Whether you're someone who is trying to just keep the ball in court to someone competing every week there are several factors to consider when purchasing a new racquet (especially if it is your first one!).
Style of Racquet: Racquets can be broken down into three categories:
- Power or game-improvement racquets: These racquets are longer, feature larger heads and are lighter in weight. If you're a beginner - to intermediate-level player looking for more power on your shot, this is a good option for you.
- Tweener Racquets: These are well-balanced racquets that are designed for all levels of skill, since they offer a blend of power, control and maneuverability. Intermediate to advanced players tend to gravitate to this type.
- Control or player's racquets: These typically feature smaller heads and are heavier than most racquets. Ideal for a professional or high-level players.
Racquet faces are measured in square inches and broken down into three categories: Oversize (>105 sq. inches), Mid-plus (98-105 sq. inches) and Midsize (<98 sq. inches). The larger head size typically offers more power than a smaller head, and with a larger hitting area, it has greater forgiveness for off-center shots. These larger head sizes are generally better for beginners to intermediate players looking for power and a larger sweet spot. The smaller-head racquets are ideal for advanced players looking to gain more control on their shots.
The length of the racquet is measured from the bottom of the handle to the top of the frame, with 27 inches being the standard racquet size. Extended-length racquets range anywhere from 1/4 inch up to 2 or 3 inches over standard. Benefits of a longer racquet include better reach, more power on serves and may be better suited for those with a two-handed backhand. One thing to note when considering an extended-length racquet is that it can be more difficult to maneuver. Junior racquets range from 17 inches to 26 inches, and are determined based on age and height.
String pattern is defined by the number of main strings (vertical) by the number of cross strings (i.e. 16x18, 18x20). A less dense (open) string pattern will provide more power and spin, while a more dense (closed) string pattern is ideal for players seeking more control. An open string pattern allows for more "bite" to create greater spin, which can cause strings to break more quickly.
The weight of a racquet is typically measured in ounces or grams. Most racquets range from 9 to 12.5 ounces, or 255 to 355 grams. Lighter racquets will allow for faster swings and more maneuverability, while heavier racquets are more powerful, stable and transmit less shock. It's important to note that the manufacturer's specifications on weight refer to the racquet without strings. Adding string to the racquet increases the weight by .5 to .7 ounces.
The frame of the racquet is referred to as the "beam," and is normally measured in millimeters. Most racquets have a beam thicknesses that falls between 15 and 30 mm. Traditional racquets tend to have thinner (18-22 mm) beams that translate to more control and feel, while game-improvement racquets tend to have wider beams (26-30 mm), translating to more power. Several manufacturers have developed newer racquets that have variable beam widths to help improve the combination of power and control.
Balance Is the static measure of weight distribution from end to end of the racquet. Measured in inches from the butt end, balance is referenced in "points" - head light (HL) or head heavy (HH) - where one point is equal to 1/8 inch from the center of racquet. For example, a standard 27" racquet with a balance of 4 points HL will have a balance point of 1/2 inch below the center (13.5") of the racquet. Lighter racquets are usually HH to increase mass behind the hitting area, allowing for better power and stability. Heavier racquets are usually more HL to increase maneuverability.
Swingweight refers to the measure of how heavy a racquet feels when it's swung. Racquet weight, length, balance point and size all influence swingweight. It is possible to have a light static weight with a heavy swingweight because the majority of the weight is distributed in the head. Racquets with a heavier swingweight will be more powerful than a lighter swingweight racquet.
Standard tennis grips range from 4 to 4 5/8 inches (in 1/8 inch increments). Accurate grip size is determined by holding the handle with an Eastern grip (palm on the same bevel as the string face), and ensuring the space between your palm and longest finger is no wider than your index finger. If there is additional space between your index finger and palm, the grip is too big. If there isn't enough space to put your index finger in the space, the grip is too small. Keep in mind when deciding on the proper grip size that it is much easier to increase grip size than to reduce it. A typical overgrip will increase a grip by half a grip size. It is also possible to add a heat shrink sleeve underneath a replacement grip to build up a grip.
Racquet flexibility operates on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the stiffest. The amount a frame deflects during contact can ranges from 55-75. A stiffer racquet will bend less, thus transferring more power into the ball; a more flexible racquet will bend more, resulting in energy loss. A very stiff frame will transmit more impact shock to the wrist, elbow and shoulder. The lower numbers produce more control and spin, less power and a more comfortable feel. The higher numbers indicate more power, but come with an increase in vibrations.
Grommets help protect the strings. Wider grommets offer free movement of strings, while narrower grommets help prevent too much movement.
- Natural Gut: Most playable, but not necessarily the most durable. Can be sensitive to water and weather changes.
- Synthetic Gut/Nylon: Good for all-around performance. A solid monofilament core surrounded by one or multiple layers of smaller filaments. Provides improved tension maintenance while improving playability.
- Multifilament strings: Gut-like characteristics. Numerous string filaments typically made of nylon wrapped and braided into a single length of string with a binging agent; tend to produce more power and comfort.
- Polyester and Kevlar: Most durable.