When play testing any tennis racquet, I have three categories:
Category 1: I never want to touch this racquet again. Category 2: I need some more time with this racquet. Category 3: I’m taking the Wimbledon title this year
Obviously, category 1 racquets have no chance of becoming my racquet of choice, but I have often play tested category 2 racquets that have become my main bat of choice and have also wrongly chosen category 3 racquets.
A lot of factors come into play when you are testing a racquet; your technique, your style of play, your susceptibility to injuries. Also, the strings you’re using, the conditions that day, the surface you’re playing on and how you are playing at the time of testing.
Generally, when I play test any racquet, I can tell within a few minutes of hitting whether it is going to make my first category (insert 90% of Yonex racquets). If it doesn’t feel right for you, then don’t waste your time trying to get to grips with the racquet because you like the style or like the pro who uses it.
I see so many people using the Wilson Pro Staff, which personally I find baffling. The Wilson Pro Staff requires a great amount of talent and timing to use. With this racket, your margin for error is one of the smallest of any of the popular racquets, and although it feels nice on the serve and volley, it makes consistent hitting from the back of the court very difficult.
Unless you’re a very good player who trains consistently and times the ball well, I would certainly not advise using the Pro Staff. That’s not to say the Pro Staff isn’t an unbelievable racquet, (check out our review of it here) but it is one of the most difficult to consistently play well with.
There’s no prize for guessing why so many people use Pro staff, but unfortunately the majority of those people would probably play better with a racquet that gives them a little more leeway on their groundstrokes and a larger sweet spot.
Another thing to consider, if you think a racquet isn’t quite right for you, is whether it compliments your style.
Are you a 6’10 serve-volleyer? Or are you a 5’10 baseliner? A 6’10 serve volleyer might not want to go for a Head Graphene Speed Pro for example as it is made for a consistent baseliner. Likewise, a strong baseliner shouldn’t be looking at a head heavy racquet made for power and control on the serve.
You often come across aspects of your game that are vastly improved when playing with a racquet. For example, I might find that my volleys feel amazing with the Pro Staff, but if I can’t hit a forehand with it, guess what!? I shouldn’t use it!
Disclaimer: My volleys suck, and the Pro Staff makes me feel like Tim Henman.
In conclusion for category 1 – if the racquet doesn’t feel good nor compliment your game, let it go and test another racquet!
How long should I spend testing a racquet?
It can be very easy to pick up a new bat different to your usual racquet of choice and disregard it completely because you can’t hit the same forehand or can’t quite get that same kick on your second serve.
However, this is no reason to write that racquet off. You might just find that after playing with it for longer, it is actually a better racquet for your game than your current one.
For me, it’s important to focus on how the racquet feels. If it doesn’t feel comfortable, then you’re unlikely to ever overcome that. But if everything feels good with the racquet and you’re just not quite getting the spin you want to generate, give it a bit of time.
If it feels good and fits well with your type of play, you might find that with a different string or a slight tweak here and there, you’re able to find that spin, or even improve upon the spin you found with your old racquet.
When changing racquets at 16, I was convinced I wanted a Wilson, for no obvious reason, other than I liked Wilsons.
I tested the Federer racket at the time over and over and couldn’t get to grips with it. Meanwhile, I tested the Head Youtek Touch Speed Pro which, for whatever reason, I couldn’t serve with very well.
I was playing three hours a day at Sanchez-Casal Academy, and although my coach told me to forget about the dreams of becoming a short-ass blonde headed Federer, I still couldn’t commit to the Youtek.
It turned out I had developed a fault in my technique, probably as a result of constantly trying racquets poorly suited to me.
Once I fixed the technical issue, I bought the Youtek and it became my favourite racquet I’ve ever used.
So, in conclusion, there are a lot of racquets you can try which feel pretty nice, but there’s something that doesn’t quite sit well. Give it time, change the strings and experiment a little, you might find this is the racquet for you!
You can often find that with practice, you overcome the issue with the racquet and the one negative becomes one of a plethora of positives.
What matters more in a racquet, the tennis strings or the racquet itself?
This is a matter of much debate in the tennis world. In my mind the racquet slightly outweighs the importance of the string because the strings don’t change the feel of my swing.
