JOHN MCENROE, TOMMY ROBREDO, JIM COURIER AND FEW OTHER PRO RACQUET STASHES AT RPNY
As the players take the court at the Wimbledon Championships now underway, it’s hard to miss the massive tennis bags slung over their shoulders, packed with the multiple racquets they will use throughout the match. Individually wrapped in clear plastic bags, you might notice an RPNY logo printed on the side. Each racquet is exactly the same, with absolutely no variation, and likely has been customized to precise specifications by a man named Roman Prokes.
Tucked away on the second floor of a nondescript building on East 51st street in Manhattan is RPNY – the secret weapon of the pros and any other tennis player who wants to feel like one. Owned and run by Roman Prokes, 55 years old and originally from the Czech Republic, RPNY has been open since 2002. Prokes has been customizing and stringing tennis racquets since 1991 for such players as John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Tommy Robredo and Andre Agassi, just to name a few, and these same services are available to anyone who wants the perfect racquet to better their game.
Roman Prokes spent 16 years with Andre Agassi on the pro tour, traveling to every tournament with him as his equipment specialist. While we can all buy Agassi’s signature Head racquet, or that of any professional player, the models the pros actually play with are customized to the gram of weight and thousandth of an inch according to their specifications and preferences. With a patented software Prokes has developed, he uses 64 different measurements to create the perfect racquet for each player, samples of which are then produced by the manufacturer. They arrive at his shop without handles or grips, which Prokes custom molds and adds there. He then ships them to the players. Says Prokes, “For these guys it has to be perfect. That’s what we do for the pros.”
ROMAN PROKES, LEFT; THE WORKSHOP AREA AT RPNY
What they do for the pros, RPNY brings down to the retail level. No two tennis racquets are alike. Pick two of the same model off the wall at any shop and you will find slight variances in dimensions and weight that will change how that racquet performs. While Wilson, Babolat, or Head will not manufacture a custom racquet for us recreational players, like custom fitting a suit off the rack, Prokes offers that same level of fine tuning on store bought models.
Through on court consultation for a $375 fee or an in-store demo program, Prokes will work with any tennis player to determine if he can improve their game on the equipment side. “I’m not going to tell you you’re good or bad or hitting the wrong way. That’s the coaches job. But do you have the right racquet, the right strings, the right tension?” Adding weight to the racquet here and there, changing the strings, the grip, the handle — the goal at RPNY is to bring the tour quality to everyone.
Finding the right racquet begins with a series of questions. Says Prokes, “First I’m going to ask ‘How do you play? How often do you play? Are you an advanced player? Did you play in college? Did you play in High School? What’s your style of play? Do you have short backswing or are you one of those with a big looping swing. Do you miss the court because you want to kill the ball and overhit, or are you like McEnroe, about feel and touch.’ Based upon that I know what direction to go and will give you some demos to try.”
A new racquet is not always a necessity either. Says Prokes, “People come in with a great racquet complaining, they don’t like it or their arm is killing. They think they need to buy a new racquet. Well maybe not. Maybe it’s the wrong string, the wrong tension. Let’s try to tweak the racquet you already have before you go spending $200 on another.” The bottom line is you don’t have to be a pro to get pro treatment.
With the second major in full swing at Wimbledon, it might be time to take your game to the next level. Sometimes you can blame it on the racquet.