How to Choose a Tennis Racquet
Choosing a new tennis racquet among the hundreds that are available on the market can be a daunting task for any tennis player, regardless of their degree of racquet knowledge. Racquets from dozens of manufacturers range in price from $50 to over $400. Some popular racquets remain inline for a few years, but for the most part, racquet manufacturers will release new products every year. How do you select a new racquet? This article will help you sort out some of the issues relevant to finding that perfect racquet by breaking down racquet shopping into three segments; beginners and recreational players (NTRP 1.0 to 3.0), intermediate and club level players (NTRP 3.5 to 4.5), and advanced and competitive players (NTRP 5.0 to 7.0).
The beginner or recreational player should primarily be looking for a racquet that makes the game easier for them and hence more fun. Moderation in all attributes of the racquet will most likely apply here. A racquet that is too heavy will be difficult to maneuver; a racquet that is too light will be unstable and vibrate when the novice player hits the ball off-centre (this happens frequently when learning). Racquets range in weight from about 8 to 13 ounces. The average recreational player will benefit most from a racquet in the middle (approx. 10 ounces) of this weight range. This will allow them the mobility they need in a lightweight frame, but still provide them with enough weight for stability. Racquets range in head size from midsize (85 to 95 square inches), to midplus (96 to 105 square inches), to oversize (106 to 115 square inches), to superoversize (115 to 135 square inches). Again, the novice player will benefit most from a moderate midplus or oversize racquet. Racquets of this size will offer the player a good balance of power and control with a sweetspot large enough to centre the ball easily. If the novice player sticks to shopping for a recognized brand (Wilson, Head & Prince are the top 3 brands, Dunlop, Yonex, Babolat, Volkl and Slazenger also make good quality tennis racquets), they can expect to pay $80 to $150 CDN for a graphite composite racquet that meets these requirements. Spending more will likely provide them with a racquet made of higher- grade materials, which often results in a lighter racquet (less than 10 ounces), or a stiffer racquet (equals more power). Spending less will provide a heavier racquet, or perhaps one made of aluminum instead of graphite. Racquets typically come in five different grip sizes.
To summarize, these are my recommendations for beginners and recreational players (NTRP 1.0 to 3.0):
• Moderate weight (10 to 11 ounces)
• Midplus or Oversize head
• Stick to quality brand names in the $80 to $150 price range
Intermediate and club level players (NTRP 3.5 to 4.5) should have an idea of what characteristics they are looking for in their equipment. Are they looking for a racquet that will add more power to their game? Do they generate enough (or more than enough) power already and will therefore be looking for a more control-oriented racquet. At this level of play we can break players into three major categories and look at equipment specific to those categories. The first player type is someone who has well-developed technique (they are 3.5 to 4.5 after all), but doesn’t hit the ball that hard. They probably have a short, compact swing and or a counterpunching style. Perhaps they serve and volley a lot, or play a lot of doubles, but the bottom line is they don’t generate a lot of their own power, so will rely on the racquet to provide that for them. These types of players will look bigger (oversize and superoversize) head sizes, lighter racquets (for faster swinging) and a frame that is quite stiff (this also results in more power). Power oriented racquets (sometimes referred to as game improvement racquets) are usually more expensive due to the high tech materials used to make them lightweight and powerful. Expect to pay $200 to $400 CDN for this type of racquets. At the other end of the spectrum is the second type of player. This player generates a lot of power through a long, fast swing, is often quite athletic but mostly just likes to hit the ball hard. An aggressive player like this can generate as much power as they require, so they need a racquet that will help them harness their power and add control to their game. A control-oriented racquet is usually more traditional. It will have a smaller headsize (midplus or smaller), less stiffness (due to either softer materials or a slim profile) and typically be a little heavier in weight. Control oriented racquet don’t require the technology found in power racquets and this is reflected in their prices tags. Look to pay $150 to $250 CDN for one of these. The third type of player is one that has a good balance of power and control in their game already. This player will look for a moderate, versatile racquet that also offers a good blend of power and control. This type of racquet will should provide sufficient power when the player wants to be aggressive and put the ball away, as well as supply adequate power when the player is on the run, or trying to dig out a tough ball in the corners. These types of racquets, sometimes referred to as “tweeners” will set you back $150 to $250 CDN.
In summary, the 3.5 to 4.5 player should be aware of the following when shopping for new equipment:
• Power vs. Control ratio. These two are always relative. Does the racquet provide both for the way you play?
• Demo before you buy. Looking again to find that perfect balance of power vs. control. Never evaluate racquets based upon which one you won or lost with or which one other’s said you played better with. Look for the racquet that feels best to you, the rest will come.
Advanced and competitive players with NTRP ratings of 5.0 to 7.0 are usually well educated about their equipment. They are also highly skilled and mostly very athletic. For these reasons the majority of players in this category will require a control-oriented racquet as described in the previous section. The power vs. control ration explained above is also very important to the advanced player. It is important that the racquet matches the player style rather than the player adapting to the racquet. Once an advanced player finds the type of racquet they like, they will also need to pay more attention to some subtle issues such as the density of the string pattern, handle shape and matching the weight and balance of multiple racquets as they will likely have two or more of the same model. Racquets will have a variety of string patterns, the closer or denser the strings are the more control a racquet will have. This also deadens the feel of the racquet and prevents the strings from moving, which results in less frequent string breakage. More open string patterns will offer slightly more power and will “bite” the ball better, allowing the player to impart more spin on the ball. More open string patterns are much harder on strings and players will find the need to restring much more often depending on how hard the hit, how much spin they hit and what type of string they like to use. Many players are conscious of grip sizes, but few pay much attention to the actual shape of the handle, despite the dramatic effect this can have on the playability of the racquet. All handles will have eight sides, but some will feel squarer, rectangular, or round depending usually on what brand they are. For example, Wilson and Prince as with most North American manufacturers have a fairly symmetrical, square handle, Head and Volkl as with most European brands tend to have a more rectangular handle shape. Other brands like Yonex, will offer a more round handle shape. Some players will adapt to various different shapes with ease, others will not. This is an important aspect, often overlooked, by competitive players when selecting new equipment. Advanced players will require more than one identical racquet due to frequent wear and tear and regular re-stringing. Manufacturers due their best to maintain tight quality control standards, but many as with most mass-produced products “identical” racquets due have slight manufacturing tolerances. These tolerances can be +/- 3 to 5 grams of weight and +/- 0.5cm of balance. Players will vary dramatically in how tuned in to these tolerances they are, but it is not uncommon for an advanced player to require his or her racquets to be match and possibly customized beyond that. Some players will have a favorite racquet, despite have four or five racquets that are supposed to be identical. This is not a good thing! A competitive player needs to be able to go to the bag at any point during a match and pull out a racquet they can play with confidently. Advanced players need to learn how to tune their own equipment (stay tuned to future articles) or find a racquet technician that can make all their equipment perform the same.
Here is my summary for advanced players looking for new equipment:
• Pay attention to the power vs. control ratio.
• Demo intelligently. Look for racquets with attributes that meet you profile, narrow it down to two or three and spend lots of time with those. Consider purchasing one with your ideal grip size, string and tension for an extended demo before you invest in a whole batch.
• Don’t have favourite racquets. This will only damage you in the long run as racquets are always fatiguing and changing. The more you use your favourite, the less you use the other, the more different they will become. What happens when the favourite breaks?
There are more models of tennis racquets available now than ever before. Technology is constantly changing and bringing us newer products. The most important thing for any player of any level to remember is to find the racquet that feels most comfortable when you play. Hopefully my guidelines will help narrow the field for you to accomplish that.