Every tennis racquet, regardless of brand, differs in its specifications – head size, weight, balance, flexibility and string pattern. Each unique combination of these specifications produces a unique racquet. Based on your skill level, swing style and what you’re looking for from a racquet, will determine what racquet suits you best.
But first you must understand what each racquet specification is and how varying it will impact your game.
This refers to the strung area of the racquet and is measured in Canada with squared inches (sq. in.) This is one of the most important specifications and has the greatest impact on your game.
Typically, as the head size increases so does the power potential of the racquet. Why? As the area of the head increases there is a greater “trampolining” effect of the strings (strings are able to move back and forth more). This trampolining effect is synonymous with a sling shot. The further back the elastic can move, the greater power potential of the sling shot. The more the strings can move back and forth, the greater power potential of the racquet.
Conversely, as the head size decreases so does the power potential of the racquet. A smaller head size means less trampolining effect, which means less power generation. With tennis racquets, if there is less power there is more control. In other words, a smaller head size is control-oriented; a larger head size is power-oriented.
Now-a-days a 100 sq. in. head size is considered average (e.g. Babolat AeroPro Drive). Any racquet between 98 – 102 sq. in considered a “mid-plus” sized racquet (e.g. Head Graphene Radical MP). Anything greater than or equal to 102 sq. in. is considered an “oversized” racquet (e.g. Prince Premier 105L ESP). Any racquet less than 98 sq. in. is considered a “mid” sized racquet (e.g. Wilson BLX Pro Staff 97).
This refers to the area of a strung racquet that delivers the greatest power and consistency.
As the sweet spot of the racquet increases, there is greater consistency and forgiveness of off-centre shots. The sweet spot is located in the centre of each racquet, and how far it spreads depends on a few factors – head size, grommet design and head shape.
Generally, a larger head size means a larger sweet spot; a smaller head size means a smaller sweet spot. With a larger head size, there is a larger “ideal” zone for the tennis ball to make contact with. This means you do not need to be as precise at contact, as the racquet will assist you in that.
Similarly, a smaller head size means less “ideal” real estate for ball impact, which means there is less help with consistency. It is up to the player to make precise ball contact in order to deliver the same result.
NOTE: grommets are the holes the strings are fed through around the outside of the racquet.
If the grommets are designed to allow for greater string movement around the centre of the racquet, the sweet spot increases. If the strings can move more around the centre of the racquet there is greater performance outside of the centre point and therefore greater power and consistency potential in the surrounding area.
An oval-shaped head size means that the main strings (vertical strings) are elongated. In turn, this means that the sweet spot will be enlarged.
This refers to the how much the racquet frame weighs unstrung and is measured in ounces primarily.
NOTE: adding strings increases the weight by about 0.5 oz.
Like head size, weight is another important specification to consider. The trend follows that as you increase the weight of the racquet you increase the stability of the frame. As a player’s skill becomes more advanced and they are producing and receiving more powerful shots, stability of the frame becomes essential. By using a heavier, and therefore more stable frame, the racquet will torque less at impact and perform better under greater force. As you decrease the weight of the racquet, you increase maneuverability of the frame. A lighter racquet doesn’t require as much strength to move and thus is easier to swing.
The average weight is approximately 10.6 oz (e.g. Babolat Pure Drive 2015). An advanced racquet, playing level 4.5 and up, weighs 11 oz or greater (e.g. Yonex V Core Tour G 330). A beginner’s racquet, level 3.0 and below, weighs 10 oz or lighter (e.g. Head Graphene XT Speed Rev Pro).
This refers to the point at which the racquet balances. This point can be closer to the handle, which is considered “head light” (HL), at the halfway point of the racquet (evenly balanced) or towards the head of the racquet, “head heavy” (HH).
As the balance shifts towards the head of the racquet there is a greater mass behind the ball. This means that at impact there is greater power generation.
