How to Find the Perfect Tennis Racquet

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How to Find the Perfect Tennis Racquet

With so many tennis racquets on the market, choosing one can be as intimidating as returning Andy Roddick's serve. Should you purchase an ultra-light racquet? Or is your game better suited to a heavier model? And what about all those high-tech features manufacturers love to talk about?

It sounds simple: You want to arm yourself with a brand-new racquet that will improve your winning percentage. But sometimes it's hard knowing just where to start. That's where this guide can help you.

Power or Control?

When buying a racquet, the first thing you must decide is whether you want one that will provide you with power, control, or a blend of the two.

If you're a beginner, you should play with a racquet that's light enough so it's easy to swing and powerful enough so it adds giddyup to your game. Our advice:

Go with a racquet that weighs between 9 and 10 ounces, has an oversize head measuring at least 100 square inches (which will give you more power and improve your chances of making good contact with the ball), and has a beam width (the thickness of the frame) that's at least 25 millimeters thick. A "wide" beam makes the frame stiff and therefore more powerful.

If you're an advanced player and can generate your own juice on the court, it's a different story. You're looking for more control, and you can get it with a racquet that's heavier (over 10.5 ounces) and has a smaller head and thinner beam.

If you're an intermediate, try a racquet that offers a blend of power and control, falling between the heavy, thin-beamed control racquets and the lighter and bigger power sticks. "For most levels of play, you need a racquet that isn't too powerful and yet isn't all about control," says Bruce Levine, TENNIS Magazine's racquet advisor, "because power won't mean a thing if you can't keep the ball in the court, and all the control in the world does you no good if you can't get enough gas on your shots."

Pre-Strung or Premium?

When shopping for a racquet, you also have to decide whether you want a pre-strung model or a premium, or "performance," frame. Pre-strung racquets cost from $25 to around $100. Most premium frames are priced between $100 and $250 and feature the latest technology. With premium racquets, you usually need to buy string separately and have it installed in the frame.

And if you're buying for a child who's just getting into the game, check out junior racquets, which are pre-strung and sold in graduated lengths (21, 23, 25, and 26 inches). Most junior racquets cost under $50.

Traditional Length or Extra Long?

It wasn't too many years ago that every racquet was 27 inches long. Now, adult racquets come in lengths up to 28 inches (extra long). Everything else being equal, extra-long frames are more powerful than 27-inch models because the contact point is farther away from your body, resulting in greater momentum on your swing and more pop on your shots. The downside is that an extra-long racquet may not be as maneuverable as a 27-inch frame.

Head Heavy or Head Light?

A racquet's balance is either head heavy, head light, or even. To check a frame's balance, measure it lengthwise and balance it at its exact center. If the head dips down, the racquet is head heavy. If the handle dips down, it's head light.

Head-heavy racquets give you more power on ground strokes but are less maneuverable, which can be a problem when you're at the net. Players who like to rally from the baseline tend to prefer head-heavy frames.

Head-light racquets are easier to maneuver at net, but they won't deliver the power of head-heavy frames when you hit from the baseline. Serve-and-volleyers, all-court players, and advanced players who take full swings generally like head-light racquets.

Evenly balanced frames offer a blend of power from the baseline and maneuverability at the net. They usually appeal to all-court players.

Open or Dense String Pattern?

Another area to consider is the pattern of the strings. An open string pattern has bigger spaces between the strings and will help when you want to add spin because the strings will "bite" into the ball more deeply. For example, the more topspin you add to your shots, the harder you can hit the ball and still keep it in the court. An open pattern, for instance, could have 16 main and 20 cross strings.

A dense string pattern-for example, 18 mains and 20 crosses-will give you added control in directing your shots. To generate more topspin, though, you'll need to brush up on the ball more severely.
What is My Grip Size?

The popular method for finding your tennis racquet grip size is to follow these simple instruction.

  1. On your playing hand, your palm has three main creases. Hold your hand flat, with the fingers alongside one another.
  2. Measure from the middle crease of your palm, up the line between your middle and ring fingers, to a point equal to the height of the tip of your ring finger. Typically women will measure between 4 1/8" and 4 3/8", men between 4 3/8" and 4 1/2".

Juniors will usually measure less than 4". Most Junior frames are only offered in this size.

