Many people are unaware that you even can replace the bumper guard and grommets on your racket and in some cases that is true. However, taking a quick look at tennis warehouse reveals hundreds of grommet kits for most modern, popular, high end rackets. In this article we’ll discuss what grommet replacement is, why it’s important, how frequently you should do it, and a few tips and tricks if you’re doing it yourself (a lot of times it is not easy as it looks).
What are Grommets and Bumper Guards?
Simply put the little plastic holes the strings go through are the grommets and the bumper guard is the plastic material that connects the grommets together and/or larger covers of plastic to protect the frame, most commonly the head, from direct exposure to the ground. You may notice on older rackets you have grommets missing. You can attempt to buy generic individual grommets (they come in different lengths and diameters) to fill in the gaps or cut your own length of nylon tubing. Replacing missing grommets reduces the likelihood of premature string breaks caused by friction of the string against the racket directly. For newer frames you will likely just buy a full replacement set for your make and model of racket and then replace all the grommets and bumper guard in one go. These grommet sets are typically made up of 4-6 pieces and a bumper guard but every racket will vary.
When should you replace your Grommets and Bumper Guard?
Whenever you see grommets getting really distorted or splitting (causing the string to push directly against the frame) or when the bumper guard has been worn down to a point where the frame is exposed. It goes without saying that you need to remove all the strings before taking out the old grommets and replacing them.
For some players who break strings infrequently and rarely hit the frame against the ground this could theoretically be years. But one thing you will notice is the bumper guard deteriorating naturally. Just rub your finger across the head of your racket. Odds are it is not smooth and slick like it was off the shelf. You don’t need to panic and typically the bumper guard starts showing signs of wear really early on (like within a few sessions). In those cases where everything is deteriorating naturally and you mainly play on indoor hard courts you could easily wait 3 or 4 years or simply never need to change it. If you primarily play on clay outdoors you’ll want to replace it every year or so just so all the clay particles can get cleaned out in the grommet holes and under the bumper guard. Especially har tru can build up and get caked on pretty good.
For players that do tend to hit the ground on slices or on volleys and play in harsher weather conditions you’ll need to replace your grommets more frequently. With my aero pro I replace the bumper guard and grommets every couple of restrings because that’s the amount of time it takes for me to wear down the bumper guard and expose the frame. In theory I wouldn’t need to replace all the grommets but I do just because they come in the pack.
Grommet Replacement Tips and Tricks
Grommet replacement may at first seem easy but it is typically quite a tricky procedure if you’re doing it for the first time. Here are some things to consider and try if you’re struggling.
- Take Your Time – Do not attempt to replace your grommets and restring your racket a couple of hours before you are going to play. This sounds silly but sometimes it will not go to plan and having time pressure will not help things
- Have an Awl, Flat Edge Screwdriver, Thin Cloth, and Hair Dryer Ready to Go – We’ll talk about where and when you’ll need these tools. It’s possible to just do it with your fingers but it can be incredibly difficult
- Try pushing with your fingers at the center points of the racket, head, sides, throat
- Use the flat edge of a screwdriver or a starting clamp to push down on grommets to try and get stubborn grommets to go through the frame.
- Once loosened up use an awl (Being careful not to scratch the frame) to get in between the grommets and then apply pressure straight down to pop them out fully
- Loosen up as many grommets as you can before pulling. It is easy to yank too hard and then split the grommet (if this happens you can sometimes use needle nose pliers) to pull the split part through the inside of the racket.
- After the grommets are removed, lay them out on a table around your racket and open up your new pack and match up the grommets so there is no confusion about direction when you install the new grommets (sounds silly but it can be confusing with some rackets).
Grommet and Bumper Guard Installation
- Start with the throat and head before doing the sides. Often times side and head grommets will go inside the bumper guard and from personal experience it always tends to work better by starting in the head.
- Use a thin cloth to help push grommets against frame. I have torn up many a thumb being stubborn about this. If you can’t get the grommet all the way through check to see if when you string you’d be pulling the grommet into place. If that’s the case do not waste too much time or destroy your thumbs trying to get it all the way through.
- When installing the actual grommets use a blow dryer to heat up the grommets to make them stretch easier/be more flexible. Just be careful not to do it for too long because it is possible to melt the grommets.
- Take Your Time. Just to reiterate take your time and try to line up as many of the grommets through the holes as you can before you start to apply pressure and push them through. You’ll find it can be easy to get grommets started but then reach the end and have it be almost impossible. For this same reason it’s also useful to try and start from the center of each grommet piece and work you way to the outside.
- Use Your Awl. The awl can be used on both the inside and outside of the frame to try and align the grommet with the holes. You can apply a decent amount of pressure but if you feel like your really raking it go back to previous or later grommets to see if that helps with the one your struggling with.
When Stringing For the First Time After Replacement
- You may need to apply pressure with your fingers to the outside of the frame at a couple of points to ensure grommet does not slip back through. This is something you’ll learn the hardway the first time. If you need to release tension and pull again do that to ensure grommets don’t get sucked into the frame. With experience you’ll know exactly where this will happen (typically the second to last or last main pull in the throat).
When you can’t find replacement grommets for your racket
When buying a new racket or when stocking up on the racket of your choice make sure you also do a little research to see if replacement grommets are easy for you to purchase. If they are purchase a bunch. They tend to be readily available until suddenly they are not. For older rackets or for rackets that don’t have replacement sets you don’t have tons of options. The readily available option is head protection tape. A few different companies make it and this tape goes over your bumper guard at the head of the racket. I’m not a big fan of this stuff but if your bumper guard is really worn down and you can’t get a replacement it can offer some protection. For certain rackets (like the Pure Aero) whose design leaves strings in the head exposed this tape can even be useful over new bumper guards. If you have a lot of premature string breaks within your bumper guard range you should consider protective head tape. Keep in mind that it can alter the balance of the racket slightly.