Racquets/String Tensions

Q. I currently have a heavy racquet that I am using but I have seen that many others use lighter racquets. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a light/heavy racquet?

A. The advantages of a heavier racquet are in stability and power. The advantage of a lighter racquet is in maneuverability.

For generations, players have been advised to use the “heaviest racquet that you can comfortably manage.” This, of course, is rather subjective. A racquet with more mass may feel good for a short while, but over three sets- or over the course of several matches- it could feel too heavy and slow your down swings. A racquet that is comparatively light might feel like a magic wand initially, but could also have a negative impact on the body, because with less mass the body (arm, etc.) would absorb more of the impact of each shot.

Like string tension, the weight of a racquet is based mostly on personal preference. Experiment (by adding weight, in the form of lead tape, to key areas of the frame; consult with a racquet technician at your local Pro Shop for more advice on this) until you find the best fit for your game-style and fitness/strength level.

Q. Do most professional players tend to string their racquets above or below the recommended tension?

A. Yes! Most touring professionals string their racquets above or below the recommended tension. To offer two examples from the recent US Open, Fernando Gonzalez had his racquets strung in the low forties (pounds of tension, that is) while James Blake had his strung in the high seventies. Both players are aggressive baseliners who hit the ball “big.”

Typically professional players carry several racquets of varying tensions in their bag. Bob Bryan apparently carries a loosely strung racquet in his bag for when he needs to serve against the wind. When balls were flying out of control for Andre Agassi during his first round match at the 2006 US Open, he switched to a racquet with tighter strings and recovered his feel and went on to win the match.

Q. A teaching pro mentioned to me that my vibration dampener (a long piece of rubber) will actually reduce my sweet spot. Is this true? Is this why most pros do not use a long vibration dampener?

A. This is not accurate. The rubber vibration dampeners simply quiet the sound of the strings during/after contact with the ball. Most touring professionals DO use vibration dampeners. In fact, it is becoming increasingly rare to see a player who does not use one.

Q. With the 2006 US Open Court of Champions inductions complete, I wanted to get your take on what tennis racquets you might nominate for the fictional Tennis Racquet Hall of Fame. Criteria would have to include a mix of overall popularity, playability, technological advancements, general aesthetics and perhaps Grand Slams/tournaments won?

A. Hmmm… let’s begin by separating the eras. The last year that all four men’s and women’s singles finalists at the US Open played with “regulation” sized, all-wood racquets was in 1981 (McEnroe, Borg, Austin, and Navratilova). Therefore, we should use ’81 as the marker for our two lists. And, before I continue, I will readily admit that I enjoy creating random sports lists.

The all-time classics:

1. Wilson Jack Kramer Autograph (the #1 selling racquet of all-time and my first “real” racquet as a ten-year-old).

2. Dunlop Maxply Fort (Rod Laver made this baby sing, but millions of others used it as well).

3. Wilson Maureen Connolly/Billie Jean King/Chris Evert Autograph (depending on the era, an American girl HAD

to have one of these models).

4. Head Professional (“Red Head”) (the first aluminum racquet that “crossed over,” meaning that it had excellent

playability and lasted longer than the wood models).

5. Wilson T-2000 (the first aluminum racquet on the mass market and Jimmy Connors’ weapon of choice for most of his career)

The “modern era” legends:

1. Prince Graphite (Original) (the oversize model that made it okay for top players to embrace this new larger-head technology).

2. Wilson Pro Staff (6.0 Kevlar) (Tennis Magazine’s 1984 Racquet of the Year was used by Pete Sampras his entire career, and Roger Federer uses a slightly updated version).

3. Head Prestige Classic (the racquet used by more touring professionals than any other over the past two decades).

4. Babolat Pure Drive (new technology popularized by Andy Roddick and thousands of junior players; a modern-day rocket launcher).

5. Dunlop MAX 200G (Steffi Graf and John McEnroe used this model during their finest days).

Q. I just bought a new racket stringer (a drop weight, six point mounting system). I noticed that my stringing tension is considerably lower than it should be after I am finished with the string job. I was wondering, do you suggest stringing a racket around 70 or 75 pounds to achieve a 60 pound tension (considering I am getting about a 20 to 30 pound loss in tension)?

A. If you are getting a 20-30 pound loss in tension immediately, then try stringing the racquets 20-30 pounds tighter (according to the gauge on your portable machine) so that it feels “right” for you.

There must be reasons that this tension loss is occurring though. Your clamps are probably not “holding” the string properly. There is slippage somewhere, and that might be the first place to look. The tie-offs are also a place where it is easy to lose considerable tension. Make efforts to be diligent.

Q. I have noticed that several racquet manufacturers can have almost a .4 ounce weight variance in the posted unstrung weight. Are there any of them more accurate in the manufacturing process to eliminate that problem?

A. I am not sure that I can give you an exact answer. There will likely always be some variations, in terms of weight and balance, with off-the-shelf racquets.

Your question does raise an important point. Before you purchase a frame, you should pick it up and make certain that it “feels” right. Usually you can tell immediately by trusting your instincts. This is one reason why I always urge people to patronize Pro and Specialty Shops, as opposed to buying through an internet-base mail order company.

