Frost battered Sugiarto 15-0 in the second. The 100 shot rally was great to watch, and right after that rally was another epic one, and Frost won it with a simple block to the net off a Sugiarto smash. What most people don't realise is that Sugiarto had broken a string in his racket, so he had to try and win the point with a smash, which had less power than normal, hence the easy winner for Frost.

I then wanted to see the video of the 1985 final which Frost lost to a young Chinese player called Zhao Jianhua. I had seen some pictures from this match in one of the badminton magazines from that year and i could not believe the action shots of this Zhao guy. I never got to watch that game until many years later, this was after i had seen Zhao play live at the All England in 1990, 1991, 1992 and at the world championships in Birmingham in 1993 playing mixed doubles only. I have also seen coverage of him playing and winning the 1991 world championships, and i have seen footage of him playing in the Thomas Cup losing to Rahid Sidek in the semi finals, and losing to Ardy in the badminton World Cup i think it was called. There is also footage of Zhao beating Yang Yang in the Asian Games in 1990 on youtube.

In my opinion Zhao is the best badminton singles player to pick up a racket. He was a badminton prodigy, with the best technique of any player then and since. If you want to see the perfect badminton match then watch the All England 1990 final against Joko Suprianto.

So what was so good about Zhao Jianhua? On his day he could beat any player, make them look like amateurs. The only person who could beat Zhao was Zhao. It has been reported he didn't like training, and his mind often wandered during games. He did not win as much as he should have with the talent he had because his mental approach was not good enough. This does happen with prodigious people, everything seems to easy so they don't seem to put in as much effort or have to will to win, like lesser players do. Having said that, when he was in the mood, like in that 1990 final, and in the 1991 world championship final against Kusuma, then the shots he plays are out of this world. His overhead technique was the most deceptive i have ever seen, and you can tell how good it was by watching his opponents movement. I remember sitting in the front row at the 1993 world championships when Zhao was playing mixed doubles against an Indonesian pair and the shuttle was up in the air about 3/4 court length. Zhao got behind the shuttle and i was at right in line with him at the other end of the court. His whole body and arm was in a perfect line with shuttle before he hit it. I guess i had the perfect view of what his opponents were seeing. He played a drop shot and nobody knew what shot he was going to play until the very last second. His opponent just stood rooted to the spot and i remember smiling and shaking my head in disbelief at how good this guy's technique was. They always had to wait until the last second to move as they didn't know where the shuttle was going.

His speed around court was smooth and came in bursts, much like how Lin Dan plays. Frost used to describe him as "a ticking bomb" and when he went off there was not much you could do. His smashes were pin point accurate, from both forehand and from round the head. His jump enabled him to find angles that no-one else could. He is the most talented player of all time, but his inconsistency let him down. Still, when he did decide to play he could beat anyone. When Zhao played, all the other badminton players would come out to watch, and i think that is the biggest compliment you can get. Some people say Zhao would be no match for the likes of Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. I doubt that, i think on his day he could hold his own against them, but i guess we will never know, however it would be a fascinating prospect.

Zhao was the successor to Yang Yang in a way. He carried on playing for a few years more than Yang Yang, although their careers were around the same time. Yang Yang enjoyed more success because he was much more consistent, and he won the world championships in 1987 and 1989. I remember watching the video of the 1987 final against Frost, and the drift in the hall was crazy. Yang Yang won in 3 games, and his attack eventually got the better of Frost. The 1989 final was against Ardy on his home court, and again Yang Yang won in 3 hard fought games. It looked like Yang took the edge of Ardy, who won the first game and came out of the blocks on fire, but slowly got more tired as Yang upped the pace. It seems the best Chinese players have been lefties, with both Zhao and Yang Yang, along with Lin Dan all being left handed. Yang also beat Frost in the All England final of 1989 in 2 straight games, with Frost making all sorts of unforced errors, probably due to the pressure he felt when playing Yang Yang. What was so good about Yang Yang? He had a very powerful jump smash, especially from round the head, excellent stamina to keep playing a fast pace, he also had a great wrist on him. After the 1989 final, Frosts career came to a virtual end, and a new Dane, Poul Erik Hoyer Larsen was now improving rapidly to take over the mantle for the Danes.

