Racket Buying Guide

Tennis Racket Buying Guide (Ages 12-60)

This is a generic guide to buying a racket if you’re a healthy adult (12 and up) under the age of 60. If you need specific advice or have “special concerns” please contact me.

The racket buying process doesn’t need to be drawn out or confusing. This is a method that I’ve been recommending to people for a few years now and it seems to be the most efficient way to find the right frame for you. There are hundreds of rackets out there but you’ll notice that only a handful of rackets are commonly used and most of those rackets (technically speaking) are very similar to one another. This guide is quite flexible and will work for players (of any skill) looking to invest in a new frame.

*The links I’m using are purely out of convenience. I’m not affiliated with any company. I recommend you shop around to find the best deals.

Excuses

Don’t blame the equipment and get tricked into wasting a lot of $ on rackets. I can understand trying out a lot of different strings, grips, shoes, or apparel but not rackets. You want to find something you’re comfortable with and stick to it. Plus sized models. Lite models, Tour models, etc are for the most part consumer traps or for very specific cases (not the point of this guide). There specs are a little bit different but in most cases the benefits to most players are negligible. You might think you’re game has been transformed when you try one of these rackets but it’s probably more general improvement or placebo effect than it is the different model racket. We all learn the hard way but we eventually all come to same conclusion. It’s not the racket it’s the player. In some cases it may be the strings but it’s not the racket assuming you follow this guide and select the racket you feel most comfortable with.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

One of the most common customer situations you encounter working in a pro shop goes something like this… “I haven’t played tennis since high school (10 or 20 years) and I’m looking to get back into it. I’ve signed up for a beginner’s clinic and I brought my old racket assuming that would be fine. The instructor told me I should get a new one… and here am I.”

Clearly a lot of people go through this every year. Whether this is your situation or you’re a complete beginner I recommend the following approach. You’re racket from the 70’s, 80’s, or early 90’s (even if it was really expensive at the time) is not going to suite the way you’re taught to hit the ball in the 2016 (fast swing through contact). Even a $30 racket is going to be more effective. There are a few ways you can tackle this scenario.

Demo a racket or a Borrow a racket.

If you’re taking a clinic at a private or commercial club they probably have modern rackets you can demo (borrow) while you’re playing in the clinic. Some places will charge you, some places will trust you, and some places will take some kind of ransom (your drivers license or something). If you’re taking the lessons with a private coach you can ask to borrow one of their rackets. The downside is they probably have a string in the frame that’s not going to suit a beginner.

Or maybe you’re playing tennis because all of your friends play. A lot of people get into tennis for this exact reason. Ask you’re most obsessed tennis friend if you can borrow one of their rackets (they probably have more than they need).

Or finally, buy a cheap frame with strings included ($30 to $70)

This isn’t about being cheap it’s just logical. Even the low end models are going to be better to play with than your racket from the 80’s. All these rackets are pre strung with a cheap synthetic gut that works well for beginners and is easy on the arm. Normally you’ll have to go to a big box store to find these rackets. If you prefer to order online you can, but the best case scenario is just go into the store, swing a few rackets, and pick the one you like the feel of best (yes it’s that simple). If the racket has different grip sizes repeat the process and pick the grip size that feels the best (more on grip sizes later). One other thing to take note of is how fast you can swing with the racket. Despite most rackets having approximately the same weight that weight can be distributed in different ways. Again it’s more of a feel thing but you want to make sure you can comfortably swing pretty fast.

The reason you don’t need to break the bank at this point is because there’s no guarantee you’re going to keep playing tennis after the clinic finishes. A lot of players realize tennis is frustrating and hard and so they quit (totally understandable). This racket is the test drive. It’s good enough to learn the modern technique and to get your feet wet playing tennis. When you decide that you want to continue playing that’s the time to invest in a good racket. You might get hooked after one week or maybe it will take 8 or 16. But when you’re 100% sure tennis is something you want to get into you might as well do the things that will help you the most. One of those things is picking a racket early on and sticking with it.

Picking the Racket (Brand)

If you’re an able bodied adult there’s no reason to over complicate things just for the sake of it. Don’t do a ton of research because you’ll just end up confusing yourself.

