I’ve written a lot about this subject. Why? Because it’s such a big deal to many players. It has been to me, partly because I’m genuinely interested in tennis technology and partly because it actually does make a difference when you’re a hundred percent confident with what you wield on the tennis court.
There are many things to consider for choosing your tennis racquet:
- Price (often an issue)
- Head size (in sq. inches)
- Stiffness (RA rating)
- Balance (measured in balance points, head heavy or head light)
- Strings (a COMPLETELY different and VAST topic)
- String Tension
- Your own level/game
I’ll tackle them one by one. You can get a good intro by looking at this infographic at Tennis Express.
First of all, price doesn’t necessarily mean quality, but that doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a racquet at Walmart or the local gas station (if they carry racquets). Don’t go for the current marketing hyperbole and instead look for racquets that are either used (if in good condition) or a model one or two years back. You’ll get two for the same price by just going a year or two back and believe me, you won’t lose anything from it.
If you look for used racquets these are the usual suspects: TT Warehouse for sale forums, Stringforum, Ebay, your local used goods online site or Amazon. Or if you don’t mind paying a little extra (because they care more about the margins): your local tennis club.
The game is moving from heavier and more flexible racquets towards lighter and stiffer. Why? To get faster swing speeds which will equal more spin. What is the issue with this? That stiff and lights usually means arm problems and also that most recreational players can’t really muster the swing speeds of more advanced tennis players. What do you get with a heavier racquet: more help to get the ball across the net since you’ll get a healthy “plow-through” effect and less twisting of the racquet when you hit the ball. That doesn’t mean you should play with a racquet that is the top range in weight – it means you should play with the heaviest racquet you can swing comfortably. Unless you are a kid I wouldn’t suggest playing with a racquet below 300 grams unstrung.
3. Head size
Racquets are getting bigger and bigger. The standard head size these days are around 98-100 square inches. You don’t see a lot of racquet below 95 inches. This is a big shift from only 10-15 years ago when most people were playing 85-90 inch racquets. What do you get with a bigger head size:
Bigger sweet spot – means that even if you hit outside the center of the racquet you will be okay.
More power – the ball catapults from the massive string bed.
Travels slower through air – the smaller the head size the easier it cuts through the air which will help you swing it.
For the average recreational player I would recommend 97-100 square inches. Advanced players can definitely play any size in the spectrum. Myself, I’m comfortable with 95 and don’t appreciate larger head size racquets. But this is personal.
Stiffness means that more power is transferred to the ball and the arm instead of the racquet. If you have a flexible racquet, the racquet will pick up more of the vibrations. Lots of racquets on the market are very stiff these days. Because it means more free power and tennis has definitely become more of a power game. The problem with a stiff racquet (RA above 67) is that you can get arm problems. Lots of tennis elbows are created from playing the Wilson Burns and Babolat Pure Drives (good examples) that are so popular in tennis clubs around the world. Not only RA affects how your body will take to a racquet, but I would never recommend a racquet of 70 RA or more. It will play stiff and can potentially be harmful to you in the long run.
The balance of the racquet is important. A head-heavy racquet will be heavier to swing which will influence the swingweight (the weight it takes to swing the racquet) but will increase the power and plowthrough of the ball. A head-light racquet will be easier to swing, but will give the ball a little less impact. If you want to customize a racquet’s balance you can use lead tape and silicone (in the handle). Positioning the weight will change the racquet’s balance.
The strings on your recently store-bought racquet are likely shit, if you excuse my French. The selection of string these days is immense. You can have the same racquet and greatly change the playing characteristics by changing two things: strings and string tension. So don’t give up on your racquet too early. Since I don’t intend this to be a book, I will try to give you the basics:
Co-poly strings that are popular today are better for spin and control, but are often stiffer. A stiff string in a stiff racquets will likely create arm issues down the line. But there are good poly options that are not as stiff, (my personal favourite being Solinco Hyper-G). What you can try is a thinner co-poly (1.15-1.10 string gauge) because it will play softer. The only issue is that it will break sooner too.