The Indonesians were also beginning to come to prominence, with Ardy leading the way. This was the start of a golden era for Indonesian mens singles, and other players were also coming up the rankings including Alan Budi Kusuma, Joko Suprianto, Bambamg Suprianto, Hermawan Susanto, Fung Permadi, and a young Heryanto Arbi. The Malaysians had Foo Kok Keong, and Rashid Sidek. The Chinese had Zhao at his peak, Yang Yang, and Xiong Guobao. And what about the English players? Well we had Darren Hall and Steve Baddeley. Hall had already had the best win of his Career, beating Frost in the final of the European Champs in 1988, when Frost was in his prime. He used to train with Frost every day, so that may have helped him, and it certainly brought his game on leaps and bounds. He regularly reached the latter stages of important tournaments, and he always used to play at 100 miles an hour, with a very good net game. Sadly, Hall has been the last truly world class singles player that we have had. The results for English mens singles players since he retired have been dismal to say the least. I don't think we have had any male player reaching beyond the first few rounds of the All England since about the mid 1990's.

So onto 1990, and that All England final with Zhao and Joko. In his semi final. Zhao beat Rashid Sidek, who was now challenging in all the major tournaments. I sat there and watched Rashid dismantle Frost in the quarter finals, and he gave Zhao a great game in the semi final, going to setting in the second game. The 1991 final saw Ardy beating Foo Kok Keong in the final, with Foo beating Zhao in his semi final. Ardy had a little bit more attacking flair than Foo, but the final was a war of attrition which Ardy won and took the title. The 1991 world champs saw Zhao at his best again, beating Alan Budi Kusuma in the final, with the second game being very much like the 1990 All England final, with Zhao hitting top form and playing some brilliant shots to beat Kusuma. You can see the second half of the second game here, enjoy..

1992 saw some great matches between all these great players. The one that sticks out in my mind was the Thomas Cup Final between Malaysia and Indonesia. I manages to get hold of a video of that final from the IBF many many years ago, and what a match it was. The crowd was going totally nuts all the way through, with the prime minister leading the way.

Rashid beat Ardy in 3 games, and after looking like he had run out of steam in the second game, he came back even stronger in the 3rd game to set Malaysia on their way. The match ended with Malaysia winning 3-2, and the crowd going wild.

The All England final was between Zhao and another Chinese player called Lui Jun. I was sat there in the crowd watching this final, and as everyone knows, it was fixed. With 1992 being Olympic Year, and the first time badminton had been included as a full Olympic sport, ranking points counted, and China wanted Lui Jun to be competing in it. Basically he had to win the All England to qualify, and that is what happened. The reality is that Zhao was denied another All England Championship because he was by far the better player. He looked like he was messing about in that final, and he was. He did play all out for a few rallies, then made simple errors to give Lui the match. The Olympic final was between Ardy and Alan Kusuma, with Kusuma winning in 2 straight games. Hermawan Susanto beat Zhao in the quarter finals, and effectively ended his career. Zhao was top seed and expected to win the whole thing, but things don't always work out to plan do they? Rashid Sidek also went out in the quarter finals losing to an up and coming Danish player by the name of Thomas Steur Lauridsen. Indonesia were the big winners, taking gold silver and a bronze. This was when there was no bronze medal match, with the losing semi finalists both getting a bronze medal. Also, there was no mixed doubles in the 1992 Olympic event, a bit sexist i think.

