Review websites and tennis publications don't expend much effort rating beginner tennis rackets (or "sticks," as players at all levels affectionately call their rackets). The best comparison we found was a 2004 chart, available on Tennis-Warehouse.com, that compares six game-improvement (beginner) rackets with numerical scores on power, comfort, control, maneuverability and stability, followed by write-ups on the Wilson n1 (*Est. $100) and the Head Liquidmetal 8 (*Est. $80). The conclusion is that the Head Liquidmetal 8 is better for those seeking more control, while the Wilson n1 is the better choice for beginners who need maximum power (help in getting the ball over the net). The Wilson n1 is no longer listed on the manufacturer's website as current, but is still easily available on the Internet.
The Tennis-Warehouse.com comparison notes that the Head Liquidmetal 8 is good for "players that are looking for a racquet that will still suit them as their game and technique improves." Both tennis rackets also receive enthusiastic comments from customers at Tennis-Warehouse.com. The few negative comments concern the impression that the rackets have too much power (which can be reduced somewhat with higher-tension stringing), but more power is the whole point of a beginner racket.
A general rule of thumb is that heavier rackets offer better control, and the Head outweighs the Wilson tennis racket 9.4 ounces to 9.0. The Wilson racket is longer -- 27.9 inches to 27.25 inches -- and has the larger head, 115 square inches to 112. Both are for players with National Tennis Rating Program scores from 2.0 to 4.5. A 1.5 score is the lowest; such players are still working on getting the ball in play. At level 2.0, you are familiar with basic positions, but you lack court experience and your stroke needs lots of work. By level 4.0, you're a pretty solid player. 7.0 means world class. A link to detailed descriptions of these levels can be found in our Best Research section.
Other beginner rackets gaining some mention in reviews are the Prince O3 Speedport Silver (*Est. $260), the Völkl DNX 1 Power Arm (*Est. $270) and the Dunlop Aerogel 9Hundred (*Est. $190) -- all of which cost far more than most beginners are willing to pay.
Tennis Magazine likes the Prince O3 Speedport Silver better from the baseline than on volleying and calls it "a smart choice for seniors on the country-club doubles circuit." DoItTennis.com, website of a San Diego retailer, has a positive review by teaching pro Marc Pinckney, who recommends the Speedport Silver for "a player with not much mass or strength, or a player with short strokes."
The Völkl DNX 1 Power Arm has an unusual design that "catapults the ball like a slingshot," according to Tennis Magazine, which added that the racket "should be a welcome addition to the club doubles circuit." The DNX 1 Power Arm is also reviewed at MagicRacquet.com by racket stringer John Gugel, who notes that he usually doesn't like power rackets but found a lot to like on this one. He offers some good advice about stringing options for this model.
Tennis Magazine says that the Dunlop Aerogel 9Hundred is "more advanced than it appears," and will be liked by club doubles players who use oversize tennis rackets. A user on Tennis-Warehouse.com says that it has nice spin generation and is easy to control. These three models might be good considerations for older players who've lost some strength, or for beginners with deep pockets.
While experts are still unclear as to the cause of tennis elbow, it appears that the key to reducing your suffering is to decrease the impact you feel when the racket meets a moving ball. Tennis Magazine gives an Editors' Choice to the Head Protector (*Est. $110), which is available in mid-plus size (better control) and oversize (more power) models. (Mid-plus tennis rackets typically have a head size between 95-102 square inches, while oversize rackets have a head size from about 107-135 square inches.) Piezoelectric fibers within the racket convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, and are controlled by a microchip. A dampening system electronically creates a vibration that cancels the vibration from the ball's impact. "Of course," Tennis Magazine notes, "if you want to 'feel' the ball and know when you hit the sweet spot, this isn't for you." Customer reviews on Tennis-Warehouse.com are positive to the point of gratitude.
Another racket good for sore-armed players is the Boris Becker V1 (*Est. $200), which also comes in mid-plus and oversize versions. It has a vibration dampening system called "Sensor Plus." Tennis Magazine notes, "It works so effectively that one reviewer likened the comfort of playing with the mid-plus to 'an old pair of shoes.'" In customer reviews on Tennis-Warehouse.com, only one contributor mentioned a sore arm - the others simply liked the racket, one even saying he's never had tennis elbow and expects he never will.
The lines often blur between beginner and intermediate, and between intermediate and advanced. A lot of reviewers call the intermediate tennis rackets "tweeners." The tweeners are heavier than a beginner racket and lighter than an advanced or "player racket." They offer less power than a beginner racket and less control than an advanced.
Tennis Magazine names the Prince O3 Speedport Red (*Est. $220) the "Best Tweener Frame" in their 2007 Gear of the Year list. They say it's good for "a young hotshot looking to improve or a grizzled tournament vet on the down slope of your competitive career," giving it high marks for its versatility for every playing style but noting that you'll need some oomph to wield this racket. Tennis-Warehouse.com gave the O3 Speedport Red a solid score of 79, noting "universal appeal" for players rated 3.0 to 5.5.
The original Prince O3 technology enlarged the tiny string holes into large o-shaped ports for improved aerodynamics and a larger sweet spot. The Speedport technology on the O3 Speedport Red makes the string holes more rectangular to increase aerodynamics even more. A moveable string damper lets you adjust the feel of the racket, and a new thermoplastic bumper improves abrasion resistance. (One user at Tennis-Warehouse.com reports that the bumper on their racket cracked.) According to the Tennis Industry Association, the O3 Speedport Red was the top-selling frame in specialty stores for the first half of 2007.
The Prince O3 White, the Maria Sharapova model, is a very popular racket in this category (note that Sharapova's actual rackets are likely heavily optimized, however). It receives a positive review on the subscription-only Which.co.uk, which is a British-based magazine that rivals Consumer Reports in thoroughness. TennisCompany.com's review calls the O3 White "one of 2006's best new rackets" and notes that "power, comfort, and stability were strong in the first impressions of our intermediate play testers," but that serving was "not quite as spectacular."
Testers at Tennis-X.com say that the construction of the O3 White minimizes impact to an extent that might help sore-armed players, but warn that it's "a player's racquet, requiring a good amount of swing and head speed to accomplish the task, but an exquisite performer once its needs are met." Tennis-Warehouse.com gives numerical scores to 51 rackets, with the best getting an 85 and the worst a 65. The Prince O3 White gets a 77 with its soft throat grommet in place and a 78 with a hard throat grommet, the latter being for players who want a better feel of the ball's impact. The consensus of the five testers at Tennis-Warehouse.com is that "players from the 3.5+ to advanced level who like to play aggressively from all areas of the court should definitely take this one for a demo." Tennis Magazine likes the O3 White as well, noting that it's forgiving for players who use more than the sweet spot, but its testers "found it difficult to generate heavy topspin."
The Dunlop M-Fil 300 (*Est. $80), which gets a positive review from Which.co.uk, leans a little more toward the advanced end. Tennis-Warehouse.com says it's for players rated 4.0 to 6.0. It's 0.3 ounces heavier than the Prince O3 White, for instance, but at 10.9 ounces, it's still quite a bit lighter than most rackets for more advanced players. It's also a lot less expensive.
Tennis-Warehouse.com calls the Wilson K-Zen (*Est. $170) an excellent choice for an intermediate level player rated at 4.0 and above who is looking for a control-oriented tennis racket that is more forgiving than a more advanced model. Users on the website say that this is a stable racket that is hard to put down.
Advanced tennis rackets require some muscle to power, but they provide better control. Highly skilled players hit hard enough that they don't need a power racket to help them; instead they want their shots to go precisely where intended. At this level, too, there is specialization. For instance, while Tennis-Warehouse.com gives the Wilson K-Factor [K] Six.One Tour 90 (*Est. $200) its highest score (85), Tennis Magazine doesn't give the racket an Editors' Choice and asks, "Are you good enough to use it?" It is, after all, Roger Federer's racket (though again, Roger's racket is custom modified).
