My Cousin The Tennis Player - Adapted From The Star Ledger
Brian Battistone walked over to the fence as a group of six children piled against the other side waiting for a picture.
Before they all got into frame, he asked them what they’d all secretly hoped he would. The reason they’d stuck around twenty minutes after his unseeded doubles team lost in straight sets.
“Should I get my racket?”
“YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!”
They were like he was just a few years ago. Their curiosity was apparent as their eyes followed the red-and-black racket with two handles and the man who learned how to utilize its unusual contour. They clamored to the center of the photo to grab hold of it.
They were like him because he was just as curious when he first heard about it back on a court in California. As a player trying to become ambidextrous with a single-handled racket, he was turned onto the design from a man who’s father made the original patent back in 1973, he also had it legalized by the International Tennis Federation.
Ever since, he’s been that guy with the two handles.
Battistone, who played with Ryler DeHeart, fell to Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, 3-6, 6-7.
“I like the idea of having reach on all sides,” Battistone, a 31-year-old from Las Vegas, said. “I like playing with two forehands. After a while it started making sense to me and I could visualize doing a lot of different things.”
The why, to him, is simple. With a two-handled racket, everything becomes easier. The swinging motion operates by the push-pull concept. The racket cuts through the wind faster as the front handle slices out in front of the back one, where his hand is.
The grips, he says, give him at least 30 different kinds of swings. Throughout a match, he plays with hands on each handle and both, when he plants his feet to deliver a two-handed forehand, or backhand.
Then there is its intended benefit. Lionel Burt, the inventor, created it in part to reduce tennis-related injuries. With more grip options, it took the body’s focus away from using one hand predominantly. It allowed players to evenly distribute the stress on both arms.
His training partner, Trent Aaron, said he learned to use it in less than two weeks.
“It’s like, I’d say a 10-day process,” Aaron said. "It’s a different contact point but after like three days with it added so much power, speed and reach.”
Rafael Nadal was curious, too. Ten minutes before Battistone came out for his match, the No. 1 player in the world began staring at it, asking questions. Before long, he’d picked it up and began swinging it around the locker room.
“He was grabbing at it and looking at it,” Battistone said. “He’d never seen it before. He’s a natural righthander and I told him he could play with two forehands, a lefty forehand and a righty forehand and he was laughing.”
It wasn’t always that way. Curiosity started with ire from the tour regulars who harangued Battistone and his brother, Dann, who began using them professionally a few years back.
It took time for them to see Battistone darting from baseline to baseline, flipping the racket from his left hand to his right, and then planting to fire a two-handed forehand.
“Some people, it honestly angers them,” Aaron said. “It’s been radically opposed. They literally think it’s the ugliest thing.”
And it all started because he was like the kids. Just wanted to see what that weird thing could do.
It was probably why, now 30 minutes after his match, he’d invited them onto the court to hit some balls with the racket. That, and the fact that he manufactures them now with his brother and the original inventor. He is a walking salesman.
He watched as they blasted shots all over the vacant court, playing with the racket he named “the natural.”
“It’s about adapting,” he said, “just trying out a new strategy.”