Onto 1993 and this was the start of more Indonesian domination in world badminton. China began a lean period for the next few years as they had up and coming stars who were not yet internaional class, most notably Dong Jiong and Sun Jun. The All England final in 1993 was between Heryanto Arbi and Joko Suprianto, who was back in the final after that 1990 hammering. I had seen Arbi play at the previous All England and you could see his potential. He played very much like Liem Swie King, with an attacking game and a big jump smash. He had a good semi final win over the improving Steur Lauridsen, whose tricky style always caused the Inodnesians problems. He was very good at flat clearing to the forehand corner, and this caught out many opponents, but in the end Arbi won the tight points and went on to win the final. This win set him on his way to many more big victories, usually against his fellow countrymen, as the Indonesains were so strong with good strength in depth.

The 1993 Workd Championships were in Brimingham at the national indoor arena, so off i went on the first 3 days. The All England would move there in 1994, and has been there ever since. On the opening days the entire arena was used, and at the All England you never see the whole arena as half of it is closed off with a big black curtain, although last year they did make the viewing area a bit bigger. Joko won the 1993 title beating Susanto in the final. The quarter finals featured 5 Indonesians, and the semis had 3 out of 4 being Indonesisan, highlighting this strength in depth.

Arbi won the 1994 All England as well, beating Ardi in the final. His attack finally got through against Ardi's defensive play. Ardi used to just grind opponents down, wear them out and then play winners. He had great court coverage and steady shots as well as the ability to inject pace and power when he saw the chance. Arbi then went on to win the World Championships in 1995 but he lost the 1995 All England to Hoyer Larsen, who was beginning his remarkable run of form somewhat late in his career. I used to enjoy watching him play because he was so good at the net and also being a leftie he was very deceptive overhead. He used to dominate his opponents and force them to play his game. His tight spinning net shots were the best of any player, and from the weak returns he would play his winners. He wasn't the fastest mover around but he had great stroke production and was very accurate, so he usually had his opponents running around and not them moving him. Singles is very hard when you are chasing the shuttle all the time, and sooner or later you run out of steam and start taking the shuttle a little bit later.

1996 saw Hoyer Larsen take a second All England title, this time beating Rashid Sidek in the final. Rashid had sufered with injuries in the past few years, but he came into some great from in the 1996 chamionships. I think without the injuries he suffered from he would have won many more tournaments than he did. You could see he had problems moving in the final, and Hoyer Larsen always made players twist and turn all over the place. 1996 was also Olympic year, and Hoyer Larsen took this title as well, beating Dong Jiong in the final. Joko Suprianto was the top seed, with Hoyer Larsen seeded 2. The semi final line up had Rashid Sidek playing Dong Jiong, won by Dong Jiong. Rashid had earlier beaten Joko in the quarters, but Dong took him out in straight games. In the other semi Larsen beat Arbi in straight games. The bronze medals now had to be fought for in all play off match, which Rashid took after beating Arbi in 3 games. In the final Larsen used good tactics to stop Dong Jiong attacking, and frustrated him throughout the match. Dong had a very powerful jump smash, so Larsen hardly ever lifted to him, and Dong tried to take him on at the net, which Larsen won and subsequently the gold medal.

1997 saw Dong Jiong win the All England, giving Sun Jun a lesson in attacking badminton. And then we come to the 1997 World Championships in Glasgow, which i went to for 3 days, watching the round of last 16, quarters and semis. I watched the finals on tv. That week in Scotland was roasting hot and it was even hotter inside the venue. Hoyer Larsen was the top seed, with Arbi and Ardi and Sun Jun the other highly seeded players. The first semi final had Hoyer Larsen playing Sun Jun, and i was right at the court edge for this match. Sun Jun eventually beat Larsen in 3 games, and when i say tough i mean really tough. Sun Jun covered more court in that semi than i have ever seen a human being do. His retrieval during that match was unbelievable, and Larsen seemed to run out of ideas. The seond semi had Arbi up against Peter Rasmussen from Denmark. I was court side for this match as well, sat in the middle of a load of Malaysian fans, who were banging the seats and making loads of noise. The atmosphere was superb, and they were all waiting for Cheah and Yap to play Ricky and Rexy in the mens doubles semi final. Arbi won the first game after being about 10-1 up, with Rasmussen looking very nervous indeed. Rasmussen did get some points back near the end of the first game, and then took control of the match. He had a very deceptive overhead forehand slice and straight smash, and Arbi just could not read these shots.

