By Dr. Trina Rowe, DPT
Bauerfeind Performance Center
Choosing the Best Tennis Racquet for You
My clients frequently ask me about how to pick a tennis racquet that is best suited for their needs, particularly if they have had a tennis injury. Retailers carry a variety of different brands—all professing that their technology is superior to others. In such a saturated market, how does one go about choosing a tennis racquet that best meets your needs?
Tennis players place high emphasis on the “feel” of their racquet during play. While it is important to be comfortable with the way your racquet feels in your hand, there are far more foolproof ways to select a tennis racquet than just taking a few practice swings with every racquet in the shop. There are a several important variables to consider when selecting a tennis racquet. The right combination of racquet size and balance, string type and tension can ensure sustainable playing without incurring tennis injuries.
Determine Your Tennis Skill Level
Start off by realistically evaluating your skill level before choosing a tennis racquet. While we all want to imagine that with a little practice and perhaps the right racquet, we too can play like Raphael Nadal or Serena Williams. If we choose their tennis racquet, we’ll be one step closer to that level of play, right? Wrong. The number one mistake my clients make when selecting a racquet is to base their tennis racquet choice on a player they love. Consider your own strengths and weaknesses and base your selections on how you play now—not what you wish you played like.
Choose Your Racquet Head Size
The first step in choosing a tennis racquet is to select your racquet head size. Elite players are able to hit the ball in the middle of the strings the majority of the time, so they don’t need a large head size. Less experienced players or players prone to tennis elbow will benefit from a racquet with a larger head size. This type of racquet has a larger sweet spot and it provides the advantage of reducing the shock transmitted to your body.
Tennis racquet head size also ties into weight distribution or balance of the racquet. Exceptions exist, but in general, a racquet with a larger head size will be head-heavy while a racquet with a smaller head will be head-light. Head-heavy racquets are better for less experienced players because their weight helps generate more force at impact. Head-light racquets are more desirable for experienced players who have good strength and biomechanics so that they can utilize their own power and maintain more control over the ball.
Choosing Your Tennis Racquet Strings
The three main types of strings you will want to consider are, in order of increasing stiffness, natural gut, nylon and polyester.
Stiffer strings transmit more vibration to the hand and arm so players prone to upper extremity tennis injuries are better suited to natural gut or nylon strings with multifilament composition that helps dampen vibration within the string. Many players like polyester strings because they are stiffer and players feel they can hit the ball harder with them. However, I’ve had many patients who simply changed their string from polyester to natural gut and were able to break their cycle of repeated bouts of tennis elbow.
Finally, consider string tension. When choosing a tennis racquet, you should check for the proper tension range that is appropriate for that racquet. However, you can still customize the tennis racquet to your unique needs. Lower tensions give a player slightly more power but sacrifice a bit of control while higher tensions give slightly better control but less power. Here again, I make recommendations based on skill level. Less experienced players lack the skill to control their racquet especially well and will usually benefit from slightly increased power. The opposite is true for more experienced players.
The overall point I want to make here is that the brand of racquet you select is far less important than the type of racquet you select and how you choose to string it. Modern frames are constructed out of graphite and each manufacturer will have a slightly different angle that they use to differentiate themselves from the competition but the differences are debatable and really subject to individual preference. What each manufacturer will have in common is that they will have a variety of racquet head sizes, racquet balance, and stringing options to choose from that will allow you to customize the points outlined above.
About the Author: Dr. Trina Rowe is Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), a Sports Clinical Specialist (SCS) and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Trina is part of the physical therapy staff at the Bauerfeind Performance Center in Santa Monica, CA. Visit the Bauerfeind Performance Center or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive expert advice on choosing a tennis racquet that’s right for you.