Selecting a Racquet
Since the beginning of time, people have been searching for better, more efficient tools. Athletes are no different and tennis players are no exception. Tennis players are always seeking the latest, greatest weapon they can use to wreak havoc upon opponents. Unfortunately, wading through the mire of available racquets can seem a daunting task. At any given time, there are hundreds of frames on the market making the search for a new racquet pretty intimidating. The first step to narrowing the search is to define some boundaries and categorize racquets into generalized “families.”
The three general racquet “families” are:
- Game Improvement Racquets
- Tweener Racquets
- Player Racquets
While these categories are general and are far from being all encompassing, they can help to narrow your racquet search.
Game Improvement Racquets:
Game improvement racquets tend to have oversize heads (106-135 square inches), be lightweight and more powerful. These racquets are mainly targeted towards beginning players who have shorter compact swings and need to generate extra power. The larger head size also benefits beginning players with a more generous sweetspot. Often times, racquets in this family will tend to be slightly longer than the standard 27 inches due to the increased head size. They will also tend to be head heavy to compensate for the lack of overall weight.
Tweener racquets are designed for the more intermediate player. In general, these racquets will be a step down in power from game improvement; they will have smaller heads (98-105 square inches) and be moderately weighted. In most cases a tweener racquet will require a player to supply more of his or her own power than a game improvement racquet.
This category of racquets is the most demanding of the three. These racquets boast hefty weights and small head sizes (85-95). Player racquets are designed for precision and require the player to generate plenty of power on their own. They are designed for the advanced player.
Furthering the Search:
While these categorizations are helpful in narrowing the search, you cannot base a racquet decision on them alone. The complete picture must be considered. To do this, you must take into account a number of factors and reconcile them with what you want. Important factors include:
- Head size
- Beam Width
- String Pattern
Head size in today’s racquets ranges from 85-135 square inches. The size of the head influences the size of the racquet’s sweetspot. The larger the head size, the larger the sweetspot. Also, the size of the racquet head has an effect on the power the racquet provides. Essentially, the longer the string, the more power that is created. Therefore any larger head size will generate more power because the strings are longer. Smaller head sizes will offer more precise control. Head sizes break down into four categories: Mid (80-94 sq. in.), Midplus (95-105 sq. in.), Oversize (106-115 sq. in.), and Super Oversize (116-135 sq. in.).
Standard adult racquets are 27 inches long, but they can range all the way up to 29 inches in length. Since a tennis racquet is essentially just a lever, a longer racquet will provide greater power than a standard length racquet. A longer racquet will create greater reach on groundstrokes and serves. However, the longer racquet will also be less maneuverable.
Weight and Balance:
Weight and balance should be considered together. Independently, they offer little to your racquet selection process. When put together they influence a racquet significantly.
Weight and balance are contributing factors in determining swingweight. Swingweight can be simply defined as a number that describes how heavy a racquet feels when being swung.A higher swingweight will make a racquet more powerful and a lower swingweight will make a racquet more maneuverable.
Stiffness simply refers to how flexible the frame of a racquet is, which directly affects the “power” of the racquet. While it is virtually impossible to detect with the naked eye, every racquet bends to some extent each time a ball is struck. Stiffer frames that flex less will return more power to the ball while flexible frames will return less power to the ball.
Stiffer frames, which are generally thicker, will not bend as much when the ball is struck. A stiff racquet will transfer more of the power from the swing directly to the ball instead of being absorbed by the frame. Stiffer frames will be more effective for players who have trouble generating a lot of power. However, these frames may transmit more shock to the arm.
Thinner, more flexible frames will bend more at ball impact. These racquets will absorb more of the power of the ball and less energy from the swing will be transferred to the ball. These frames will be best in the hands of a player capable of generating plenty of power on their own. In general, more flexible frames will absorb more shock than stiffer frames.
The width of the frame (beam) will also have an effect on your racquet choice. Beam width is separated into two categories: traditional beam (thinner frames) and widebody (thicker frames). Traditional beam racquets will be thinner and will create a more flexible, control oriented racquet. Widebody frames will be thicker and more powerful.
String pattern can be quite important to choosing a racquet as well. String patterns can be open or dense. Open string patterns have fewer strings that are spaced farther apart. An open string pattern may have 16 main strings (the top to bottom strings) and 18 cross strings (the side to side strings). A denser string pattern will have more strings that are closer together. In a dense string pattern there may be 18 main strings and 20 cross strings. Each setup has its own benefits and drawbacks. Open string patterns will create more spin and a softer feel; however, open string patterns allow strings to move more and will cause strings to break more quickly. Dense string patterns will offer greater control and increased string durability. Dense string patterns, because the strings are closer together, will not create spin as easily as a more open pattern.