So the final was Sun Jun playing Peter Rasmussen, and it will be remembered for Sun Jun cramping up in the third game after leading about 10-3. It was a brutal match all through, with very long rallies played at a very fast pace. I know why Sun Jun cramped up, it was that brutal semi final, and those first 2 games in the final which both went to setting, along with the heat in the hall. The rallies went on and on, and Rasmussen just kept on going till Sun Jun cramped up in the third. It was live on tv and you could see his thigh muscle all cramped to hell. A great final, and a great win for Rasmussen, who came out of nowhere to win. I felt a bit bad for Sun Jun, but professional sport is brutal and cramping up is just tough luck i suppose. He did learn a valuable lesson from this match though, which was to improve his attacking game so he could finish off rallies quicker.

The new improved and rested Sun Jun came back to win the 1998 All England, by demolishing Ong Ewe Hock in 2 straight games. He hit top form all through this tournament, hammering everyone through the rounds, culminating in a great performance in the final. Ong tried his best but was outclassed on the day.

1999 saw Peter Gade claim the All England, beating a precocious young teenager called Taufik Hidayat in 3 games in the final. I watched Taufik beat Hoyer Larsen in the semi final, and everyone could see we had a new star being born. Gade was also coming into his own and was now a top singles player. Going into the 1999 World Champs he was one of the favourites along with Sun Jun and Hoyer Larsen. Sun Jun took the crown against the suprise finalist Fung Permadi. Sun Jun was probably at his peak at this time, and he hammered both Steur Lauridsen and Hoyer Larsen in the quarters and semis. He hung on to win the final in 3 games, as Permadi tried to wear him down. His better attacking game saw him win through, and Sun Jun was great to watch, with a great overhead action and a very accurate smash.

I think this post has gone on long enough, so i will pick up the story of mens singles from 2000 to present in the next post.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Apacs Slayer 95 Review

The last of the test rackets is the Slayer 95, so here is my review of it. I didn't take any pictures of it, but in the future as per Dave's request i will add photos of the rackets i review on here. Having been impressed with the other two Slayer rackets, namely the 88 and the 99, i had high hopes for the 95 as well. I didn't have a spec for this racket as it is not yet on the Apacs Sports UK website, so i have nicked one from another Apacs site that already sells it outside of the UK.

Frame : 30T HM Graphite + 3K Woven + Carbon Nano Tube
Shaft : 40T HM Graphite + 3K Woven + Carton Nano Tube
Head Shape : ISO, Extremem Power Frame, 72 holes
Length : 670mm
Weight : 82 ± 2g
Balance Pt. : 285 ± 3mm (Even balance)
Shaft Dia. : Ø 7.0mm
Max Tension : 33/36lbs ( Main/Cross )

The weight was not 82g i can tell you that, it was around 85g. As usual the tension was 28lbs with Apacs slayer string. The balance was even, and the flex was medium/stiff. I have to say with the grip added it felt a little head light.

First impressions were not that great at all. The racket felt unstable when i hit the shuttle. The head seemed to move around a bit on impact, and this is something i do not like or want from any racket. I also felt more vibration than with the other Slayer rackets. The overall head light balance meant i had more trouble performing basic shots such as clears from baseline to baseline. I am only talking a slight difference here, i could still hit the clears, but it just felt like this racket would be a high work racket.

I had the same feeling when smashing as well. The head moved on impact much more than the 99 and 88, and it took a bit of getting used to. Where this Slayer 95 is best is around the net and for those fast defensive shots. The head light balance made a difference as it should, so i would suggest this racket is more suited for defensive players, or those like to play at the net in doubles. From the rear court it is not that great, so the choice is yours.