Multifilament strings are softer and more elastic and will give you more comfort and power but less spin and control. For most players a multifilament string is absolutely fine. If you hit with a lot of racquet head speed however, the multifilament is likely too powerful and will send your balls long.
Gut strings back in the “good old days” most players used natural gut. You’ll get a tremendous arm-friendly feel for the ball with natural gut, but the durability and spin is not great and they are quite expensive.
Hybrid a lot of top players are trying to get the best of two worlds by combining a natural gut string with a co-polystring to get decent spin, but still enjoy a comfortable experience.
7. String tension
The tension of your string setup depends on a LOT of things: weather, type of string, if you look for more control or more power, etc etc. A general guideline:
If you want control – string tighter. If you want power – string looser.
It’s very popular these days to use co-polyester strings and string them loose, around 22-23 kg. That way you still get the ball to “pocket” more into the racquet which will make it more comfortable and give you more “feel”.
8. Your game
The racquet you chooses obviously depends a lot on your game and your ambitions.
If you’re a fit person with a faster swing speeds, you can definitely try a slightly stiffer and lighter racquet with a large head size (still not below 300 grams unstrung) with a co-polyester or hybrid string setup.
If you’re a person that are into more of a touch/feel game where you vary spins and move to the net, you should look into a slightly heavier racquet with a 95 inch or smaller headsize. 315-320 grams unstrung I think is perfect for that kind of playing style.
With all this in mind don’t worry too much about the racquet. It’s fun to buy new stuff and a racquet can add some vitamins to your inspiration, but it’s definitely more important to work on your game. However, if you experience pain or really bad performance from the racquet – this is something you should solve to be able to relax around the gear and focus on technique.
Some questions that I get:
How many racquets do I need?
I suggest to always carry at least two of the same kind with similar strings and tensions. In case a string breaks, you’ll get a similar performance for other one. If you can get three so that you can give one to the stringer while you’re carrying the other two to the court – even better.
I’m a beginner, should I play with the lightest racquet possible?
No. This can definitely teach you the wrong technique and you’ll start “arming” the ball instead of using your core to get power. Power doesn’t come from the arm – it comes from the entire body and how good your technique is.
Should I go for a racquet that accentuates my strengths or diminishes my weaknesses?
Difficult question to answer. If I take myself as an example, I hit a much better backhand with smaller head-size racquets (85-90 inches), but my bread-and-butter shot – my forehand – is better with a 95-inch racquet. And I need this shot to win more matches – so this is what I’ll use. This means I’ll work on my backhand with a racquet that works best for my forehand. So get the one that accentuates your strengths and work on the rest with that racquet.
Can you list some good racquets that would fit different player characteristics?
Sure. I’ll try to keep it short.
Wilson six-one 95. Any year or model. Very popular racquet on the tour. For advanced or ambitious players.
Head Prestige MP. Any year or model. Great control. Not as powerful as the Six-one 95 but more comfortable.
Prince Tour 95. Any year or model. Great control. Not as powerful as the Six-one 95 but more comfortable.
General characteristic: Medium head-size. 320-330 grams unstrung. Völkl, Dunlop, ProKennex, etc all offer a few great models in this category.
Babolat Pure Aero. One of the most popular models on tour. Great for juniors or players with fast swing speeds. Spin-monster that does most things well.
Wilson Blade 98. Very popular racquet that is a bit more arm-friendly than Aero Pro Drive. Good mix of power and control.
Prince Tour 100. Arm-friendly and spin-friendly.
I would actually never buy a beginner’s racquet (don’t really believe in them) – buy a racquet for intermediate players and work on your game.
Last but not least – If you can TRY before you BUY – always do that. A racquet might be perfect on paper, but not feel great for you when you actually play with it. It’s highly personal so make sure to borrow a friend’s racquet or demo through your local or online tennis shop.
Hope this gives you some guidance in the racquet jungle. Any questions – just write your comments below and I will try to answer them when I get a chance.