Who knew that there were so many variables to consider when choosing a racket? If you select 10 different rackets with the same grip size (for example 4 3/8), even if they are also the same brand, there still will be multiple significant differences that will affect how you play.
When making a racket choice, you will need to consider the following:
– Grip size and shape
– Racket length
– Beam width (frame thickness)
– Weight & balance
– Strings, string pattern, string tension
Once you have factored the first four variables and picked a racket, the string you choose will also greatly impact how the racket feels and plays, so picking the string and tension is important.
GRIP SIZE & SHAPE
Different manufacturers offer different grip shapes on their frames. Prince typically has a more rounded shape while Head rackets have a more angular feel. The shape of the grip makes a difference when changing grips within a point.
Standard rackets are 27″ long but can range in length from 27-29″. Years ago some of the smaller players on the tour went to longer frames (Michael Chang) for added leverage on serves and added pop on groundstrokes. For players who came forward to the net a frame longer than 27″ becomes less maneuverable.
BEAM WIDTH (RACKET STIFFNESS)
Hold three or four rackets up and check the width of the racket head (the beam). The wider beam rackets are usually lighter and more flexible — best for players with small swings (more of a poke and prod game). The narrow beam rackets (normally and advanced player’s racket) is best for players for players with a long, quick swing. Narrow beams are stiff. Midrange beams are obviously midrange between these two. So, stiffer narrow beam rackets are control rackets and wider beam rackets are power rackets. Midrange beams provide control and power.
Aside from considering the beam width and racket stiffness in terms of how it affects your game, it’s also important to find a racket that is comfortable for your style of play. The racket can be a factor in preventing tennis elbow and other arm and wrist issues. For instance, usually a stiffer frame is harder on the arm. If you have had arm issues, research information about your racket’s stiffness and players’ and pros’ experience regarding how it impacts the arm. You will be amazed how much information is available!
WEIGHT & BALANCE
When you pick up rackets, you will notice that some are heavier and some are lighter. Typically, you can look at inside of the beam and there will be information, including exactly how heavy the racket is. A heavy racket is more powerful and stable but less maneuverable, a lighter racket is more maneuverable.
The typical or average weight of rackets has dropped over the years from rackets weighing 12.5 oz., which is what I used in the juniors, to rackets that now weight 10 oz. Remember that when you pick up a racket, the strings will add .5 oz. With the drop in overall weight, racket manufacturers put more weight in the hitting zone–the head. The idea was to improve maneuverability without sacrificing power.
So now rackets have a racket weight and a head balance rating. The choices are a heavier, lighter or midrange weighted racket, then a head heavy, head light, or tweener racket. Most recreational players will choose from the midrange options. Heavier, head light rackets are generally “players’ rackets” designed for professional players or those who supply their own power with long, accelerated swings and typically weigh in strung between 11-12.5 oz. And while light-weight, head heavy rackets increase maneuverability plus power, these rackets can often not feel solid and do not help much with off-center hits. I urge you to be careful with these rackets if you have arm problems, because by reducing weight, more shake or vibration gets transferred to the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
Generally, the more open string pattern (more space between strings) imports more spin.
Remember that graphics mean nothing. The marketing departments like to use light colors on rackets to make them appear light. They use dark colors when they want to appeal to men.
Never buy a pre-strung racket! This is like buying a frozen dinner. When you order a racket, you should have a choice in the type of string you want. Gut is the most expensive string available. It has the most liveliness and feel and holds tension well. However, it is the least durable of available string.
Synthetic gut is more durable and has good feel and power. There are four typical categories of synthetic gut:
1. Polyester or Kevlar: This string comes under the heading of “durable.” Kevlar string is practically indestructible. Polyester is the choice for big hitters but because it imparts harsher hits, players with arm problems should not use this string. An example of a top polyester is the Luxilon Big Banger.
2. Multifilament strings: This is the most popular category after natural gut. This string has excellent playability, is gentle on the arm, supplies good power and control. It does not seem to hold tension well and because the string is soft, it often frays. Examples of this string are Wilson NXT and Technifibre.
3. Hybrid strings: This is all of the rage now with a combination of durable polyester strings for the main strings and a softer string for the cross strings.
4. Textured string: This string produces spin. It has a raised band looped around each strand. An example of textured string is Gamma Ruff.
5. Nylon: This is the cheapest string and the most popular. However, it has less feel and is not gentle on the arm. Prestrung rackets are strung with nylon in the factory.
Each racket comes with a recommended string tension range, defined as lbs. (50-58 lbs., for example). Here is a chart that gives you an idea of what you can expect based on the tension you choose:
Tension: Higher Lower
Power Less More
Control More Less
Durability Less More
Comfort Less More
Feel Less More
Sting comes in gauges, between 15 and 18 gauge. The thinner the gauge, the better the feel (more control and power). The thicker the string, the more durable it is. The higher the number, the thinner the gauge. The most commonly used string gauge is 16L or 17.
Buying a racket is an important investment. I am a firm believer in demo-ing rackets. Even online tennis equipment suppliers provide the option of mailing you demo rackets at a nominal cost. Testing out rackets is usually best done in a controlled environment with a pro who is qualified to ask the right questions as you make your decision. What may feel great on Tuesday may feel awful on Thursday, so give yourself time to play and test each racket you consider.
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