In conclusion, i was not impressed with this racket. Unstable is not good for a badminton player, and by far the most important point for any badminton racket is how it feels to you. For me i didn't connect with it, i didn't get that feeling that i look for. Others may well disagree, and that is fine. If you choose the Slayer 95 and feel comfortable with it, then great, the racket has done its job. I will give it 7/10.

After testing this latest batch of Apacs rackets, i would give top marks to the 88 and 99, followed by the Lethal 100, and in last place comes the Slayer 95. The 88 and 99 are very good all round rackets, the 100 is very head heavy so i would say it is better for singles players, and the 95 would be best around the net in doubles.

I have also noticed a new racket from Apacs called the Lurid Power. There are 3 rackets in this range that i have seen so far, and the important point with them all is that you can change the balance of the racket with end cap weights. Right at the bottom of the handle is where this magic happens, and you get 2 weights, one is the default weight of 1 gram, the other is 3 grams. The original blance point is for a head heavy balance with the 1 gram weight in place, but add the 3 gram weight and you turn head heavy into even balance. This is the same effect as adding lead tape to the bottom of the handle, which i have done quite a few times in the past, but obviously it makes this process much easier and less time consuming. I would quite like to get my hands on these rackets to see if they actually do make a difference.

I am now on the hunt for more test rackets, so i will be sending a few specualtive e-mails to some retailers to see if they will loan out some rackets. I won't hold my breath on this!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Apacs Slayer 88 Review

Next up is the Slayer 88, which is a UK spec, although i have no idea what this spec actually is, as there is no information for it. Not too worry, i will go off the info printed on the racket, and from playing with it. The weight is 85-87g, balance is 290mm (+-5)flex is 8-9, and the max string tension is 30lbs. I had this 88 strung at 28lbs with the slayer 66 string as per the other test rackets in this latest batch.

First thing to note is the flex, which i would rate as medium with this UK spec racket. The balance was even after i added the grip to the handle. So basically it was very similar to the slayer 99 apart from the flex. One other point is that this slayer 88 did not have the reinforcements on the head that the 99 has.

First impressions were very good. The extra flex made the 88 very easy to perform clears and smashes, very low work racket i have to say. The good thing was that this extra flex did not have any noticeable difference on control from the rear court and with over head shots. The head was very stable on impact, just like the 99 was, despite not having the extra stability points on the head. The 28lb string tension would have been a big factor for the control i felt, but i like control hence the higher tension.

I would say the 88 offered a bit more power than the 99, which was a big plus point. The only time i felt the extra flex was around the net and for those defensive shots, such as blocking to the net off smashes. The flex made it more difficult to control the shuttle when compared to the 99. The difference is only small, but when you start blocking to the net you need all the help you can get or else the shuttle will get picked off, especially in doubles. It was the same for lifting to the back off smashes, a little more difficult to get an accurate return.

All in all, i was impressed with this slayer 88. I will give it a 9/10 which is the same as the 99, although for my game i would give the 88 the nod. If you enjoy smashing you will be a bit happier with the 88 compared to the 99. If you enjoy playing at the net, then you would probably be happier with the 99. Both are very good rackets, all rounders that are very usable, consistent and stable on impact. I imagine the slayer 88 will be a bit cheaper than the slayer 99, so that may be a factor in deciding which to go for. The Apacs Slayer 88 comes highly recommended. Next up we have the Slayer 95.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Apacs Slayer 99 Review

Next up for review we have the Slayer 99. This series of rackets is new to me, so it will be interesting to see how this one matches up to the other rackets i have tested on this blog. First of all this is a UK spec version, and the technical details are as follows.