If you do get a racquet that is not the same weight or balance as your other racquet(s), then you could try to customize it slightly by adding weight. If you are not experienced in doing this, leave it with racquet technician and allow an expert to help you with this process.

Q. I know string dampening devices must stay outside the string pattern. Are string savers allowed during a USTA-sanctioned tournament?

A. Yes, they are. Back when nearly all the professional players used natural gut, string savers were very common. Today, most pros use a polyester string (or a blend, at least), so it is less common. Pete Sampras used to put these string savers in frequently while he played. Therefore, you would be in good company.

Q. I would like to experiment with string tension. I have two identical racquets and would like to string them differently so I can determine which tension I like best. I currently use nylon strung at 58 lbs. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Experiment by stringing one racquet three pounds tighter and another three pounds lighter. Keep experimenting, at three pound increments, until you determine what is best for you and your style of game.

Be advised that on certain days looser strings will feel better (on a muggy, humid evening for example) and other days tighter strings will feel best (on a dry, hot day maybe). That is why many experienced players keep several of the same model racquets in their bag, but all with slightly varying tensions. This way they can adjust according to the conditions.

Q. How can I determine what is the correct grip size for me? Is there a technique or measurement used in determining proper grip size?

A. There used to be “systems” for recommending the correct grip size. Basically, the premise was to use the largest grip that you could manage. I believe that this mentality is way passé.

I urge players to use whichever grip size feels most comfortable. Pete Sampras, who had/has classic strokes, used a large handle throughout his career. Roger Federer also has an “old school” game, yet he prefers a fairly small grip size. Rafael Nadal uses a grip size that is considerably smaller than Bjorn Borg’s or Chris Evert’s choice.

Those are some examples that suggest the average grip size will tend toward the smaller. A small handle allows the player to really manage the racquet easily. Common wisdom was that players should use a larger grip because it was less stressful to the arm; I think that the opposite is true and that it is easier to maintain a relaxed grip with a smaller handle size.

There should not be any hard-and-fast rules concerning the handle size for a player. It should boil down to comfort and manageability.

Q. I frequently break my strings at the top not the center. Why is that? What can I do to fix it?

A. Hit the ball in the center of your string bed! This is easier to write than to do, I know. Make sure that your grommets are not jagged. That would probably be the leading cause for string breakage near the top of the frame. Have your racquet stringer replace poor grommets to eliminate the likelihood of this issue.

Q. I want to know how to decide how much tension should be in my racquet. Do I have to try every tension?

A. Generally the tighter your strings, the greater degree of control you will have, while looser tension correlates to more power. My advice would be to try the exact middle of the recommended tension range. From there, determine if you need more power or want more control, and then adjust the tension (up or down, as needed) by about three pounds. Keep going through this process until you find your “best” string tension.

Realize that on some days, you might seek additional power and on other days want more control. Many players with multiple racquets string each at a slightly different tension to accommodate the changing conditions.

Q. I was reading your response to a Dad's question about the appropriate racquet weight for his 9-yr old son. Your comment about light weight racquet put more stress on a player's arms/body. Please elaborate on this as I have a pretty light racquet and I am having elbow (and some wrist) problems.

A. If you choose to play with a racquet that is light, then your arm will invariably be forced to absorb more of the impact from incoming shots. That is a primary reason that professionals tend to play with “heavy” racquets.

Ultra-light racquets always seem to feel good when you pick them up, but the playability is usually compromised. Even though it is easy to swing a light racquet, it is generally difficult to handle pace or off-center hits without some helpful “mass.”

Be careful about choosing a model that is too heavy though, because that can fatigue your arm. Generally, if you play a lot, then you will be able to handle some additional mass, but add the weight in small increments until you feel it is “just right.”

Q. You recently had a question about buying a new frame. The advise that you gave was fine, but it has been my experience that club pros are many times under contract to play (and to sell) a particular brand. It also has been my experience that many of them do not know very much about frames and their different attributes. My additional advice to anyone looking to change frames is to seek out a member of the United States Racket Stringers Association (USRSA) and consult with them. We generally know quite a bit about rackets and have to keep up with all the newest frames. In addition, we at USRSA have a web site that has a frame comparison tool that allows us to plug in several criteria about the player's current frame and either duplicate it in a current model or find a frame that is more/less powerful, more/less controllable, etc. While not fool proof, I have helped many customers find a frame that does what they want it to.

A. Well, Jim, on behalf of tennis players who are looking to purchase a new racquet… thanks! Keep up the excellent work.

Q. What is the difference between head light and head heavy racket specifications? Which is better for a 9-year-old, competitive player (9.4 oz weight)?

A. Racquets that are head light are easier to maneuver through the air. Traditionally, net-rushing players favored racquets with this balance because it was easier to get the racquet in position quickly for volleys. A head heavy model was always considered better for players seeking more stability from their frame, especially groundstrokers. Over the years, racquets have gotten increasingly light but the distribution of the weight will have a considerable impact on the “swing weight” of a racquet. For example, even a light racquet might feel “heavy” if it is balanced toward the head.

Be careful about choosing a racquet that is too light, even for a nine-year-old. Opt to use the heaviest model racquet that you can comfortably manage. The additional weight will take care of more “work” for you, and put less stress on your arm (and body). Do not use a racquet that feels too heavy though. If you are not sure, get a racquet that feels a little too light and then add lead tape until it is just right. How do you determine what is best? The most ideal way that I know is through “trial and error.” Good luck.