But don’t underestimate the importance of the strings; if I were to play with my perfect racquet but string it loosely with natural gut, I’m not going to make many balls in the court and am going to struggle to win the match.
It’s the balance that’s important.
Some people say the racquet doesn’t matter too much. Their argument is that all modern racquets on the market have similar technology and, in the hands of a good player, make just a small difference to the overall standard of play.
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with this, I believe racquets can make a big difference. Not that a racquet can make a bad player into a good player but that a poor choice of racquet for someone’s style can be of great detriment to their play.
Equally a poor choice of strings can be catastrophic for someone’s play if they do not suit the style and level of that player.
For example, I generate very good racket head speed and naturally have a very big swing on my groundstrokes. If I play with a string that generates huge power and then string them very loosely, flying birds are going to have to take cover!
The most important thing to consider throughout your play test is to prioritise a balance that fits your style of play and then fine tune the strings once you’ve made your decision to maximise effectiveness.
For example, if you have a strong serve and like to control the ball with your forehand pick a racket that’s going to give you good power and consistency on the serve but also enough feel on your forehand to control the point.
In conclusion, whether the racquet or the tennis strings is more important is irrelevant. What’s vital is you pick a balance that fits your style of play and feels comfortable for you. To do this, you need to be knowledgeable about your style of play and your tactics in a match; what style the racquet is made for and what style the strings are geared towards.
For a complete review of all tennis strings out on the market, and what type of strings you need, check out our advice here.
Should I get a racquet to improve my weapons or negate my weaknesses?
This is by far the trickiest question I’ve tried to answer in this article, but it transitions nicely into our third category – The ‘I’m taking the Wimbledon title this year’ and how this category can play tricks on you.
The best way to explain this is to write about my most recent racquet purchase, the Babolat Pure Aero Tour. Two years ago, I had a house fire, which tragically took the life of some of my most prized possessions, my Head Youtek Speed Pro rackets.
We’d had a good run; it wasn’t love at first sight but after 9 years, I had grown to love them and regard them as the pinnacle of racquet hood only for them to be burnt to the cinders of memory and wet, cold, dirty ash that littered what was once my kitchen floor.
However, unperturbed I looked enthusiastically to the future and to a new relationship with, however heart breaking, with a new, younger model, perhaps, even a new brand.
I started playing with the Babolat Pure Aero Tour and after my first training session, I was on top of the world!
I was hitting the ball harder than I had ever hit it. Everything was going in, opponents had to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and…dodge their way out of the oncoming bullets.
It didn’t take me long to snap up the racquet and then for whatever reason I didn’t play for a couple of months.
When the summer season came back around, and I was in pressure filled environments, I found I couldn’t serve! Through the nerves, all I could manage was a kick serve, and a lot of them were going slightly long.
My groundstrokes were still as strong as I remembered but I found it almost impossible to wield the amount of power in the racquet on my serves.
The whole process has given me a different outlook on how to pick your racquet. With the most important rule of all; test your racquet in a match play environment before playing!!
You might find in practice you love the racquet but in a tennis match, under pressure it has too much power for you to handle.
The Pure Aero Tour improved my weapons dramatically; I was hitting winners off my groundstrokes from areas of the court you wouldn’t even dream of hitting winners. But on the flipside, it affected my serve to the point that under pressure I would gift games away through double faulting.
To answer the question of whether it’s more important to improve one’s weapons or to negate one’s weaknesses when choosing a racquet… in short, there isn’t an answer either way.
The true answer to the question is to find a balance you’re happy with. When I first played with the Aero Tour, it went straight into category 3 but what I didn’t realise is that although I gained huge pace on my forehand and it further enhanced my backhand, I struggled controlling my serve.
When in a match, the balance was shifted too far away from my serve and I struggled as a result. I had previously played with a good all-round racket with medium power and control and my groundstrokes were still a weapon. By improving that weapon, I lost ground on an area of my game that is no less important but not as strong.
In summary I would urge you to play a match with the racquet you’re thinking of purchasing; a racquet is not a cheap investment and you don’t want to buy one, only to find out two weeks later in your first tournament that you’ve lessened your chances of winning.
Just because it feels amazing doesn’t mean it’s the racquet for you!
Review by: Lawrence