Specification :

Frame : 30T HM Graphite + 3K Woven + Carbon Nano Tube
Shaft : 50T HM Graphite + 3K Woven + Carton Nano Tube
Head Shape : ISO, Extremem Power Frame, 72 holes
Length : 675mm
Weight : 90 ± 2g
Balance Pt. : 290 ± 3mm (Even balance)
Shaft Dia. : Ø 7.3mm
Max Tension : 33/36lbs ( Main/Cross )
3 Structural Reinforcements at 12, 4 and 7 O'clock.

The racket is a 2U version so it weighs a little more than the 3U, and the flex is stiff. Apacs have their own flex ratings, where 9 is flexible, and 7 is very stiff. This Slayer 99 has a rating of 7.5, so it is stiff. It was also strung at 28lbs with Slayer 66 string. What can we tell from the spec? Well straight away we see it has an even balance and a stiff frame, so i immediately think it is designed to be an all round racket, but we will soon find out.

The Slayer 99 has the same reinforcement points on the head as the Lethal 100 has, and these are designed to make the head more stable when you hit the shuttle. Do they work? Yes is the answer, i found both the 99 and the lethal 100 to be very stable on impact, with less twisting of the head because of these changes. A few clears to begin with, and straight away i could tell the Slayer 99 was a decent racket. It felt easy to play with, and although it is stiff, it is not as stiff as the Yonex Arcsaber 8DX, i would compare stiffness to the lethal 70 or lethal 90 from how it behaves.

What we have is a very solid racket, very consistent, and easy to work with. Power is also pretty good as well, it is a low work racket, which is always a bonus for me. The even balance also helped around the net and for fast drives and defensive shots from smashes. I think the tension of 28lbs was just about right for the Slayer 99, it complimented the frame stiffness very well. Overhead from the rearcourt, it felt more powerful than the lethal 100, and this is despite it being an even balance, which is why i marked down the lethal 100 in the last review, it should have been better overhead but wasn't. As with any even balanced racket, you will sacrifice a little power from the back compared to most head heavy rackets, but the difference is very subtle. The advantage of even balance is around the net and for reaction shots, and the Slayer 99 proved this. The stiff frame and higher tension all help to control the shuttle better as well, so if this is where your strengths are, then a racket like this will compliment your style of play.

I was impressed with this racket i have to say. It offers a great all round playing experience and was very easy to get used to. I think the 3U version would suit those who like to play around the net or be more defensive, and the 2U version would help out the power players a bit more, whilst sacrificing the net play a little bit. Once again it will depend on the type of player you are, and what your style is, and the difference is only very slight. The maximum string tension is over 30 lbs for the Slayer 99, and i have no doubt it can take that kind of tension. I had mine at 28lbs and had no problems at all. My conclusion is that the Apacs Slayer 99 is a fine all rounder, it impressed me with its consistency and its stability on impact. I will give it a 9/10, one of the best Apacs rackets i have tested to date.

Next up is the Slayer 88 review, and i am hoping for good things if the 99 is anything to go by.

For a little fun have a look at the following video featuring Lee Chong Wei and Kenneth Jonassen.

Take a look at the video at 2.35 4.26 and 7.01 if you want to see some high quality backhand shots. The video quality is excellent so you can see very clearly what is going on. And for all you singles players out there, have a look at Lee Chong Wei in the rally at 0.58, this is a great example of movement into the deep forehand corner, and how to get back to base. He makes it look effortless, but this is one of the most difficult movements in singles.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Apacs Lethal 100 Review

I have been testing the new Lethal 100 for the past couple of weeks, along with 3 other Apacs rackets, so now its time to post my review of the 100. The specifications are as follows:-

Frame Material 30T HM Graphite + Chrome Braided Graphite
Shaft Material 50T Japan HM Graphite + Chrome Braided Graphite
Flex Stiff
Weight 3U (86-89g) G2
Length 675mm
Balance 290 ± 3mm (Head Heavy)

Max String Tension
33lbs Main, 36lbs Cross

Special Features :-
ISO frame New shaft and t-joint design for lower torsion.
Ultimate stability racket
All New Chrome Braided HM Graphite frame

The racket was strung at 28lbs tension with Apacs 66 slayer string, and i stuck on an apacs pu grip for good measure. The key things to note are the balance, head heavy, and the flex, which is stiff. String tension can also go above 30lbs if you want this.