Q. I would like to know how to select a suitable grip size for my own. Is there any way of measurement or any clue in determine a suitable size.

A. This used to be a more a cut-and-dried decision. There was a time, not all that long ago, when players were encouraged to play with the largest handle that they could manage. That premise has been altered considerably in the last several years. Today, players (including many top-ranking professionals) choose grips that would have been considered tiny a generation ago.

So… what grip size should you choose? You will need to experiment until you find one that feels exactly right. The advantages of a small grip are that you can be “whippy” with your swings and feel that you can easily manipulate the racquet. The advantage of a larger grip size for some is that it might not twist on off-center hits and it makes it easier to keep your wrist more still on certain shots (especially on volleys).

Q. I am an active USTA participant throughout the year. A number of matches are immediately after work, forcing me to leave my rackets in the car all day. First, what effect will the summer heat and winter cold have on my rackets? Second, what is the best way to protect them short of carrying them into work?

A. Manufacturers always insist that racquets be stored in a temperate climate, so you should heed their advice. Drastic changes in temperature can have an effect on strings and string tensions. Cold weather can make them harder and more brittle and hot weather can make them softer and more “stretchy.” To combat these effects, you should always keep your racquet(s) in a cover or, and this is more popular, inside of a padded racquet bag.

Q. What happens when my opponent breaks all the strings on his racquets and has nothing else to use? Should I lend him one of mine or is it an automatic win for me?

A. This might depend on your level of competition. If you are playing practice sets with a buddy, then lend away. If you are in the latter rounds of a prize money tournament, however, then... tough luck for your opponent!

Believe it or not, this scenario happened in an ATP Tour Tennis Masters Series tournament this fall. In Paris, mercurial Russian Dmitry Tursunov broke all of his racquets/strings and had nothing left to play with against countryman Nikolay Davydenko. He was forced to borrow his coach Jose Higeuras’ racquet, which was another brand, or alternately use his own model that he cracked in distress earlier. It was a terrible demonstration of professionalism, and one hopes that this will never happen to him again. The irony is that he fought back and nearly won the third set, as Davydenko seemed distracted by the ridiculousness of the situation.

Q. I was wondering what the effects of using lead tape on a players racket, and if this is recommended for junior players?

A. Expert racquet technicians advise that players use the heaviest racquet possible which does not compromise swing speed or comfort. Most touring professionals embrace this concept by using uncommonly heavy models. The theory is that more mass provides for greater power and stability. As long as the player can manage the heft, it is easier on the arm because there is less vibration and the mass provides greater force with the same effort.

I would urge you to experiment. Add some weight, but not a lot, to various areas of your racquet. Consider putting some strips of lead tape at the 3 and 9 o’clock areas of the head and some beneath the grip near the base of the handle. Eventually, you will find the correct weight (and balance) for you.

Q. I have been using the same racket for maybe three years now and I am very used to it. I want to start using a new racket but I don't know which one. What kind of racket should I be looking for? Where can I find it? And how can I be sure the racket I find is the one for me?

A. As the Holiday Season is in full flight, I always get a ton of E-mails that are similar to this one. I cannot offer an exact solution as to what racquet you should purchase, because every player is unique. I will submit a time-tested plan. Speak with a local expert, who is most probably your club/facility’s certified teaching professional. Make sure that you play-test any prospective new racquet at least three times before purchasing it. Every top-rate Pro or Specialty Shop will have a “demo” plan, where you can play-test the racquet, usually for a small fee that goes toward the final purchase. Good luck and Season’s Greetings! Buying a new racquet is the BEST present…

Q. I've learned from my tennis instructor that experienced players have their racquets strung at higher tension for better control, however, I just found out that some top players use tensions at mid-range or lower. Could you please explain why?

A. Having your racquet strung more tightly is better for control while looser strings provide greater power. I would generally agree that experienced players often choose a higher string tension, but this is always a matter of personal preference. Of course, there are some top-ranking players who feel like they have plenty of control but want additional zip on their shots, and that is why they would opt for looser string tensions.

You ought to experiment with different string tensions until you find your own comfort level. Start out by trying racquets with string tensions that are at least ten pounds different, and then narrow your choices from there. Sometimes trying a drastically differently feeling tension will help you to realize what is best for your game style.

Q. Kisha, age 16, 5'8 tall wonders how to choose her racquet. She is 130 lbs and still wants to learn tennis well.

Liza, mom, 40-ish, 5'6 tall, wonders also how to choose. She used to play in high school & college... still loves sport and wants to re-enter.

A. Go to a Pro Shop or Specialty Store and borrow a demo. Make sure that you hit with a racquet at least three times before making a purchase. Everybody is different and everybody has their own tastes. The only “best way” I know about is to try models until you find the one that you like best.

Another idea is that you should consult with your local certified teaching professional. He/she will surely have some specific advice based on your game-style, physical strength, etc. Good luck!

Q. I am a fairly new fan to tennis and I have been watching the U.S. Open. I've noticed that Andre Agassi and several other players put rubber bands on their strings while they are playing. What is the reason for that?

