Watching the televised coverage of the U.S. Open being played in Flushing Meadows, New York makes me want to start playing tennis again. Tennis is one of my favorite sports to play; however, I haven’t played much the past 10 years. With all the new improvements to tennis rackets, I decided that if I was going to pick up a racket again that I should look into purchasing a new one. So I set about learning what you need to know to select the right tennis racket for recreational play.
Determine Your Grip Size
Every racket has a grip size since some people have bigger hands than others. Adult sizes range between 4 and 4 and 5/8ths. While you can measure your hand from the middle crease of your palm to the tip of your ring finger, most people prefer to hold several grip sizes and feel which one is most comfortable. If you are trying to decide between 2 grip sizes, it’s best to go with the smaller one. You can always add more grip tape to increase the size at a later time. Also, if the grip is too large it makes it harder to add spin to the ball.
Pick a Racket Head Size
There are three categories of tennis racket heads, over-sized, mid-sized, and standard sized. However, standard sized racket heads are really a thing of the past so now you just have to decide between a mid-sized head and an oversized head. The larger the head on a tennis racket, the more forgiving it will be if you hit the ball off-center or outside of the “sweet spot” of the racket. Oversized rackets are great for beginners since you will be able to hit more good shots and generate more power and spin. Racket heads become oversized at 100 square inches and up. Midsized rackets range between 85 and 100 square inches. A smaller head generates more racket speed and is more maneuverable, but also has a smaller sweet spot so you need more accuracy with where you hit the ball on the racket to produce a good shot.
The overall length of the racket is something to consider as well. A longer racket will let you reach balls further away from your body helping you cover more of the court and generate more power especially on your serve. However, beginners should start with a standard 27 inch racket since a longer racket requires better coordination and timing to keep control of the ball.
Pre-strung or no Strings
Rackets sell both with and without strings. Pre-strung rackets are less expensive and the manufacturer has already chosen a string tightness that is in the middle of the tension range providing a nice balance of power and control. Unstrung rackets are really for an intermediate to more advanced player that wants a specific feel and tension specific to their playing style. Beginners should start with a pre-strung racket which provides versatility and durability without a hefty price tag.
Improved materials such as graphite have produced lighter weight tennis rackets; however, where the weight is distributed on the racket changes the power and control. If the head of the racket feels heavier it tends to help a baseline player who is trying to generate deep powerful shots. On the other hand, if the weight rests more in the handle, the racket tends to help a finesse player that volleys and wants more controlled shots.
Other factors that differentiate tennis rackets are flexibility and materials; however, price will really dictate whether any of these are even a choice. Today’s entry level rackets have progressed a long way since wooden rackets and any model that fits your price range and feels good will work well in the beginning. For a recreational player, you don’t want to overpay for things that may have little effect on your game. Keep in mind that a more powerful racket typically has less control, and rackets that offer more control typically require more skill. For myself, I’ll be looking for a pre-strung regular length racket with an oversized head that feels good.