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Choose the right tennis racket

This is an excerpt from Playing Tennis After 50 eBook by Kathy Woods & Ron Woods.

Let's begin with three overall recommendations for selecting the right racket. First, enlist a knowledgeable teaching professional to help you through the process. Second, try several demo rackets, which are available at most shops, to see how you like the racket before you invest any money. Third, if you ask for help from a teaching professional and use his or her demo racket, please purchase a racket from that person rather than heading out to the chain sporting goods store to save a few bucks.

The most popular racket manufacturers in the United States have consistently been Prince, Wilson, and Head. Each of these companies offers a wide range of rackets with different playing characteristics and in various price ranges. You can't go wrong with a racket from these leading manufacturers. Other brands produce good-quality rackets as well, but they are less well known and command a smaller market share.

Next, let's look at grip size. There are two common methods for determining your optimal grip size. For the first method, use a ruler to measure the distance from the tip of your ring finger on your racket hand to the farthest main vertical line in you hand (figure 10.1a). This measurement typically shows a grip size of 4 1/4, 4 3/8, 4 1/2, 4 5/8, or 4 3/4 inches (European sizes 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), which are the most common grip sizes for rackets.

For the second method, hold the racket with your dominant hand and slide the index finger of the other hand between the tips of your fingers and the base of your palm (figure 10.1b). If the grip is too small, there will be no room for the index finger. If there is extra room, the grip is too large.

Most men have a grip size between 4 1/2 and 4 3/4 inches (European size 4 to 6). For women, the range is typically 4 1/8 to 4 1/2 (European size 1 to 4). Keep in mind that if you add an overgrip for cushioning or absorbing perspiration, it will increase your grip size by about 1/8 inch (one European size).

Choose a grip size that is comfortable. Keep in mind, however, that a grip that is too large will force you to squeeze the racket more tightly and tire your arm. At the opposite extreme, a small grip may cause you to whip the racket and eventually cause arm or elbow problems. Try a racket with the grip size indicated by your measurement and use it for a while. If it feels uncomfortable, experiment with one size larger or smaller.

Today's rackets are made of aluminum or a composite of several materials, such as boron or graphite. A beginning player on a limited budget will probably be happy with a prestrung aluminum racket in the price range of $75 to $125. After some time, you may want to upgrade to a higher-performance racket, which may cost about double the price. If you choose a higher-performance racket, buy it unstrung and put in the strings that you find most playable.

Figure 10.1

Customized Rackets

Customize your racket by determining your style of game and matching it to the recommendations of the manufacturer. Independent evaluations of all the major rackets appear annually in Tennis magazine, which is available at newsstands. Typically, style of play is described as power (long, looping swings), finesse (short, compact swings), or combination (varied shots and skills that compromise between power and control).

Power players are more likely to choose midsized or traditional-sized racket heads, which create less resistance as they move through the air, allowing the player to generate more power. Most players on the professional tour use this size head. Rackets with oversized heads typically range from 110 to 125 square inches (710 to 806 square centimeters), while midsized rackets are about 100 to 109 square inches (645 to 703 square centimeters).

Traditional rackets have heads smaller than 100 square inches (645 square centimeters). Oversized heads are most popular with recreational players because they have a larger sweet spot, which allows a greater margin for error on off-center hits. Most players over 50 would probably benefit from playing with a mid- or oversized racket head. Finesse players typically look for a stiffer racket frame to provide more power and a larger head to increase the sweet spot. The manufacturer or a tennis magazine report will list each racket's comparative stiffness based on playing tests. More flexible racket frames are more forgiving, particularly on off-center hits. If you suffer from arm or shoulder pain, a flexible racket frame may be helpful because the frame absorbs some of the shock of the ball contact.

Combination players seek both power and control. Their racket choices are more individualized because they may want to emphasize control on some shots and power on others.

Combination players seek both power and control. Their racket choices are more individualized because they may want to emphasize control on some shots and power on others. Generally, these players choose mid- or oversized racket heads and fairly stiff frames. If they seek power on the serve, they may choose rackets that are lighter in the head. Those who rely on powerful ground strokes may choose heavier rackets.

Length, Weight, and Balance

Most rackets are 27 to 28 inches (69 to 71 centimeters) long from the tip to the butt of the handle. Although some models are available in longer lengths, few players have found them to be effective because they lack maneuverability.

Racket weight can vary considerably. A heavy racket weighs more than 11 ounces (312 grams), midweight rackets weigh between 9.8 and 10.9 ounces (278 to 309 grams), and superlight rackets weigh between 9 and 9.4 ounces (255 to 266 grams). Generally, heavier rackets produce more power, less torque, and better control. However, the tradeoff is that they require more muscular strength to manipulate. Over the course of a match, a heavier racket may contribute to overall fatigue.

Older players will enjoy the increased maneuverability of lighter rackets along with increased power and spin. Lighter rackets are also more suitable for doubles players because the emphasis in doubles is on serves, returns, volleys, and overheads. Heavier rackets have more value for singles players who want to generate maximum power on baseline ground strokes.

Tennis rackets are described as either balanced, head heavy, or head light. Theoretically, a lighter head allows you to whip the racket faster while serving. A more balanced racket might work better on baseline shots. However, you need to consider all of the factors-overall weight, head size, length, and balance-to appreciate how a racket performs. Manufacturers constantly tinker with these factors to produce the best playing characteristics. Most players simply play test rackets until they find one that feels good to them.

More Excerpts From Playing Tennis After 50 eBook