Stiff or flexible – don’t break your racquet in rage like Baghdatis does in the pic.
I’ve tested loads of racquet during the years. For review purposes as well as “could this be the Holy Grail?” purposes. I’ve wandered from 90-inch to 100-inch head sizes, from stiff, light and powerful frames like Babolat Aero Pro Drives to flexy, heavy and control-oriented sticks like the 20-year old Head Pro Tour. It’s been a fun, but also frustrating ride. Racquet testing/collecting can become a drug and even though it’s fun also contra-productive to improving your tennis. Which is what’s hopefully at the top of your mind.
Before I started really researching around tennis equipment I had no idea what flexible, stiff or RA ratings meant. I didn’t know what a multifilament string or a co-poly meant for the racquet. I strung all my racquets too high because I thought I couldn’t control the ball otherwise. Now, after many years of testing and playing, I’ve made some learnings around racquets. I will list some of them below, if you disagree – let me know!
* Stiff racquets (high RA rating) can be bad for your elbow/arm/wrist. But this depends on a lot of things – what strings you have in the frame, how solid your technique is, if you’re tired when you play and mishit a lot, the size of the sweetspot of the racquet, etc. etc.
* A “modern” racquet is usually a light, stiff and powerful racquet. The idea is that power and spin makes you feel like a race car or ATP pro player when you hit a good shot. But what it can do is teach you improper technique – aka “arming” the ball, AND give you tennis elbow, tender wrist etc. It doesn’t have to work like that and you’ll find professionals that use relatively light sticks (Nadal for example), but you should be aware of this IF you feel pain.
* A heavy and flexible racquet can be more demanding to play with as you need to put more into your shot. However, it teaches you to hit more with “your body” than your arm and it gives you a feeling of “cupping” the ball (dwell time in the string bed), which to a lot of players is described as “better feel”.
I do worry about a whole generation of young players growing up playing with light and stiff frames. There is a large risk that this will contribute to arm/elbow/wrist problems which might reduce a tennis career quite a bit. Now that most larger manufacturers seems to lean towards these kind of racquets, we need to educate players about the risks of what might seem like a fun ride, but could end up with injury.
So my advice is typically traditional. Play with a flexible frame (lower RA than 65) that feels good in your hand, that you can wield for 90 minutes of play without problems but that has the most heft you can handle. Don’t believe the marketing hype about fantastic technologies that will improve your game. The fact is that most ATP professionals use frames that are at least ten years old if not more. It’s the frame they grew up with and they’re obviously not changing such a big part of their life every year. That’s what’s called a paint job.
If you want advice on what model you should buy or demo, don’t hesitate to write your question in the comment field. And last but not least, enjoy your tennis! (Injury free).
Here are some arm-friendly racquets that are great for a broad group of players:
Prince TexTreme Tour 100P – the TexTreme series is one of the best lines of racquets of recent years and I used the Prince Textreme Tour 95 for a long time strung and was very happy with it until racquetholism struck again and I started buying more racquets.
ProKennex QTour racquets – ProKennex has really managed to develop an arm-friendly line of racquets thanks to their “kinetic technology” with sand moving around inside the racquet. I was a big fan of their ProKennex Redondo MP and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the brand.
Racquet makers like Wilson and Head are now trying to create more dampening into their racquets thanks to Countervail and Graphene Touch materials. Definitely worth checking out those racquets as well, but for supreme arm-friendliness and playability I would go with ProKennex, Prince or Volkl.