Tennis Instruction That Makes Sense
Tennis Racquet Recommendations
I get a lot of email asking me to recommend a tennis racquet. I'm a stickler for head-light or evenly balanced racquets, and I think kids 6 years and older should use an adult 27 inch racquet.
The racquet business wants you to buy 2 tinny racquets before you buy an adult one. They want you to start with a small 23 incher, then "grow" into a 25 incher, sometimes a 26 incher (which is expensive!), and then you get the adult one. Nonsense, just one starter racquet is enough, and forget about the teeny 23 inch racquets, even for a 3 or 4 year old. Start with a 24 or 25 incher. Once your little one's on his/her way hitting the ball over the net you should put a real racquet in their hand, it will lead them in the right direction. Sure, they'll struggle in the beginning, but the extra heft helps to both increase muscle strength quickly and better develop the stroke. Ever hit with one of those teeny racquets? They're crap, they don't provide any feedback to develop the tennis arm and stroke, and their light weight only serves to develop sloppy swinging habits.
Racquets come mostly head-heavy, which means a wider beam, often longer than the standard 27 inches, and larger faced. Why? To give you more power. Why? Because you want to hit it hard. Why? Because you think hard is good. Why not? Because you want to keep the ball in the court and be able to swing freely. If your shoulder or forearm hurt stay absolutely away from head-heavy racquets. Head-heavy racquets are for those not very strong, physically, or for those whose swing has slowed down from the glory days. Having said all this, if you use a head-heavy racquet, can control it (meaning you don't hit the ball out very often because of the power), and your arm does not hurt then by all means enjoy using it. And consider yourself a lucky one.
A good racquet will last you 5 years at least, it will not wear itself out, unless you toss it around, and its technology is not rendered obsolete or replaced by the next great thing. Spend your money on restringing your racquet often, a few times a year at least, spend your money on new grips and overgrips, and your racquet will love you for it. Cost is at least $100, and out here on the west coast where we have the racket doctor. I advise not needing to spend more than $150. Call the racket doctor, over the phone they'll tell you what the right price should be.
If you're just starting out in tennis or want to improve your game, then heed the following racquet recommendations.
- Standard length, 27 inches. Any longer and the racquet is simply harder to bring around to hit the ball, sort of like how a longer car requires a larger area to turn around. Oh, a longer one gives you more "power," true, but not the maneuverability and control. Power is more allied with the beam, weight, tension, head size.
- Head-light or even balance when strung. With a head light/balanced racquet you already get a thinner beam so you don't have to worry about that.
- Weight: If a racket's too light it doesn't do enough of the work for you and won't dampen the shock and vibration against the arm, if it's too heavy it dampens the shock yet can be too difficult to swing on time or cause injury. The standard recommendation is for the player to use the heaviest racket possible. Seems like the magic weight, unstrung, is around 10.5 ounces, +/- a little bit. The strings add about one-half ounce to the unstrung weight, so when they say 11 ounces strung it's about 10.5 or 10.6 unstrung.
- Swingweight: This figure, for me, translates into how easily the racket turns into the ball for you. That is, do you get the racket face turned into the ball too early, on time, or a bit late because it's slow coming around into the ball? Again, it seems to me the magic threshold is 300 - 325. Anything less is really too light, anything more it's too heavy overall (unless you're a top player, tournament junior, college player, or pro).
- Head size: tournament players, 90-98, exception being the Head Agassi model @107, and everyone else between 98-107.
- Tension: 70% - 80% of the range (typically there's a 10 pound range, as in 52-62, so 70% would be 59), tournament players can go 90% or at full tension if the arm/shoulder's okay.
- Racquets: Dunlop, Head, Babolat, Prince, Wilson, Volkl, Yonex, all have head light racquets, though few of them in each line. Typically they are called a "player's" racquet, and remember we're called tennis players and not tennis softers. Of course I am not familiar with how every head-light racquet out there plays with students, for example some love Yonex whereas I never have. If I had my way there would only be a handful of models in each line, each with a range from head heavy to head light, wider beam to smaller, larger head to smaller.
String density patterns don't seem to be that critical anymore, as does the string itself, though the cheap ones play cheap and can hurt the arm more. String is indexed by its thickness, and then you choose for playability and longevity. If your arm hurts you owe yourself 17 gauge string or real gut. Go with 16 x 19 string pattern for more pop with less work, with a denser pattern of 18 x 20 you stick may seem a little dead, though of course top players enjoy this density. And pros go both ways with this.
The best resource for all of this is tennis warehouse. There you can look at all kinds of stats and explanations for every racquet out there, they break it down in their "Tennis Racquet Categories" page, plus they have a nationwide demo program if your local sports or tennis shop does not have a demo program.
So what do I recommend? It's up to you, the actual model. But if your arm hurts or you're not on the physically strong side and are looking for a racquet on the lighter side that is also head-light but that doesn't play like it's too light or tinny, I suggest you try the Volkl DNX 8 (now discontinued), for both men and women, young and younger, the Wilson K Factor KPro Open, the Head MicroGEL Radical Team, Dunlop M-Fil 300, the Babolat AeroPro Drive Cortex. And for those using a head heavy racket with a larger head size try the Dunlop 900 as a more maneuverable stick with the same blueprint.