A. These rubber bands serve as vibration dampeners. Basically, these “quiet” the noise that the strings make during contact with the ball. More commonly, players use actual vibration dampeners that are manufactured, but the rubber bands have the same effect.

Q. My daughter is a pretty good tennis player. She is eight years old and she plays with an adult size racquet, which has a 4 ½” grip. She handles this racquet well. Do you think a 4 ½” is too large for her?

A. Unless she is an enormous eight-year-old, then I do think that a 4 1/2“ grip is probably too large for her. That being said, if she feels comfortable with this racquet and grip size AND it does not compromise her technique, then it is not that big of a deal.

Interestingly, Chris Evert always played with a relatively large handle. She attributed this to using her Dad’s racquets as a child. She became accustomed to his large handle and heavier frame, and she surely did pretty well throughout her career.

Q. First let me compliment you for a great column. My question concerns racket stringing. Is there a rule of thumb for how often a racket needs to be restrung?

A. Restring your racquets at least as often per year as you play per week. If you play thrice weekly, then get them restrung at least once every four months. Of course, there are many experienced players who only restring after they have popped a string.

Q. In a recent article you addressed the "proper racket grip size" for a player. It has been my experience (35 years) that players use grips that are too small to enable themselves to grip the racket really tight. Gripping the racket too tight often causes hand, wrist and arm muscles to flex (overcharge) too much, which in turn causes the racket head to slow, or not even get close to developing the appropriate racket head speed needed to hit through most shots.

That same "overcharged" muscle tension will cause a player to "fight" or "mis-time" their ideal contact spot, create stress on the hand and arm, and possibly an injury like tennis elbow, or shoulder injuries on serves.

The solution is to use an appropriately sized grip, lightly tighten grip tension at impact, and watch the ball "spot" for a second after the ball is gone (be still). Thanks for your great lessons and a chance to maybe have some input.

A. Thank you for your thoughts on this topic. I have found that an increasing number of top-level players are playing with grips that would have been considered puny in, say, the 1970’s. It is my premise that these professional players like the feeling of being able to completely manipulating the frame, and doing this feels easier with a smaller handle. Further, players have looser wrists on more of their shots than ever before.

I have heard that a smaller grip can cause injuries, but I have NEVER seen any scientific proof of that. I feel like I need to hold a large grip more tightly than a small one, by the way. It is an interesting debate on yet another of the changes in our sport…

Again, thanks for the note.

Q. Our daughter has grown a lot in the past 1 1/2 years and it is time for a new racket. What is the best way to measure for proper grip size?

A. There used to be some fairly hard and fast rules about the size of grip that players were encouraged to choose. The “old rule” was to use the largest handle that you can comfortably manage. To my mind, that has changed considerably. In fact, many professional players are using racquets with small handles.

This is ultimately a “feel” question. Have your daughter experiment with different grip sizes until she settles on the one that feels best. If she prefers a small handle, that should not be considered a bad choice.

Q. This year I really started working on my groundstrokes to hit with more topspin. I started breaking strings more frequently. My instructor told me about Luxilon strings which I have been using for a while. I now feel frequent pains in my forearm after playing (not elbow). I am beginning to believe that the strings have something to do with the arm pain. Is this possible?

A. This scenario you write about is not only possible, it is probable. The polyester strings that you describe are less forgiving than other synthetics. They certainly last longer and, for many, the playability is better. However, there are definitely cases of players struggling with arm injuries from racquets that are strung too tightly or with string that is not well suited for their game.

You have a few choices. You can slowly get used to this string and “tough it out.” You can strength train so that your arm, and body, becomes stronger so that you are able to better absorb the ball’s impact. Or… you can switch back to your old string.

Q. How effective are vibration dampeners? Would you recommend using them?

A. Vibration dampeners quiet the sound that the strings make upon impact with the ball. It also “deadens” the feel a little. I use one in my racquets, but it is a matter of personal preference.

Q. Do you know how or where I can learn how to string a tennis racquet?

A. Visit racquettech.com to learn from a Master Racquet Technician in your area. This organization certifies stringers, which is something that you might consider if you want to earn extra money at a local Pro Shop.

Good luck!

Q. How do you select proper string tension (and strings) to match your game?

A. A good frame of reference is that a tighter string tension provides better control, while looser strings give you additional power. Nothing is definite though, and ultimately you should aim for the greatest blend of control and power. For example, if you want more power and string your racquet loosely, then you might not feel capable of swinging aggressively at the ball. This is not a good trade off. Similarly, if you string your racquet too tautly and begin suffering from an arm injury, this is not good either.

What type of string should you choose? Depending on your budget or how often you pop strings, I would encourage you to try gut. In many (but not all) cases, gut actually lasts longer than synthetics- and certainly the playability is superior. A cost effective alternative might be to try a polyester synthetic string in the mains for durability and natural gut in the cross strings for the playability.

As with most things in our most individual of sports, experiment until you find what works for you.

Q. I suffer from the dreaded "tennis elbow." I am forced to limit play and sometimes stop playing for a long period. Are there any tennis racquets you can recommend that are easy on my elbow and make me play more comfortably?