Conversely, as the balance shifts towards the handle of the racquet, there is less mass behind the ball. In turn this means there is less power generation, but more control potential. Typically players that can generate their own power, are looking for a racquet with more control potential. Additionally, “head light” racquets are more maneuverable. This is especially important with heavier racquets. They are made to be “head light” to ensure an increased weight does not compromise the performance of the racquet.
How do you know the balance of your frame? It will be listed on the racquet in one of two ways.
1) Distance from butt end of the racquet.
This method is denoted by a measurement; e.g. 34.3 cm. This means the balance point is 34.3 cm up from the butt end of the racquet. Since most adult racquets are 27 inches long (68.59 cm) a balance point of 34.3 cm is half way up the racquet. Therefore the racquet is considered to be “evenly balanced”.
If the balance point is greater than 34.3 cm, it is considered a “head heavy” racquet. If the balance point is less than 34.3 cm, it is considered a “head light” racquet.
2) Points system.
This is the more common form of balance measurement. This method uses a points rating, whereby 1 pt = 1/8 inch, from the halfway point of the racquet. For example, if the racquet is balanced at 1 pt HH, you would measure 1/8 inch from the mid-point of the racquet towards the head. If the racquet is balance at 1 pt HL, you would measure 1/8 inch from the mid-point of the racquet towards the handle.
This refers to how much the racquet frame bends at ball impact. If it bends a lot, it is considered “flexible”; if it does not, it is considered “stiff”.
As a racquet’s flexibility score increases the frame will bend more at ball impact. This means that more vibration is absorbed by the racquet and less is translated down the racquet and through the player’s arm. Ultimately this increases the feel of the racquet. Additionally more of the ball’s energy (power) is absorbed which means the player must infuse their own power into the next shot.
On the contrary, as the racquet’s flexibility score decreases the frame will bend less at ball impact. Less of the ball’s energy (power) is absorbed and thus the player need not exert as much effort to generate power. Flexible racquets are more control-oriented racquets; stiff racquets are more power-oriented racquets.
Here’s an analogy. Imagine hitting a tennis ball against a brick wall versus a tennis net. When you hit a ball against a brick wall it comes right back to you. The harder you hit the ball against the wall, the faster it will come back at you. As you hit the ball against the brick wall, the ball’s energy (power) is not absorbed. When you hit a ball against the tennis net, its energy (power) is absorbed and the ball does not bounce back to you. Even if you hit the ball harder against the net, it will not bounce back any faster to you. In essence the brick wall is stiff and generates power, the tennis net is flexible and generates control.
Although the racquet’s flexibility score isn’t listed on the racquet frame with the other specifications, there is a simple visual test. The thickness of the frame is proportional to its flexibility. A thinner beam will mean a more flexible frame; a thicker beam will mean a less flexible frame. Materials within each beam width family will affect the flexibility though.
This refers to the number of main strings by the number cross strings on the racquet face. The main strings are the vertical strings and the cross strings are the horizontal strings. It’s denoted by two numbers (e.g. 16x19 – main x cross). There are three general string patterns: open, closed and spin.
In general, a more open string pattern (e.g. 16×18) means less strings on the racquet face, more spaces between the strings, more ball pocketing and more power and spin potential of the ball.
A more closed string pattern (e.g. 18×20) means more strings on the racquet face, less spaces between the strings, less ball pocketing, less power and spin potential and more control potential.
The newest trend in racquets is the “spin”-oriented pattern. This extra open pattern (e.g. 16×15) offers the least amount of strings on the racquet face, the most spaces between strings, the most ball pocketing and power and spin potential to the ball. As well, Wilson’s Spin Patterns have more main strings than cross strings, an unusual combination. This further enhances the spin potential of the ball as the spaces between the strings is still large but there are more main strings to grip onto the ball, creating more rotations on the ball.
The same racquet frame can come in different string patterns. For example, the Head Graphene XT Speed MP A is delivered with a 16×19 string pattern but comes with an extra 16×16 grommet to better customize your racquet.
The average string pattern is 16×19 and offers you the best of both worlds – a combination of power and control.
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