All of the specifications of a racket may be confusing to the recreational player. On this page we will try and explain, in simple terms, the different characteristics that are generally listed. Hopefully with this information you can narrow down the potential rackets that may suit your game.
Recreational to intermediate level players will probably find that a racket with a head size of around 100 square inches will be well suited to their game. The larger head size can provide a number of benefits:
- Larger sweet spot
- More resistant to twisting on off centre hits
- Softer on the arm if strung at the same tension
Advanced level players will tend to gravitate towards rackets between 93 and 98 square inches. The smaller head offers lower power and is more control oriented.
The static weight of a racket is simply what it weights if you were to weigh it on some kitchen scales. A heavier racket has more mass and will, given the same energy input, be more powerful than a lighter racket. By comparison a lighter racker will be more manoeuvrable and may allow the player to achieve a higher racket head speed.
A lot of people with arm issues (tennis elbow) believe, or are told, that a lighter racket might be a better option. In most cases this is actually completely the wrong thing to do. A lighter racket does not have the same mass, and therefore is more susceptible to distortion from an incoming ball. Often it is the player trying to use their muscles to stabilise the racket to resist the force of the ball that puts stress on the arm. By contrast a heavier racket has what we refer to as “plough through”. This extra mass tends to carry through the ball, reducing the distortion force to a greater degree.
Our recommendation is use the heaviest racket that you are able to without becoming fatigued. You should therefore consider being able to effectively and consistantly swing the racket for perhaps a three hour period (a long match).
Swing weight is an interesting specification. This value is intended to give an indication of what the weight of that racket “should” feel like to the player when swung. It is possible to have a very light racket which has a high swing weight. Similarly it is also possible to have a heavy racket with a low swing weight.
The balance point is literally the point at which the racket is balanced. It is measured as the length from the butt of the racket to the balance point and is usually specified in millimetres or as points head-heavy or head-light.
A head-light racket is going to be more manoeuvrable, while head-heavy will be more powerful.
We do not recommend head-heavy rackets for any level player. They are generally going to be rackets with lighter static weights. While they may be low weight and powerful they are more likely to transmit shock and vibration to the arm, wrist and shoulders of the player. Remember that in decades gone by everyone (including kids) used to play with 370 gram (13 ounce) rackets with no problems. It is the materials and the ability to distribute weight around the frame that has allowed for such a wide variation in specifications to be achievable.
We recommend a racket with around a 4 points head-light balance for beginner and intermediate level players. Advanced level players will typically look for 6 points head-light or greater.
The stiffness of a racket determines how much the frame will flex upon impact. A more flexible racket is less powerful, but will have a softer feel as it is absorbing the impact. A stiff frame, by contrast, will resist bending and put more energy back into the ball. It will typically feel more crisp, and harsher on off centre contact.
Volkl and ProKennex have active technology integrated into their rackets to actively dampen shock and vibration before it reaches the player.
We consider a low stiffness racket to have an RA of up to 65. Rackets with an RA of 66 or greater are considered stiff. It is rare to find a racket with stiffness below 60 these days.
Also factoring into this is the beam width (thickness of the frame). Two rackets each with a stiffness of 65, one with a beam width of 21 mm and one with a beam width of 26 mm will feel very different, the thinner beam feeling much less stiff.
The standard length of a racket is 68.58 cm (or 27 inches), and most rackets will conform to this standard length. Extended length rackets are available from some manufactures and will typically be no longer than 69.85 cm (27.5 inches).
The longer a racket is the more powerful it will be, due to a higher tip speed. It will also be less manoeuvrable though so it is a compromise.
Sting patterns have changed in recent years, typically to optimise the amount of spin that the string bed can generate. Something like a 16×16 (16 mains and 16 crosses) for instance is considered an “open” string pattern that is both powerful and spin friendly.
An open string (like a 16×16 or more traditional 16×19) pattern will generally be more powerful, softer and more spin friendly. It will also generally send the ball off the string bed with a slightly higher launch angle. A closed string patten (like a 18×20) will be less powerful, more control oriented, and have a lower launch angle.
The most common way to assess which grip size should be correct for a player is to pick up and grip a racket and hold it with a regular grip. You should be able to comfortably fit the index finger of your other hand in the space between the palm and fingers. If it is tight then the grip size is probably too small, if the finger is able to move around in the space then the grip is probably too big.
Common grip sizes:
- L1: 4 1/8 inches
- L2: 4 1/4 inches
- L3: 4 3/8 inches
- L4: 4 1/2 inches
- L5: 4 5/8 inches
In the end it does come down to player preference. Just be aware that playing with a grip size that is too big or small can cause you to grip too hard, often contributed as a cause for tennis elbow.