The Head Flexpoint Radical Oversize (*Est. $110) gets good reviews. It's not expensive, it's for all-court players and it has a long and glorious history. Seven incarnations of the Radical served Andre Agassi ever since he signed with Head in 1993, and Smash, a tennis magazine geared to young players, says the Radical has "been around longer than you've been playing tennis."
The Flexpoint Radical Oversize gets good reviews from Smash and Which? magazines, and Inside Tennis called the 2005 version "the Holy Grail of rackets - a well-balanced touring pro's frame that puts you in charge of your shots." It's best for all-court players like Agassi, who favor the oversize head. A key part of the Flexpoint technology is that increased flexibility in the hoop gives the racket a longer duration of contact with the ball (a cupping action) that results in greater control. Tennis-Warehouse.com gives the mid-plus version a score of 79 and the oversize a 77, though allowing on the latter, "We think the majority will be pleased." Tennis Magazine says that while "the racquet wasn't ideal for hitting flat shots, which tended to sail long, it aided them on heavier topspin ground strokes and lobs." It says the mid-plus is for players rated 4.0 and above, while 3.5s and above can handle the oversize.
If you're primarily a baseline basher, though, reviews say you'll like the Babolat Aeropro Drive (*Est. $180), the Rafael Nadel model that gets an Editors' Choice from Tennis Magazine. The grommet system creates what Tennis Magazine calls a "trampoline effect," which is fine as long as you're adept at hitting the sweet spot. Tennis Magazine is not quite as enthusiastic for the updated Babolat Aeropro Drive with Cortex (*Est. $180), which deadens some of the vibrations you'd feel on impact, but Tennis-Warehouse.com likes that option, giving it an 81 and noting, "With the amazing spin and control we generated with this stick (especially strung with a co-poly), it's only natural to want to shout 'Vamos!' when hitting that big spinning forehand for a winner."
As for the aforementioned Wilson K-Factor [K] Six.One Tour 90, you don't have to be Federer to wield the 12.5 ounce racket (1.2 ounces heavier than the Head Flexpoint Radical or the Babolat Aeropro Drive), but you probably will want to have a rating of at least 5.0. The racket offers state-of-the-art precision, reviews say, but the player himself must be precise as well. "While intermediate players may be able to handle the heft," Tennis-Warehouse.com warns, "a player needs to also consistently find the sweet spot and be prepared to generate their own power from a long and fast swing style." Tennis Magazine likes it a little less, not giving it an Editors' Choice rating, but in noting its great control, one tester said, "This racquet had ESP. I could put the ball on a dime." No getting around that heft, though, as one of Tennis-Warehouse.com's testers added, "This racquet should be listed as a lethal weapon. It should come with a holster." TennisCompany.com notes that it's a good pick "if you're a physically fit, hard-hitting all-court player with better-than-competitive NTRP 4.5 skills."
The Prince O3 Tour is known for outstanding spin capability and gets a good review from Smash tennis magazine.TennisCompany.com suggests that you need a rating of at least 4.0 to get the most out of this one in competition. Tennis Magazine notes, "This racquet might be too head light for power baseliners, but it's just right for aggressive all-courters."
The Yonex RDS 001, which gets favorable mention from Which? magazine, gets a 77 on the mid model from Tennis-Warehouse.com and a 79 on the mid-plus version. The mid is 12.3 ounces, almost as heavy as Wilson's Federer racket, while the mid-plus is 11.7 ounces. Tennis Magazine says, "You better have your tour card if you like the mid, while the mid-plus is a more realistic choice for strong rec players." In any case, Tennis Magazine offers a succinct, "It's clear who this Yonex is built for -- Lleyton Hewitt wannabes. You know, the consistent, all-court types who need a heavy but head-light racquet to help them scramble." Tennis-Warehouse.com says the mid-plus can serve players from 4.0 to the pro tour: "This one is well suited to players who like to serve and volley or close the net with aggressive all court play."