A. HEAD came out with a new racquet last year called the “Protector” that is designed specifically to alleviate elbow injuries. The model has fine playability characteristics and is offered in mid-plus and oversize versions. The suggested retail price is a steep $300, but paying a premium for this technology is better than being forced to stop playing.

An independent research group studied players with acute elbow injuries, and found that 91% of these players realized considerable improvement when using this particular racquet. Most of the better pro and specialty shops should carry this racquet, so you might give it a play-test.

Good luck!

Q. I was wondering if it is ok to change the cosmetics of my tennis racquet. Like change the base color to something different. Are there any legal issues with doing this?

A. It is okay as long as you are not a player on the professional tour being paid to use a specific model racquet. If you buy it, then you can deface it to your heart’s delight.

Now, has a player on the pro tour ever doctored a familiar, favorite old racquet to look like a new model that they endorse? Well, that would be for another column.

Q. Like most folks today I play with a rather light racquet. I recently dug out an old heavy Head Arthur Ashe Comp 2 (early 1970s) and had it restrung, to see what it felt like. It weighs over 14 ounces. It has a very small “sweet spot” and swings heavy, as you’d expect. It made me think. Do you see any strength/head speed improvement benefits in practicing with a heavy racquet, and playing with a lighter one? Or does the difference confusion outweigh any benefits? I think particularly about the serve.

A. Hold onto that HEAD Ashe Comp 2! It is a classic.

You recognize a theory that a lot of (literally) strong players have long held as fact. The heavier the racquet, the greater pace you can put on the ball. Velocity equals mass times acceleration. The trick is being able to manage a heavy racquet effectively. As an example, Pete Sampras used one of the heaviest racquets on the ATP tour throughout his career. He used a significant amount of lead tape to add weight to his frames. On the other hand, there is an advantage to playing with a really light racquet, like Justine Henin-Hardenne does, in that you can create more racquet head speed (acceleration) with less effort. Experiment for yourself to find a racquet weight that best suits your style and strength.

It’s interesting that you ask about the serve. I firmly believe that you can generate at least as much pace with those “old” racquets because they were heavier AND typically more aerodynamic. Once you got them going, like during a serve motion for example, you could really generate some force. I saw Andy Roddick fooling around with a wood racquet at practice one day and I swear he was hitting serves nearly as fast as with his current model. The playability for virtually all of the other shots is severely compromised though. Believe me, back “in the day,” lots of pro players had cannonball serves and this was a significant advantage over the returners who were forced to defend with those smaller, more flexible “old” racquets of yesteryear.

Regarding extra weight on a racquet for training purposes, I have seen players take some warm-up swings with weighted racquets to get loose before playing. This is similar to baseball players using a weighted bat in the on-deck circle before getting into the batter’s box to hit. Aside from that, it probably makes more sense to use your regularly weighted racquets during practice so that you do not become grooved with a racquet that you will never use in competition.

Q. The “recommended” stringing tension on my racquet is between 53-63 pounds. Is it true that if one has a racquet strung at 63 pounds, for example, that after one session of play the tension will decrease by a few pounds? How much tension is lost by leaving a racquet in the trunk of a car on a hot day?

A. It is accurate that string tension decreases over time. This is largely dependent on the string though. As an example, a lot of players on the professional tours are using polyester strings. These typically elongate more than most other strings over time, so many players will have them re-strung on a constant basis. Comparatively, a Kevlar string does not stretch nearly as much.

I cannot give you a direct answer about how much string tension might be lost if you leave your racquet in the trunk of your car. This would depend on a multitude of factors. I will say that most of the better pro shops have machines that measure tension in your string bed. Have this done as you get your racquet restrung and then compare it as time goes on. You might be surprised by the results.

Q. First of all, thank you for a very informative, right to the point and expert column.

I’m getting different opinions on the lifetime of racquets.

Some teaching pros say that any modern high quality tennis racquet can last 10 years or so and lots of tennis shops suggest changing it every two years. I play at the 4.5 level about 3-5 times a week, and I break strings every three weeks. What’s your opinion?

A. I think both opinions have merit. Some players love the feel of old, trusted racquets. Other players realize that racquets “go dead” after a year, and sometimes even sooner. This is purely a matter of feel. If your racquet feels good to you, then it probably is.

I will suggest that industry-wide racquet technology continues to make quantum leaps. Models from 2004 are simply better, in terms of any quantifiable rating, than from ten years ago. My gut reaction would be to advise a player at your advanced level to play-test some newer models, especially since you pop strings so frequently. Realize that every time a racquet is restrung, there are microscopic tears that are created by this stress on the frame. Over time, your racquet WILL play differently.

Q. How do professional tennis players choose the racquet they use? Other than what “feels good” how can I determine the racket I should use, and whether or not it should be oversized or midsized?

A. A cynic might suggest that a professional player’s agent would approach several racquet manufacturers and accept the highest bid for their client. Luckily, I am not cynical.

In fact, usually top players have success with a certain model and stick with it. Pete Sampras is an obvious example, in that he has used the same racquet since he was a young teenager. Most professional players use racquets that are customized to be much heavier than “shelf models.” The additional mass enables the racquet to be more “stable” at impact. Pros can get away with the extra weight because they spend so much time training that the additional heft is not cumbersome to them.

