When it comes to buying a tennis racket, nothing can beat actually playing with it. We can talk about swingweights and open string patterns all we like, but that is no substitute for feeling a racket in your hand.
There are some important terms when it comes to rackets though that can be very valuable when you are looking at buying a new stick. The best way to pick a racket might be by playing with it, but there are hundreds of rackets out there and you can’t hope to try them all.
In order to get the right rackets in your hands to try, you’re going to have to narrow your search down a little bit, and the best way to do that is by understanding the specifications (specs) of rackets. You can tell a lot about a racket by understanding what these specs mean and this can help you narrow down your search.
Unfortunately, some of the terminology is a bit complex and when you’re new to tennis it can be hard to figure out what you’re looking for. Even seasoned pros would struggle to explain some of the specs, so you’re not alone.
The most important thing is not understanding the technical details of how and why these specs come about. It’s more about understanding how these specs affect the characteristics of a racket, and how these characteristics might suit your game.
In order for you to better understand the racket specs we use, and to give you a better idea of how to find rackets that suit you, we’ve broken down some of the key specs and how they might affect a racket.
Obviously, all rackets are different, and they’re going to play in their own unique way. By understanding the specs of a racket though, you can gain some insight into how a racket might play and can then figure out whether it’s one you might want to try.
Here’s our break down of all the specs you might want to understand when it comes to buying a tennis racket.
This one’s pretty simple, but of course, being tennis it’s a bit more complicated than it could be. The weight simply refers to how much the racket weighs, but you will often find it listed in two different ways.
At the Tennis Bros, we refer to weight as the unstrung weight of the racket, so the total weight of the racket before it has been strung. This is just a preference. Here in the UK, the unstrung weight tends to be more commonly used, so it’s just something we understand a bit more easily.
There isn’t a best way to measure the weight, but perhaps the strung weight is a bit more accurate, as that’s what you’re actually going to play with. The strung weight is the total weight of the racket when it has been strung, so when you’re out on court, this is the weight you’re actually playing with.
In general, the strung weight is going to be around 15-18g (0.5 oz) heavier than the unstrung weight. Each type of strings has slightly different characteristics, so this will vary based on the type of string you use.
The weight of your racket is going to have a huge effect on how it plays, and this is possibly the most talked about aspect of a racket. Here at the Tennis Bros we all use quite different racket weights. I use the Babolat Pure Strike which is 305g unstrung, Larry uses the Babolat Pure Aero Tour which is 315g unstrung, and Tom uses the Wilson Pro Staff 97 which weighs 340g unstrung. These might not sound like huge differences, but believe me, when it comes to swinging them, you’ll notice.
The general rule with weight is that lighter rackets will give you more manoeuvrability whereas heavier rackets will give you more power. This is a very complicated equation though. If you don’t have well developed strokes then you’re not going to get any power from a heavy racket and you’ll get a lot more power from a lighter racket, so there is no definitive formula.
The majority of people are going to play with a racket that is between 290g and 315g. These rackets appeal to a wide range of players and can suit beginners through to advanced players. Once you start pushing past 315g, you’re going to have to have some pretty good strokes to get the most out of the racket.
Because many pros tend to play with heavy rackets, 320g plus, I see tons of people who are obsessed with playing with a heavy racket. The fact is that many of these people don’t have the strokes to get the most out of these rackets, and they would benefit from something a bit lighter. There’s no fixed rule when it comes to the weight of your racket, but you’ve got to understand your game and your level and be realistic about the weight of racket you use.
Getting the weight of your racket right is one of the most important parts of choosing a racket. Not only is it going to affect how you play, but it’s also going to affect your body. Playing with the wrong weight of racket is a sure-fire way to pick up injuries, and this can be done by having a racket that is too light as well as too heavy.
So, racket weight was pretty simple in the end! Swingweight is not quite so simple unfortunately, but the effects it can have on a racket are just as great.
Technically speaking, swingweight measures a racket’s resistance to being rotated around an axis. The technical definition is quite irrelevant for us though and what really matters is how the swingweight affects the way the racket plays.
Again, we can only speak of a general rule here, nothing is set in stone, but generally, swingweight gives some pretty strong clues as to a certain racket’s characteristics. More swingweight normally means more stability and less swingweight means less manoeuvrability.
Swingweight is actually a better indication of a racket’s power potential than weight. The added stability that swingweight gives you means the racket stays more solid on contact and less energy is lost during the collision of the ball and the racket, and this results in more power.
However, the same thing applies to swingweight as to weight. If you don’t have the strokes to harness the swingweight, you’re not going to get as much power out of the racket. Many people find that they can get more power when using something with a lower swingweight and this is entirely possible.
Remember we established that at the Tennis Bros, I had the lightest racket, Tom had the heaviest racket and Larry was in the middle. Well, when we look at swingweight, things are much closer together, my Pure Strike has a swingweight of 325, Larry’s Pure Aero Tour 328 and Tom’s Pro Staff 335. It’s tempting to see the weights of the rackets and assume that the Pro Staff is by far the most powerful, but when it comes to swingweight they’re much more similarly matched.
One of the reasons the Pure Strike can be 10g lighter than the Pure Aero Tour but still have a very similar swingweight is balance. Balance is the way in which weight is distributed throughout the racket and you will find it written as a number followed by HL (headlight) or HH (head heavy).
The balance of a racket is going to make a huge difference to how it feels in your hands and the way it plays. The Pro Staff for example has a balance of 9 pts HL, which means the majority of the weight is distributed towards the handle of the racket. Because the Pro Staff has so much weight, you need a little bit of help to get the racket moving, and the headlight balance helps the racket to be more mobile.
For this reason, balance is not necessarily a great indicator of how a racket plays. You must view it in conjunction with other aspects such as weight and swingweight. With the Pro Staff, you have a racket that is 340g, which would put it in a low manoeuvrability category. The swingweight is 335, again putting it in the low manoeuvrability category, but the balance is 9 pts HL, which would put it in a more manoeuvrable category.
If two rackets have a similar swingweight, but one of the rackets is very headlight and the other is very head heavy, then generally you would expect the headlight racket to be a little bit easier to swing. Racket companies are always finding different ways to improve their rackets though, and the distribution of weight is something that can be very different from racket to racket.
If I’m looking at narrowing down my selection of rackets to demo, balance isn’t going to play a huge part. At the end of the day, the only way you can tell if the balance of a racket suits you is by testing it and when you find the right racket, you’ll just know.
Head size is one of my favorite things to complain about! You see quite a few rackets these days that have massive heads and I just find them to be a complete gimmick. There seems to be some kind of idea out there that a big head equals big power but that’s not the case.
A big head might give you a bigger sweet spot because the weight is distributed further from the center of the racket, which stops the racket twisting about its axis so much, so you might get slightly more power when you don’t hit the ball super cleanly. However, I find that there are few people out there, beginner, intermediates of advanced players that miss the middle of the racket too often.
As we’ve mentioned, a much better indicator of the power of a racket is swingweight. A racket might be advertised as super powerful, because of its head size, but the reality is, a massive head is just going to make the racket harder to manoeuvre and not add power to your game.
All three of us at the tennis bros has smaller to medium sized racket heads. Tom’s Pro Staff is 97 sq. inch, the Pure Strike is 98 sq. inch and the Pure Aero Tour is 100 sq. in.
The pattern of the strings might seem fairly arbitrary, but it will make a big difference to the way a racket plays. You will often hear a racket being referred to as having an open string pattern or a closed string pattern. This simply refers to the number of strings in the racket and will be written like this: the number of main strings (running vertically) x the number of cross strings (running horizontally).
The two main patterns are 16 x 19, a more open pattern and 18 x 20, a more closed pattern. In a 16 x 19 string pattern, there is much more space between the strings, which means they have more space to move. This will generally make the racket more oriented towards generating spin and will give it a little bit more pop. You often find that the open string pattern launches the ball at a slightly higher angle than the closed pattern, but it can vary from racket to racket.
An 18 x 20 string pattern on the other hand, contains a lot more strings in the same amount of racket space. This means the strings are packed much more closely together, and there is less room for the strings to move against each other. This tends to lend the closed pattern rackets to control and many players who crave extra control will be found playing with an 18 x 20 string pattern.
If you don’t know whether you would prefer a racket with an open string pattern or a closed string pattern, then it’s worth finding a racket you like and seeing if it is available in both options. All the other specs of the racket will be the exact same, the only difference will be the string pattern and you should notice a big difference between the two rackets.
Of the Tennis Bros, I am the only one to play with an 18 x 20 string pattern and I love it, but each to their own!
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the specs of a racket when you’re looking for a new racket. At the end of the day though, there is no substitute for playing with a racket. You might think the specs of a racket suit your game perfectly, but when you get out on court, you find you’re just not a match.
It can be very useful understanding specs when you are whittling down your list of rackets to try, but it is important you don’t place too much value on them. If you look at certain specifications in isolation, then you can be easily misled. Take the example of the Pro Staff, if you look at the balance of this racket alone, you may think it is a super speedy, manoeuvrable racket and it’s certainly not that.
Use your knowledge of tennis racket specs to get a feel for what a racket might be like and use it to identify the rackets you want to try. Once you’ve got the racket in your hands, you may find it doesn’t play exactly how you thought!
Article by: Will