I will get right to the point here and say the lethal 100 is by far the most head heavy racket i have tested from Apacs. The head also has extra stability on each side and at the top of the head. This tells me this racket is designed for power. It is like a sledge hammer when you pick it up and start playing with it. If you don't like a head heavy balance then this is not for you. Clears and smashes required a bit more effort than i thought i would need. This is mostly down to me getting used to such a head heavy balance, but there was something missing. I would have expected to be bale to hit these overhead shots very easily, but the racket did not feel responsive for some reason. The stability points on the head did do their job, and combined with the heavy head the control was there, but again, not as much as i expected.

Around the net, hitting fast defensive shots, and drives, well the extra weight made this a lot more difficult to handle. It is not an easy racket to manoeuvre around the net, so i would suggest the lethal 100 is more suited to players who like to smash and play at the rear court. In time you could get used to the weight, so all is not lost, but it is hard work. For singles it would probably be best put to use. What let me down was the lack of power. It is not as responsive as the lethal 70 or the tantrum 300, which i have tested in the past.

I will give the lethal 100 a 7.5/10 It gets this mark because it lacks response and power from such a head heavy racket. Use it for singles or from the rear court if you play doubles, but you will need to put in some effort to get the power.

Next up is the Apacs Slayer series, i have the 88, 95 and 99 to review.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Yonex Arcsaber 8DX Review

Well, the Acrsaber 8DX caught my interest as it uses a bit of an ionic name, ie the 8DX, which as any older players know was the name of one of Yonex's most popular rackets. I used to play with an Cab 8dx many years ago, and it was a great racket at that time. I used to string it as tight as could be, and in time the actual head would deform and twist, but it still played just fine. So, to bring back the 8DX name for a completely different racket is a clever marketing ploy by Yonex.

The spec for this racket is as follows-

Extra Stiff

CS Carbon Nanotube
H.M. Graphite

Ultra PEF
H.M. Graphite

Weight/Grip size:
3U (85-89.9g) G3

Copper Orange

The key point to note from this is the "extra stiff" flex. The balance is even by the way when you add an overgrip. I had BG65 string at 28lbs tension, which is just above the recommended tension. Yonex do appear to be moving with the times by recommending higher string tension, even though we all know you can string rackets much higher than they suggest.

First impression was that i noticed just how stiff the racket was. Clearing required quite a bit of effort, and the even balance, with little weight in the head added to the effort needed. This is not a "low work" racket at all. The head was pretty stable on impact, but in the same league as my Apacs lethal 70. So i was a bit disappointed to begin with. However, the way this racket is designed points to it being a more defensive racket, with an even balance and little head weight. Perhaps it would start to make sense around the net area, and for some fast flat rallies. Wrong again, i had trouble getting a good length on smash returns, i really had to force things to get a good length, and this was suprising to say the least. Power wise, the 8DX needs more force, so it is not the best racket for those who enjoy smashing all day. The extra stiff flex will eventually make your arm ache. So, it is not the best for power, it is hard work to clear the shuttle, it takes more force to get a good length on smash returns, so the question is, what exactly is this racket for? I don't really know is the answer. It is a huge disappointment in my eyes, and just a clever marketing exercise from Yonex to sell a few more rackets. For the price tag, i was expecting a lot more.

I am sure many will disagree, and say the 8DX is the best thing since sliced bread, and that it has loads of power and so on, but for me it didn't live up to expectations. I mean if you have an extra stiff racket with an almost head light balance, then it will always be lacking in power unless the technology is out of this world. This then means it should be better around the net and for defensive shots, but it didn't perform here either.

The 8DX name will still be remembered, just not for this racket in my opinion.