An Expert Guide on How to Choose a Tennis Racquet
Tennis expert Brandon Maki overviews everything you need to know to select the right racquet for your game, whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player.
Selecting the Right Tennis Racquet
Whether you are a beginner just picking up the game of tennis or an advanced player looking to replace their current racquet, choosing a new racquet can be overwhelming. There are dozens of brands, each with dozens of models broken up into different categories. How do you choose what’s best for you? We’re here to help.
To help you break down the hundreds of options on the market we are going to separate them into easy-to-understand groups. Tennis players tend to ask what is best for a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, but within each of those levels there are different playing styles and needs for a racquet, so we are going to separate our groups into what the racquets can do for your game. These three categories are: Power/Game Improvement Racquets, Tweener Racquets, and Player’s Racquets.
Power/Game Improvement Racquets
These racquets tend to be loaded with technology that makes playing tennis easier for beginners, those looking to progress, or those who maybe have lost a step and want to get their game back. Power racquets are designed for players with shorter and slower strokes who use the racquets to generate pace on the ball. They feature oversized heads with a larger sweet spot, longer length inches for extra leverage and reach, lighter weight for easier swinging, stiffer construction to put more power into the ball, and a head-heavy balance to maintain control on contact.
Tweener racquets are a very popular style because they combine attributes of the other two categories. They give you some of the power/easy swinging of a power racquet but add more control and spin from a player’s racquet. These tweener racquets appeal to advanced junior players who may not have the strength to handle the added heft of a player’s racquet, fast-rising players looking for a racquet that will allow them to develop into advanced players, and even former high-level players who just don’t have the same ability since other things have come between them and their former glory days.
The technical features of a tweener racquet are a medium weight in the 9-11.5oz range, a midplus head size, usually an open string pattern, and middle-of-the-road balance from slightly head heavy to slightly head light. These racquets let players with good form but not as much strength swing away and generate spin and power just like the pros without sending balls all over the court as they would with a power racquet.
The player’s racquet category can be split into two styles, modern and traditional.
The modern style caters to players with games like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Dominic Thiem. The heavy topspin, big power, and long strokes from the baseline that these players use are aided by the modern player’s racquets. A modern player’s racquet is really a heavier tweener racquet. They have the same midplus head sizes, open string patterns, and standard or slightly longer lengths. They differ in their weight being slightly heavier and also a bit more flexible. This aids in control and helps players trade blows from all over the court with aggressive strokes and loads of spin.
The traditional player’s racquet is the racquet of choice for elite players with versatile games such as Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, and Marin Cilic. These player’s racquets are precision weapons for all-court use. They are best for players that bring their own power and need control from their frame. They feature small head sizes, heavier weights, flexible beams, and tight string patterns.
Technical Specs to Consider
Now that we went over the different categories of racquets it’s important to learn about the aspects that separate racquets even within those categories. The way a racquet is constructed has a huge impact on the way it plays and even small differences between two racquets in a category can be noticeable.
Head size and power go hand in hand. As we mentioned above, power racquets tend to have oversized heads with a range of 105 inch2 (square inch) and larger, tweener and modern player’s racquets have a midplus 96-105 inch2 range, and traditional player’s racquets are 90-98 inches2. If you have two racquets of otherwise identical construction, going to a larger head size will always increase the power of the racquet.
A larger racquet head will also allow for more room for error on off-center shots because of the larger sweet spot and lesser chance of hitting the frame. The majority of racquets sold are in the midplus size and are a good compromise for most people. If you are looking for more control, look at a smaller head size. If you are looking for more power, step up to the next larger size.
Weight and Balance
The next three factors are going to combine to make up a fourth factor—swing weight—which determines how a racquet feels when you swing it. The first of these three factors is static weight.
- Static weight: how much the racquet weighs in your hand. Contrary to what you may believe based on the fact that power/game improvement racquets tend to be lighter, a light racquet is going to be less powerful than a heavy racquet of the otherwise same design. A heavier racquet is also more stable and absorbs more shock. Additionally, it resists twisting when you make contact with the ball, allowing you to generate more power and feel more in control. A lighter racquet makes it easier to generate speed on your strokes, letting you generate more spin, and it’s also more maneuverable for fast rallies at the net. Most advanced players tend to gravitate to heavier racquets while younger and beginner players like the maneuverability of a lighter racquet.
- Balance: how the static weight is distributed. A racquet can be described as balance, head heavy, or head light. Power/game improvement racquets tend to be head heavy to compensate for their overall lighter static weight giving more stability on impact. Head light racquets tend to be the more traditional player’s racquets to give them more maneuverability at the net and to make groundstrokes more manageable. Tweener and modern player’s racquets tend to fall in the balanced or just slightly head light or head heavy balance point. These give you characteristics of both head light and head heavy racquets and are the most popular balance.
Did you know there is a limit to how long a tennis racquet can be in competition? Well, you do now. A racquet can be no longer than 29 inches, though racquets that long are pretty rare. A standard length racquet is 27 inches and extended length racquets tend to be up to 27.5 inches long. As the length of a racquet increases, the player has more leverage on their serve and groundstrokes, giving them access to a bit more power while making it easier to reach the ball. These benefits have a drawback though and that is in swingweight. A longer racquet will feel heavier to swing.
As mentioned above, swingweight is made up of three factors—static weight, balance, and length—and determines how a racquet is going to feel when you swing it during your strokes. A higher swingweight racquet offers more stability, power, and also more vibration dampening for added comfort, but they are harder to swing. Lighter swingweight racquets are easy to whip through your shots, but they tend to get pushed around by opponents with more pace.
Swingweight is one of the few factors that can really be separated into beginner, intermediate, and advanced player categories. Beginners tend to favor lighter swingweights of 305 and below so they can swing fast and easy and generate pace. Intermediate players stick with intermediate swingweights from 305-325 which provide a good balance of power and stability. Advanced players gravitate to high swingweights above 325 with lots of stability and power to combat the big games of their opponents.
Racquet stiffness plays an important role in multiple aspects of how a racquet performs on the court. Stiffness is directly related to power, control, and comfort. A stiffer racquet generally gives more power because it doesn’t bend on impact and keeps more of the energy of the stroke going into the ball. A stiffer, more powerful racquet also tends to have less control and less comfort due to this increased energy loss. The stiffness of a racquet is determined by the beam width or cross-section of the racquet. A wider beam is stiffer, while a thinner beam is more flexible. You can determine a racquet’s stiffness also by its RA value. An RA value of 63 and below is considered flexible, 64-67 is medium stiffness, and 67 or above is a stiff racquet.
The string pattern is the number of strings that run up and down and across a racquet face. A racquet can be described as having an open or closed string pattern. Open string patterns tend to increase spin potential and power. A closed string pattern offers more control. One drawback of a more open string pattern is decreased durability of the string because they tend to move across each other more frequently. An open string pattern generally has 16 main strings and 16-18 cross while a closed pattern will have 17-18 main strings and 18-20 cross.
The final aspect of choosing a racquet is determined purely by the player’s anatomy. All racquets come in multiple grip sizes to fit a player’s hand size. Determining the correct grip size can be done at home with a tape measure. Lay your dominant hand open with your fingers close together. Measure the distance from the tip of your ring finger to the bottom lateral crease in your palm. Getting the correct grip size makes playing tennis more comfortable and allows you to get the most performance from your racquet.
Still confused about what racquet is best for you? Chat with me or one of my fellow Tennis experts here on Curated for free advice on the best gear for your needs. We are happy to answer your questions and give you personalized recommendations on what racquet would help you take your game to the next level.