Sports Sciences Feature: Tennis Racquet Selection
Adam Pecina, ATC-L
Selecting a tennis racquet sounds like an easy task, but choosing the correct racquet for your playing ability takes knowledge and forethought. Unfortunately, many people unknowingly subject themselves to unnecessary risks by purchasing racquets that do not fit.
Many racquets you will find at sporting good stores and pro shops look the same. At a glance, they have similar looking handles and head sizes. Be informed; there are many factors to consider. These days, racquets are made of titanium and other strong, light-weight materials. Some are weighted differently to give particular play characteristics. Some have large head sizes or long bodies. Following are some simple suggestions, guidelines, and points to ponder when looking for a tennis racquet. Initially, let's consider some basic tennis racquet characteristics:
Grip Grip sizes vary from racquet to racquet. Find a grip size that fits comfortably in your hand. A grip size that is too large may cause undo stress on the wrist and elbow.
String tension Average string tension runs anywhere from 55-65 lbs. A good rule of thumb to remember: higher tension = more power and less control; lower tension = more power and less control.
Head size Head sizes on racquets can vary widely. Naturally, oversize racquet heads are larger than standard racquet head sizes. They will generally have a larger sweet spot, which will encourage more forgiveness. Beginners tend to play with oversize racquet heads.
Racket weight Tennis racquets can be "head-heavy" (more weight in/around the racket face) or "handle-heavy" (more weight in the handle itself). Head-heavy racquets are generally used by those players who play from the baseline. Handle-heavy racquets can be considered the opposite. Players that play up at the net and volley more prefer handle-heavy racquets. These racquets are a bit more maneuverable.
Frame make-up Today, racquet frames are composed of all sorts of light-weight materials. To some degree, graphite has been replaced with other more light-weight, durable material such as titanium. Some offer more bend and flex.
The risk of suffering common tennis-related maladies, such as tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and stress on the ulnar collateral ligament, can be reduced. In this case, choosing the correct tennis racquet for you can take on some added significance. Luckily, tennis racquets offer many options and are easily customized. A few suggestions include:
More experienced players are known to play with a high string tension. This gives them more control. Those desiring more power should seek a lower string tension.
Synthetic gut and natural gut offer different feel and play characteristics. Synthetic gut is cheaper but is less forgiving. Natural gut is more expensive but is said to be more forgiving on the elbow and shoulder.
This is done simply by adding weight to the frame with lead tape. Be wary that changing the weight characteristics of the racquet too drastically may place a greater strain on your wrist, shoulder, and elbow.
Dampers are relatively inexpensive and take some of the shock and vibration out of stroking tennis balls. Vibration is absorbed in the damper, thus reducing the vibration/shock being delivered down to the wrist and elbow.
These simple changes have the potential to reduce stress on the elbow, wrist, and shoulder.
Ultimately, you will have to ask yourself how much you are willing to spend on a tennis racquet. If you are just getting into tennis and are not sure if this will be a long-term activity for you, you can get by with a racquet for under $100. This racquet will have the bare essentials; no frills. If you become more serious about the game and intend to pursue it in earnest, you will ultimately spend over $150 (or substantially more). These more expensive racquets have the latest technology. They are suitable for the more technical, experienced player. Keep an eye out when looking at different racquet models, too. Some proprietary technologies can bump the price of a racquet up significantly.
Take the guess-work out of selecting a tennis racquet. Be informed and have an idea of what kind of player you are and what kind of game you play. With a good fit, you will get enjoyment out of the game and play healthy and pain-free.