In effect, your selection of which racquet to play with will be the same as a professional player. Simply find one that feels good. Generally midsized racquets are more maneuverable, while oversize models are more forgiving and provide additional power. If you are considering switching racquets, go to a Pro Shop and play test a “demo” several times before purchasing.

Q. I am just getting back to playing tennis after a long bout of tennis elbow. Any tips? What about a glove to make me aware of not gripping too hard? What should I ask when I have a lesson? Thanks.

A. I would begin by suggesting that you alter the string tension in your racquet. Restring it 5-10 pounds lighter. You might also adjust the size of your grip. Generally, the larger the handle, the less stress is placed on your wrist and forearm (when it is a smaller grip, we tend to squeeze tighter).

Make sure that you warm up your arm thoroughly before starting and then specifically ice your elbow after you are finished. You also should find a certified teaching professional (PTR and/or USPTA) to take a close look at your strokes. Usually when an injury develops it is primarily due to faulty technique.

Q. I'm thinking about purchasing a new racket for the upcoming season. I'm an experienced player, but not great - my NTRP is a 3.5. I play with more control than power. Any thoughts on what type of rackets I should consider?

A. Choosing a racquet is pretty personal. If you are seeking more power, then you are certainly playing in the right era! Generally, racquets today provide players with plenty of power. Go to your local Pro Shop and "demo" a few different models until you find something you like. I’d advise playing with a borrowed racquet several times before you buy one though.

Another thought would be to "customize" your own racquet (since you mentioned that it already provides you with the control many players find so elusive). This is what virtually ALL touring professionals do, although you might do it in a less sophisticated manner. An example would be to string your racquet with a thinner gauge string (the higher the number, the thinner the string) at a lower tension (the lower the tension, the more "power" you can expect from the string bed). Another idea is to add some weight to your frame. Pete Sampras does this in a recognizable manner. He puts those silver strips of lead tape on the inside of his racquet head at 3 and 9 o’clock. The more mass you have behind your racquet will translate directly to more power. So… go to tinkering!

Q. Are there any guidelines on adding weight to your racket? Do you add weight to the handle as well as the frame? Is it just trial and error? Where do you add the weight? Is a racket supposed to have a specific balance point? Any information is appreciated.

A. The weight and balance of your racquet is highly personal. It only needs to feel good to you, so I would urge you to experiment until the racquet feels just right.

One guideline to consider is that a player should consider using the heaviest racquet that he/she can comfortably handle. If it is too heavy, then it will be hard to swing. However, by maximizing the mass of the racquet, you can maximize the power a frame generates. Also, a heavier racquet will absorb more of the shock, so it should be more comfortable for your arm. There needs to be a proper blend between comfort and performance.

In terms of adding weight to your racquet, you might consider placing some strips of lead tape at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions of the racquet head. This will increase the size of the “sweet spot” and also provide more stability on off-center hits. If you are concerned about how this will affect the balance point of the frame (and it WILL affect it), then add lead tape to the bottom of the racquet (near the butt cap). You will likely need to remove the grip to do this. Like other areas of racquet customization, the balance point that a player might prefer is highly personal. Some baseline players prefer a more head heavy racquet, while net rushers might prefer a head light racquet. Again, this can vary widely from player to player- find out what best suits your own style.

Good luck with your tinkering!

Q. I am new to tennis, and I have an old, wooden tennis racket, and it is a Davis Imperial Deluxe racket. The racket is in good playing condition. My question is “Does anyone play with a wooden tennis racket?” Are there tournaments using the old rackets? Can I learn to compete with this racket with someone who is using a modern tennis racket?

A. We host a really popular “Turn Back The Clock Tournament” each summer at the USTA National Tennis Center. All players use wood or pre-1978 aluminum racquets. It is a fun event, and I’ve heard of similar tournaments elsewhere.

I would not particularly recommend that you play with a wood racquet if you are competing against players who are using “modern” racquets. They are fun to hit with, to recall how tennis used to be played, but the technology in our game has made such quantum leaps that I am positive that you will improve more quickly and enjoy the sport more with a “new” racquet. Besides, it sounds like that old racquet might well be an antique. People will pay some serious money for those old racquets that are in perfect condition.

Q. I work at a pro shop and consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about racquets. I run into a lot of players who are using the wrong size grip on their racquet without even being aware of it. Would you agree that it is important that a player use the correct grip size based on the size of their hand, as opposed to one that is either to big or to small? There seems to be a line of thinking that suggests if you're having any sort of discomfort in your arm as a result of playing tennis, you should go to a bigger grip. I do not agree with this theory and believe that one should use a grip size that is right for them based on the measurement of their hand. Just wanted to get your input.

A. Unfortunately, I do not believe that there is one correct answer to your question. I have seen some “small” players (Michael Chang) use a large grip size and “big” players (Boris Becker) use a smaller grip size. It seems to me to be entirely personal preference.

The old school of thought was that you should use the largest grip size that you can manage, but with today’s lighter and more powerful frames, I think that this custom has gradually faded. Every player has a different hand/wrist flexibility and different hand/wrist/forearm strength. Certainly these factors also need to be considered. Generally speaking, a smaller grip size enables you to be “whippier” (or more “wristy”) with your strokes, while a larger grip size discourages too much “wristiness.”

