DISCLAIMER: These are not hard and fast rules for buying a tennis racquet as much as they are general guidelines. Like buying a car or a smart phone, sometimes you start shopping and you look at one thing, only to end up buying something completely different. We’ll take a look at the main categories that differentiate one racquet from the next and analyze various pros and cons.
At one point in time, racquet head sizes ranged from about 85 square inches all the way to 135 square inches. These days, the vast majority of racquets are in the 97 to 105-square-inch range. Experts have different theories as to why this has happened, but I believe it is because the average player is looking for the best balance of forgiveness, maneuverability, and stability.
Provided your swing speed is the same with both, a larger head racquet will produce more power than a smaller head racquet. For example a 95’ will produce much less pop than a 110’, while a 97’ and 98’ would be difficult to differentiate.
At left is the Wilson Pro Staff RF85 Limited Edition Tennis Racquet. At right is the Babolat Drive G 115 Tennis Racquet.
This refers to the number of main (up and down) strings and the number of cross (side to side) strings. The most common patterns around are 16×18, 16×19, 16×20, and 18×20. The string pattern cannot be changed*. You will hear debates about “dense pattern” versus “open pattern” racquets. Dense refers to very small spaces between the strings, while an open pattern has more separation between the strings. A good way to remember is More strings (dense pattern) = more control. Less strings (open pattern) = more power and spin.
At left and left center is the Tecnifibre T-Fight 315 LTD Dynacore 18M Tennis Racquet (18×20). At right center and right is the Tecnifibre T-Flash 270 PS Prestrung Tennis Racquet (16×19).
* except for Head’s Adaptive String Pattern Racquets
Over the years, racquets have shifted away from the 12+ ounce variety and have found a median weight around 10 – 11.5 ounces. Again, this is in pursuit of the best combo of forgiveness, maneuverability, and stability. Please note: racquet weight cannot be easily reduced. Lighter is not always better, but neither is heavier. Imagine Juan Martin Del Potro blasting a forehand cross court at 102 MPH and trying to return it with a sub 8 ounce racquet. It doesn’t take a physics degree to know that is not going to go well. So now the same scenario, another 102 MPH Delpo blast, and your racquet weights about 1 pound. It would be plenty stable but, you would have no way to move it and would be in danger of getting hit! The best choice is a racquet that is stable enough to handle pace, but light enough for you to still get your racquet moving in time to strike the ball.
At left, Juan Martin Del Potro winds up for a serve at the 2018 Miami Open (March 29, 2018 – Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images North America). At right, Delpo follows through on said serve (March 29, 2018 – Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images North America).
This generally refers to a racquet’s “feel”. This one is a little tough because much of “feel” is personal preference. A more flexible racquet feels like the ball is staying on the strings longer (we are talking nano-seconds). Benefits to highly flexible frames include shock absorption, and increased control and comfort. Usually racquets with thinner beams (20-22mm) will be more flexible frames, and racquets with thicker beams will have a firmer “feel”. Stiffer racquets will not flex much, and are often described as crisp and solid. A stiff racquet will also transmit more shock to the arm than a more flexible one. On our site you will see an RA (stiffness rating) for every racquet sold at TE. Racquets around the 70 RA and up will be quite firm, and racquets from 60-65 (and lower) RA will be softer and more flexible. Racquet stiffness will decrease slightly over time and multiple re-strings, but you can’t change a racquet’s stiffness.
This describes how much effort is required to swing the racquet. Players like Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have very high swing weights, well above 350! Most racquets fit in the 300-330 range. The higher the number, the more cumbersome it is to get moving. While a racquet’s swing weight can be increased through customization, it cannot be reduced, so be thoughtful about how comfortable you are with the SW before purchasing. Buying Tip: Racquets longer than 27 inches (standard) will have a pretty good bump up in swing weight, so if you want a longer length it will feel heavier.
At left is Andy Murray at The Mubadala World Tennis Championship (Dec. 28, 2017 – Source: Tom Dulat/Getty Images Europe). At right is Novak Djokovic at The ATP Masters Series in Monte Carlo (April 17, 2018 – Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe).
When you pick up a racquet for the first time, without even swinging it you will begin to notice its balance. Imagine a baseball bat or hammer. These are extreme examples of a head-heavy balance. Now grab the hammer at the head, and note all of the weight is now in your hand. This is an example of a head-light balance. A household item like a broom or a rake has a fairly even-balance. A head-light racquet is easy to move quickly and is a great option for players who spend most of their time up at the net. Conversely, the head-heavy balance is more cumbersome at the net, but provides a little more help from the back of the court (where you have additional reaction time). Super-light racquets are often slanted towards head heavy to get power, whereas middle-weight or heavy racquets are more evenly balanced or head-light for maneuverability.
At left is the close-to-even balance Head MXG 1 Tennis Racquet. At right is the head-light Wilson Pro Staff Roger Federer 97 Autograph Tennis Racquet.
Most adult tennis racquets are 27 inches (68.58 cm) long. Racquet length cannot be increased* and though it can be decreased, this will substantially change the balance. If you are interested in modifications to length, ask one of our USRSA Master Racquet Technicians at Tennis Express. The maximum length for a racquet is 29 inches but because they are so hard to maneuver you won’t see many of them. The most common “longer” racquet is probably in the 27.2-27.6 inch range. They provide a little bit more reach without being impossible to wield.
As for the Red, Orange and Green ball divisions, 23’ is the max length for Red ball, 25’ is the max length for orange ball, and 27’ is the max length for green ball.
Most racquets come with a black or white synthetic grip built for comfort. You can purchase different thickness of grip if you want to feel the bevels a little bit more or increase the size. Some players enjoy the feedback of the old-school leather grip despite its rather firm feel. Leather grips are also thinner and heavier (by several grams) than synthetic grips, so they are a good way to increase the racquet’s weight if you so desire. Check out the link for selecting the correct grip size.
Remember this is the “Golden Age of the Demo” and you can try just about any racquet(s) under the sun with the Tennis Express Demo program. Don’t be afraid to try a few frames out before making your purchase!
To read more informational tennis content, check out our blog posts below: