Feeling a little confused about buying a first tennis racquet for yourself or your junior? That’s completely understandable–after all, there are tons of different racquets on the market to choose from, each with its specific design for a certain skill level or style of play. So how can you sort through the different tennis racquet specs to determine what’s important and what’s not? Below are some key points to remember when choosing a tennis racquet that will be right for you.
This is the size of the area where the strings are located, usually denoted in square inches. A racquet with a small head size will be easier to maneuver and control, while a racquet with a larger head will have a larger “sweet spot,” which will offer more power behind your shot. As a general rule, beginners should stick with a racquet that has a head size of 100-115 square inches.
This refers to the actual size and thickness of the racquet’s handle. Grip size is essential because if the handle’s too small, it will be hard to keep the racquet from accidentally twisting in your hand when you hit the ball. If it’s too large, you’ll expend more muscle strength trying to hold and control the racquet’s movements. Either way, prolonged use of an incorrectly-sized grip can lead to tennis elbow problems over time.
Generally speaking, women’s and older junior girls’ grip sizes range from 4″ to 4 1/2″, with 4 1/4″ being the most popular. Young players typically use racquets with grip sizes ranging from 3 7/8″ to 4″.
You should choose a grip size that feels comfortable in your hand and allows for about a finger’s width of space between your ring finger and your palm when holding the racquet with an Eastern grip (i.e., the palm on the same bevel as the string face). If your racquet’s grip size seems too small or if you’re between grip sizes, you can always build it up with some overgrip.
If you don’t have a racquet handy, you can also measure your grip size using a ruler. With your hand open and fingers extended close together, align the ruler with the bottom lateral crease of your palm and measure to the tip of your ring finger.
A tennis racquet’s length is measured from the top of the head to the bottom cap of the handle. The prevailing theory is that a longer racquet gives you more reach and leverage on serves and volleys, while shorter racquets allow for more control and maneuverability. The standard length–and the most common for adult beginners–is 27 inches, which is a great place to start. After you’ve developed your game a little more, you’ll be better able to tell what you’ll need in terms of racquet length, and you can adjust as needed.
Juniors are limited in racquet choices, as manufacturers don’t produce a wide range of lengths or grip sizes. The 26-inch length racquets have a 4″ grip size, and those which are shorter will have a 3-7/8″ grip size.
The next thing to consider is the weight of the racquet. Players feel differently over whether they prefer heavy or light frames – some find a heavy racquet slows their game and others that a too light racquet encourages bad habits such as flicking the wrist. The more you play and the more racquets you try out the easier it is to determine what weight suits your game style. For a beginner, however, choosing a racquet with a light frame is best to make it easier to practice shots over and over again.
Lighter racquet frames will be between 9 – 9.7oz / 255 – 275g.
What’s Not Important
Most racquet frames are either comprised of an aluminum composite or graphite composite. Aluminum frames are more affordable than graphite and are the most common choice for beginners. Graphite frames are typically more lightweight and durable, but they’re not an absolute must-have for someone just starting out.
Several different tennis string types are available on the market–e.g., natural gut, synthetic gut, polyester, nylon, and so forth. While the nuances of each string type are often significant to players at the higher levels of the game, it’s generally not something that a beginning player needs to be concerned about. String tension, however, is an important factor in how well your racquet performs. For beginners, I recommend a racquet tension between 53-59 pounds.
A High-End Racquet
When you’re starting out, it’s unnecessary to spend lots of money on a high-end racquet from a pro shop or specialty store. Yes, eventually, it will be worth it, but it’s just not necessary for a beginner. You’ll do just fine with a standard pre-strung Wilson, Penn, or HEAD racquet that you can purchase from the sporting goods section of a large discount retailer such as Wal-Mart or Target.
When buying your first tennis racquet, try to avoid getting bogged down with too many technical details. You’ll have plenty of time to explore different racquet specs and characteristics as your game develops. In the meantime, get the best racquet you can afford based on the above items, and hit the court!