If you are between sizes, go with the smaller grip. A slightly small grip can be built up easily with an overwrap. Too large a grip can not be properly adjusted without altering the frames properties. Overgrips can't build a grip effectively more than 1/8" though, because each layer of overwrap adds to the rounding off of the bevel edges on your handle.

What String Do I Choose?

What gauge of string should I get?

Gauge refers to the thickness of the tennis string. Most strings on the market are between 15 gauge (the thickest) and 18 gauge (the thinnest). The thinner the string, the better it will play-you'll get more "feel" and control because the string bites into the ball. The downside: Thin strings break more quickly. Your best bet is to start with a 17-gauge string; if it snaps in 10 hours or less, go to a 16-gauge. But if it lasts for over 25 hours, consider switching to an 18-gauge.

What string should I buy?

With literally hundreds of different strings on the market, it can be overwhelming trying to find the one that best complements your game. But if you take the time to understand the main categories of string and what your priorities are, you'll have an easier time narrowing down the possibilities. There are five categories of string:
  • Nylon Solid Core: This is the most basic (and least expensive) type of string, with a solid core and one or two outer wraps. These strings are fairly durable and hold tension well, but they aren't the most comfortable because they're relatively stiff and don't cushion much of the ball's impact. Companies typically call their nylon solid core strings "synthetic gut." Some of the best choices in this category include Wilson Extreme Synthetic Gut, Gamma Synthetic Gut, and Prince Synthetic Gut Original.
  • Nylon/Polyurethane multifilaments: These are the top shelf of synthetic strings. Multifilaments are composed of hundreds, often thousands, of individual fibers that are woven together to create a uniform piece of string. With multifilaments, you'll get excellent feel, and, because they do a good job of absorbing shock, a comfortable sensation. Multifilaments usually run from $15 to $30; when you factor in the labor, it's a pricey but worthwhile proposition, especially for better players who like to feel the ball. Our favorites are Wilson NXT Tour, Technifibre X-One Biphase, and Gamma Live Wire Professional.
  • Natural Gut: Still the gold standard, natural gut-which is made of cow intestine-pockets the ball more deeply across a smaller area, for control, but also allows more of the ball's energy to be returned to the ball, for pop. And you won't find a more comfortable string, so if you have arm problems, natural gut is, well, the natural choice. Gut is the most expensive, it isn't durable (players who hit a heavy ball have been known to break a string in a couple hours), and though companies now use protective coatings, the string is still the most susceptible to losing tension when it's exposed to moisture. Babolat, which produces 90 percent of the natural gut on the market, has many types of gut; we like the Babolat VS Touch.
  • Polyester: These strings are popular among advanced players who find that poly takes a little power off their shots, enabling them to swing harder and still keep the ball in play. Polyester is also ideal for those who tend to break strings but who don't want to use a stiff, uncomfortable Kevlar hybrid. Polyester's biggest weakness is that it loses tension quickly, though the latest generation, of which the Babolat Hurricane, Head FXP Tour, and Wilson Enduro are among the best, does a better job of maintaining its tension thanks to recent advances in the manufacturing process.
  • Hybrids: The combination of one type of string for the mains and another for the crosses is called a hybrid. This is done for durability. Frequent string-breakers should go with a stiff aramid fiber like Kevlar for the mains (the strings that usually break first) and a softer synthetic for the crosses. Hybrids last long but can produce a boardy feel. Two of the most popular prepackaged aramid hybrid sets are Gamma Infinity and Prince ProBlend. Some newer hybrids offer a polyester/synthetic gut (or natural gut) combination for a more forgiving feel than Kevlar-based hybrids. Wilson Ultimate Duo, Wilson Champions Choice, and Pacific PolyGut ATP Blend are 3 great options.

What Tension Should I Select?

At what tension should I have my racquet strung?

We have provided the Manufacturer's recommended tension range, measured in pounds; 55 to 65 pounds is a common range. The higher end will provide more control. The lower end will provide more power. Remember, increasing power reduces control and increasing control reduces power. We suggest to find your ideal tension, string your racquet in the middle of your frame's suggested range. After you play a few times, you'll be faced with one of three scenarios:
  • You have the ideal amount of control and power. If this is the case, you've found the right tension..
  • You didn't get enough control. Increase your racquet's string tension by 2 pounds. You'll lose some depth on your shots, but you'll gain control.
  • You didn't get enough power. String your racquet at a slightly lower tension. Remember, though, that if you lower the tension too much, the strings will become trampoline-like and you'll have significantly less control.