Regarding your concerns about injury, I don’t know of any conclusive evidence that a small grip causes injuries. There are certain other circumstantial concerns (poor stroking technique, string tension, weight of racquet) that would also need to be factored. Players do need to hold smaller grips a little more tightly, so that might enter into your precautionary recommendations. Again, each player (customer, for you) should be evaluated on an individual basis.

Q. This is my first year playing tennis for my high school team and I find myself breaking thirty-dollar strings every four days or so. I live in somewhat of a secluded area where sporting goods stores are an hour away. What kind of strings should I buy to save my time and money?

A. In terms of durability, you have a few options. You could choose to use what many players on the pro tour are playing with: polyester strings. They are a little more expensive but are durable. You could also consider playing with a hybrid (a combination of two strings). Try a Kevlar (or a Polyester) string for the mains (the main strings are the longer strings that run “north-south”) and a synthetic gut for the crosses.

A word of warning, Polyester or Kevlar strings play “harder” than a typical synthetic gut. This might feel jarring to your arm. Using a hybrid combination mitigates this effect. You might also consider dropping the tension by a few pounds.

A final alternative to prolong the lifespan of your strings is to use “string-savers” (or “string-a-lings” or “elasto-crosses”), which are tiny plastic pieces that fit between strings and prevent the “burning” from occurring. This burning is the major reason for string breakage. These devices are available at most Pro or Specialty Shops.

Q. Can you tell me how to put a grip on a racquet and how you know when you need a new grip?

A. Nearly every replacement grip and/or over grip comes with instructions on the back of the package. If these instructions seem unclear to you, then you might consider bringing your racquet to your local pro shop and let an expert put the new grip on for you.

As for when you should switch to a new grip, rely on your own feel. When it becomes uncomfortable, then switch to a new grip. Some professional players like to put a fresh over grip on during every changeover, while others like the grip to feel “worn in.” Again, it all depends on your own feel.

Q. I am a tradtional "serve and volley" tennis player and have tennis elbow. I wanted to know what is the best racquet for me? Which one is easier on my arm?

A. First, most any racquet can be made more “arm friendly” and even a frame that would be classified as “easy-on-the-arm” could lose those properties if strung with a stiff string, strung too tightly with any string type, or if the grip size was incorrect, or lost its’ tack. Weight and balance factor as well.

Generally speaking equipment guidelines for tennis elbow include:

* Oversize frame with proper grip-size and weight/balance

* A soft string at a slightly below recommended tension

* Keep both strings and grip fresh, by replacing often. White grips are a good idea. The white color shows grime (slippage) and reminds you to change. Otherwise you may not realize that you have to gradually grip tighter and tighter, and that off-center hits are exacerbating torque effects.

Bottom line-You need a qualified racquet technician to help you make frame and string selections, and then, customize them to you. Your teaching pro may offer suggestions on a frame model that suits your game style; but then it is up to your racquet technician to apply this suggestion in making that frame arm-friendly. All the major frame manufactures offer at least one model that would be considered arm-friendly.

Last but not least, arm rehab exercises are required. Biomechanical stroke alterations may also be needed. Don’t become over reliant on anti-inflammatory medications, but do ice any soreness after playing. Have you seen a medical professional trained in treating tennis elbow? If not do so, or you run the risk of turning a simple tendonitis into much more challenging tendonosis.

Get healthy and quick!

Q. I am a 4.0 player and wonder what string combination you recommend for an all court game.

A. When you say “combination”, I assume you are referring to using a hybrid of two different strings? This is common on the pro tour and among hard hitting players to reduce breakage and increase ball control. Typically some type of “poly” like the popular “Big Banger” is used in the main strings, which lasts longer, but also reduces power. The cross strings are usually a thinner gauge and more lively string, such as natural gut, or a high quality synthetic.

While hybrids are often pre-packaged together, it is also common among experienced players who have tried various combinations, to refine their selections of each string type and gauge, as well as the tension differences between the main and cross strings.

If excessive breakage is not an issue, and/or you are not a “big hitter” then a hybrid is probably not the way to go. Rather, use the most playable, thinnest gauge string you can afford. If you prefer lower tensions, go for a “soft string”. Players who suffer breakage issues will struggle to balance durability with playability, as these two factors are simply not congruous. Despite manufacturer dual claims of “great play…long lasting” there is a trade-off between these two properties.

A teaching pro that has seen you play, along with a racquet technician are your best resources for helping select specific strings, and then, how to tension relative to your frame and play style. Playing a “4.0 all-court game” is just one part of the play style equation. How hard do you hit your ground strokes? Are they hit with heavy topspin? Are you in need of more power, or better control?

Experiment and take notes and before long you’ll find the magic!

Q. I've been playing tennis for many years, am now in my "golden years" playing single matches 3 times per week. I hit with top spin and like a controlled hit and I don't have a lot of power. I've never been able to get correct information on racquet string tension. I've been using betwen 59-60 lbs. on an aversize raquet for years using nilon/plastic strings and have to hit too hard to get anywhere. Strings about 17 rating. Recently I had my racquet re-strung by an ATP pro. He used NEW string material, using 2 different tensions on horizontal and vertical strings, the tighter was 62lbs. It seems to work ok, and gives me a lot of control, but am not sure this is correct. I want to re-string my other racquets, but would like to be sure his information is correct.

