Despite the proliferation of individual models, magazines, retailers and experts agree about the basic features to shoot for in a tennis racket. Most of these guidelines were created by the United States Racquet Stringers Association. They include:
Buying tennis rackets is like buying a pair of shoes. You want them well-constructed, you want them designed for specific tasks, you want them at a good price, and it helps if they look cool, too. They can be all that, but if they don't fit you, you can hurt yourself. That's why major retailers of high-quality tennis rackets, even those that sell online, will let you demo three or four models at a time to see which one works best for you. And after you find one that works, there are all kinds of tweaks that can be done to get an even better fit, even if it's just a little lead tape to alter the balance.
Stringing is a whole other specialty. You can buy rackets prestrung, but on better rackets, you can have the stringing customized. There are more than 1,000 kinds of string including natural gut, synthetics and hybrids, and you can even string with a combination of these to achieve the desired effect. You can go to a stringing specialist, or you can take lessons so you can string your own rackets. For more information, there are a couple excellent links in our Best Research section.
Most good rackets can be purchased in various grip sizes, and within reason a pro shop can do minor alterations to get a better fit. There is some disagreement recently over how crucial perfect fit on the grip may be. Experts long believed that the wrong size grip could lead to injury; however, a December 2006 report in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, based on studying 16 college players, said improper form may be a more frequent case of tennis elbow than the wrong size grip. The study does say that recreational players ought to use the usual grip standards as a starting point, however, and then adjust if it feels uncomfortable. Note that some reviewers think ultra-light tennis rackets, despite vibration-dampening devices you can insert at the base of the strings, can contribute to tendonitis.