Q: I've had my racquet for about 10 years and am wondering if it's time to take the plunge on a new one. Do racquets ever "wear out?"
A: Yes, racquet frames do eventually "soften." Over time different stresses add up and eventually break down the fibers and resin that make up your racquet, resulting in a frame that is less stiff than it once was. The change is very, very gradual and usually takes place slowly over the course of many years, making it difficult to detect just by hitting with the racquet. Some very attentive players do seem to notice and have told me that they feel like their frame just doesn't have the same feel or pop that it used to. The only way to objectively measure "softening" is by using a Racquet Diagnostic Center (RDC) to measure the stiffness of the frame. To accurately measure the loss of stiffness over time, you would need to record a baseline stiffness measurement when the frame is brand new and then continue to measure over time in order to keep track of how much the stiffness had declined. RDC machines are rather pricey, though, so unless you have access to one at your local pro shop this is probably not a practical avenue.
To further complicate matters, the exact time frame that the "softening" process takes varies based on a bunch of different contributing factors, including—but not limited to—how hard the player hits the ball, how often the frame is used, where the frame is stored, string tension, the frequency with which the frame is restrung, and how careful the stringer is during the stringing process. There really is no prescribed time limit—it just depends. The good news is that there are several steps you can take to prolong the effective life of your tennis racquets.
- Choose an experienced, conscientious, careful stringer. Restringing is actually one of the more stressful things a frame can go through, but that doesn't mean you should avoid it! It's really akin to routine maintenance on a car and it keeps your racquet performing like it should. A careless or inexperienced stringer can shorten your racquet's effective life or potentially even cause immediate damage to the frame. A skilled stringer using a quality machine can minimize stress on your frame during the stringing process and prolong your frame's life.
- Store your racquets in a climate-controlled area. Extreme temperatures and temperature changes aren't good for your racquets. Don't leave them in a baking-hot car during summer and don't leave them in an unheated shed during winter. Keeping them in a climate-controlled area at room temperature minimizes damage from extreme temperatures and temperature swings.
- Don't bang your racquet, throw your racquet, bounce your racquet, or use your racquet to hammer a ball out of a fence. While a few bumps and scrapes are unavoidable during the course of play, steering clear of the above behaviors will save your racquet some extra stress it doesn't need.
As to whether or not it's time for you to look at a new frame, I'm not sure there is a "right" answer to this question and it's tough for me to say with any surety—it really just depends. Based on my experience, I will say this: Ten years is a pretty long time to use a frame, though I've seen people play very well with even older frames. If you play regularly (one to three times a week) and get your racquet restrung regularly (as you should), it might be time to start testing out some new frames.
Did you know that we employ two professional stringers, including a Master Racquet Technician? That’s the highest level of achievement that United States Racquet Stringers Association (U.S.R.S.A.) offers. Do you have a question for one of our stringers? Ask it in the comments below or send it to us and we will provide with an answer as fast and accurate as our on-site stringing.