A. Sounds like you are on the right path with your racquet technician. I suggest you play with the new string awhile before stringing the others. Doing this will enable you to offer better feedback to the technician on subsequent stringing.

Firmness from string tension is relative to the string type and how thick it is (gauge). Example: two strings of same type, but one of a thinner gauge. The thin gauge will feel tighter at the same tension. Now consider that different string types may tension very differently from one another, although they are the same gauge. Therefore, your old 59-60 lb tension, and the new tensions with a different string type are “apples and oranges.”

What you want to do is get the desired “feel”, and then you can lock-in on the string type, gauge and actual tensions. Often this takes a few string jobs to fully refine the specifics.

Q. I am a power-baseliner with a 110mph serve. I have great spin and can generate my own power. I currently use the Ksix one tour 90, and I love the control that it gives me. I need a back-up racquet in case I break my strings in a tournament again. What is the right racquet for me? Also, I strung my racquet with Wilson Champions Choice, the hybrid of Alu Power Rough and Natural Gut. I hated the durability and after three weeks, they broke. Do you have any Hybrid ideas for stringing my racquet?

A. You would definitely want at least two “matching” racquets.

Regarding string durability; pre-packaged Wilson hybrids are rated for durability in this order; Champion’s Choice, Ultimate Duo, NXT Duo, and Sensation Duo. Try the Ultimate or NXT, and if strings are still breaking too soon, then try the Sensation or a custom hybrid. Your USRSA certified racquet technician would have some suggestions regarding custom hybrid options.

Rough strings not only “bite” the ball more, they bite each other at perpendicular intersections, creating “sawing” effects, most notably from heavy topspin shifting the main strings. This sawing will usually break the main strings. However, if the crosses are significantly less durable in their construction properties, or strung tighter, they can break first. Natural gut is USRSA rated as lowest durability, yet highest playability. If the gut strings are breaking, and you want to try to continue using gut, try using a thicker gauge.

Since playability and durability are typically a trade-off situation; the basic goal, or concept, is to use the most playable string until breakage becomes unacceptable. Based upon what you have told me, two months would be a decent lifespan.

Q. I am thinking about getting a new racket, I am playing with a 7 or 8 year old Sledgehammer. Anyway, I am in my mid 50's, a woman and rated a 3.5. I have been testing an airflow by Head (blue one) and I like how it feels in my hand and I also like the lightness of the frame. I have enough power, but need better control for shot placement.

I have had tennis elbow in the past, but that is the only racket related thing I can think of that has effected my playing.

If you have some better rackets in mind for an old lady, I would be glad to listen.

A. I think this is probably a good selection. Have you play-tested a demo of that Head Air-Flow? Always a good idea to give a test drive before buying. The Air Flow series has two “blue” models (model three is 102” head and the model seven is 115”). The entire Air Flow series is designed for women, a racquet design trend that began in 2005 with the Wilson “W” Line series.

These female friendly racquets are generally lighter in weight, but balanced head heavy like your old Sledgehammer (why the “Hammer” series got its’ name). Women’s models are also softer in feel, have a wider yoke to stabilize and protect the arm from torque stress, and come in smaller grip sizes, not to mention more feminine cosmetics.

Q. I am looking for a racquet and I need your expertise. My qualities are as follows:

* Power Baseliner
* Powerful Serve
* Fast Swing
* Good Depth on shots
* Generate good spin
* Average Volley
* Powerful, Deep Forehand
* Spin oriented Backhand

I need a racquet that will give me good control, with a not so heavy feel. I would like the racquet to give some extra spin, and help with my volleys. I would also like it to help with my serves (second mostly). Can you recommend any racquets for me?

A. Your description suggests the type of frames used by many of the big hitting touring pros may suit you. If you can wait, new models are being released this spring. All the major manufacturers offer such frame types, often called “performance” or “players” product lines.

What you want is a frame that is between 90-100” head size, and perhaps, a slightly longer than 27 inches to add some pop to your serve. The frame should be balanced head-light, but not too light in overall weight (approx 10-11.5 oz unstrung). You may select a light frame, if you can get your racquet technician to add weight, while maintaining head-lightness by custom balancing the frame (what most pros do).

Bigger head-size will help your serve and volleys, adding power and increasing brush area for spin. Extra length increases head speed. The head-light balance helps maintain control during high swing speeds, however, always bear in mind, anything that increases power can reduce control (and vice versa).

Any frame with a more open string grid pattern will generate more spin and power, but reduces string life and control. These downsides can be offset by string selection…many pros use hybrids with durable, control oriented main-strings, and then a more lively cross string.

To best obtain the properties you desire, with minimum compromises, your frame selection will need to be tweaked by string selection/tension, and proper weight/balancing.

Q. I recently ordered a new racket. I've always have plenty of control, but am looking for a bit more power, which this racket (Volkl, DNX 2) is supposed to be able to provide. However, I know that I am going to be asked what tension I want. I hate to sound ignorant, but will less tension provide more power, or will more tension provide more power?

A. Lower tension = more power and higher tension = more control. Don’t forget to ask for a lively string (thin gauge natural gut is the most powerful).

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