It's no surprise that the racquet is an essential part of any tennis player's game. However, choosing the wrong racquet can be detrimental. To optimize raw talent on the court, it's important to first assess your playing style and skill level to find the best racquet for you. Whether you're a beginner or a pro, it's important to consider several factors when choosing your ideal racquet: head size, string tension, frame flexibility, weight and balance.
Younger players or those new to the sport should shop for larger, heavier racquets for their easy power and forgiving sweetspot. A heavier frame is generally good for three things: less vibration, a larger sweet spot and more power. The material of the frame also affects its flexibility and shock absorption. A stiff frame transports more shock to the user's arm. However, a stiffer frame provides a more uniform response to contact with the ball, making it easier for amateur players to control the motion of the ball. Stiffness, is traditionally rated on a scale of 55 to 72 – higher numbers mean less flex – owners agree that the rating is really objective. LiveStrong.com explains that ratings are assigned by "placing a specific amount of weight on a lever, which bends the frame."
One frame-related factor you might overlook is the beam width. The beam of a racquet is the area on either side of the head. In general, a wider, stiffer beam equates to more power and less control.
Most racquets are pre-strung at the approximate middle of the range. However, you can have yours tuned appropriately to your skill and playing style. Experienced players will benefit from high string tension which tends to create more ball control and spin, according to Tennis-Warehouse.com, while lower tension, as well as a larger string area, generates more power.
Oversize racquets have a surface area between 105 and 130 square inches compared to a traditional racquet of 85 to 105 square inches. The smaller head equates to better maneuverability and stability for more advanced players, but in turn they must account for the loss of power themselves. A lighter racquet helps to counterbalance this by providing a faster swing.
Additionally, a longer racquet – up to 32 inches according to About.com – helps build power by creating more leverage in the swing. USRSA-certified Master Racquet Technician Joe Heydt explains in a Tennis.com interview that a longer racquet may add effective impact height to your serve. Traditional racquets are approximately 27 to 28-inches long.
Most racquets today weigh between 9 and 12 ounces, and are composed of graphite due to its lightweight strength. Other alternatives for the beginner include aluminum and titanium as they provide a better feel for the ball and are more forgiving. However, lighter does not always mean better for beginners, warns Brain McDonald from HowToDoThings.com: "You'll have to swing the tennis racket harder to achieve the power you took for granted with a heavier one. Your new hard swing will probably lead to compromised accuracy and control." Advanced and expert players might opt for ultra-light Kevlar or boron racquets; they are stiff and if the sweetspot is missed, may produce excessive vibrations to the user's arm.
The distribution of the racquet's weight is just as important. As the name implies, "head-heavy" racquets contain the bulk of the weight toward the head, while head-light or "handle-heavy" racquets focus the weight in the handle. Baseliners, those who play from the back of the court with long powerful shots, tend to prefer head-heavy racquets as they generally provide more oomph and less flexibility.
Moreover, "If your swing is abbreviated and you generate very little power, you might consider buying one of these," suggests McDonald. Head-light racquets, which are generally lighter overall, provide greater maneuverability and control but sacrifice power. In addition to pros, skilled volleyers and all-court players lean toward the extra control these racquets provide.
Another key racquet feature to consider is a properly sized grip. Not only will you achieve more control, but an appropriate grip is also important to avoiding injury. About.com's tennis guide offers the following tip for finding the perfect grip size: "On your dominant hand, note that your palm has three main creases. Hold your hand flat, with the fingers alongside one another. Measure from the middle crease of your palm, up the line between your middle and ring fingers, to a point equal to the height of the tip of your ring finger." Match this length –to the nearest 1/8-inch to the racquet's grip specification. If you have extra-large or small hands, you may want to check out do-it-yourself grip enlargement kits, or take your racquet to the local pro shop for a custom fitting-worth the $15 (or less).
Junior tennis racquets, like the Wilson Roger Federer 23 Junior (Est. $25) , are better suited for smaller children. These racquets often retain the basic features and advantages of their full-sized counterparts but are built on a smaller scale.
Unfortunately, children quickly outgrow racquets, but thankfully junior models are generally inexpensive and can be found for as little as $10. Experts advise shifting to adult-sized racquets by the age of 12. About.com Tennis Guide, Jeff Cooper says, "As a general principle, a junior should use as long a racquet as she can comfortably handle." Using an undersized racquet can focus the swing action on the wrist and elbow and cause muscle and joint damage.
Cooper suggests parents choose a junior racquet that is roughly the length from the player's fingertips (arms at his side) to the ground. If stuck between two models, Cooper suggests the junior player perform a very slow practice serve. "If the racquet is going to be too heavy for him, this is where he'll feel it."
There is no one rule to dictate which tennis racquet is exactly right for you. Instead, use these guidelines to help match your playing style and skill with the best equipment for your court time. Experts say the best way to determine if a racquet is right for you is to try it before you buy it.
To find the best tennis racquets for women, juniors and overall, we consult reliable expert sources such as TennisThis.com and Tennis.com, along with dozens of user reviews. We include picks from top brands such as Babolat and Prince and base our ratings on performance and ease of use.