You’ll need to find a demo program that let’s you try at least 3 different brands. Many clubs will only stock one brand so if you have to go online and use something like tennis warehouse by all means do it. One plus about tennis warehouse is that the stringing is usually pretty consistent…typically everything has synthetic gut and they do an OK job of restringing these rackets when they get wore down.

SIDEBAR… Strings often impact “playability” more than the racket. If you demo rackets with wildly different strings it’s hard to make a fair comparison. You may end up preferring a racket because of the strings. Consistency is key.

My recommendation is demo the “mid level” model of the popular brands and if you want to be adventurous throw in a lesser known company. 3 tends to be a good number… not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Here would be first 3 recommendations (Let me know if/when the links go down)

Babolat Pure Drive

Wilson Burn (or Steam)

Head Graphene XT Radical S

If you need help with lesser-known brands please contact me and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Every company (Babolat, Wilson, etc) has a distinct “feel”  with their rackets that tends to penetrate all models. Sort of like how you might prefer the way Nike shoes fit compared to Adidas. Therefore you should get a sense almost immediately of which company you like “the feel” of the most. That’s the point of this first demo session. Once you choose don’t look back or second guess yourself. Only repeat the process if you hate the feel of all 3 (unlikely). The truth is if you stick with a racket for long enough you’ll come to like it.

Picking the Racket (Model)

Once you’ve picked the brand you’ll need to pick the model. There’s a good chance you’ll prefer what you just demoed. For example the pure drive is incredibly popular and works for beginners and professionals alike.

Let’s imagine that you preferred the feel of the Babolat. The next 3 rackets you’ll want to demo are…

Pure Drive

AeroPro Drive

Pure Aero

If you liked Wilson the rackets would be…

Steam

Burn

Blade

Juice (not sure how much longer they’ll make this frame)

In this case it’s 4. Even if you’re a huge Roger Federer fan I wouldn’t recommend the RF Pro Staff if you’re a beginner. It’s unlikely going to work for you. You can try the model Dimitrov uses if you must.

If you need information about other brands please contact me and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. So again the process is very simple. You test out these rackets and go with the one you like the feel of the most.

Grip Size

Smaller grip = more spin potential/faster swing. A lot of professionals have dropped grip size for this reason. You are not professional and therefore should always go with what feels comfortable. For most adults that’s going to be between 4 1/4 to 4 1/2. Smaller hand = smaller grip size. It’s hard to go wrong with 4 3/8.

No Excuses Part 2

When you’ve made your decision and purchased a racket don’t look back (at least not for a few years). Remember that it’s the strings that really affect play-ability. A lot of people buy a racket they demoed and then complain it’s not as good as the demo. It’s not the racket that’s changed it’s the strings! I would actually recommend that you spend more time thinking about strings (tinkering with tension and material) than you do thinking about the racket.

So as you see picking a racket is actually very simple despite all the options out there. Even though you might feel a little lame going with the uber popular option there’s a reason these rackets are so popular. People like the feel of them. Lite or Plus models promise a lot of things but in most cases sticking with the original will benefit your game the most (no adjustments). Of course if you have injury/health concerns you’re racket buying process will change. But in general this is a no nonsense method that will take the headache out of researching and purchasing your first racket.

Used Rackets

Proceed with caution! I’d only recommend buying a used racket from a friend or trusted retailer assuming they allow you to try it out first. Rackets can be mistreated in all sorts of ways and just because there’s no visible damage doesn’t mean that damage hasn’t been done. For example someone could leave their racket in the trunk of their car throughout a brutal summer. The racket will appear totally fine but of course the damage has been done. Many retailers will sell used rackets with a no refund policy (as is). I would be very cautious about that. A retailer won’t purchase any rackets with “visible” problems but they certainly aren’t play testing every used racket they’re looking to flip.

Ebay is another avenue I would caution against. There are tons of counterfeit Babolat and Wilson frames floating around out there (I got tricked and learned the hard way). Don’t make the same mistake I did. If the deal looks too good to be true it probably is.

Think about your racket as an investment. If you treat it well you won’t need to buy another for at least 5 years. The racket I primarily use is at least 6 years old and I have no complaints (although I am finally in the market for a new one). Buying a used frame from an unreliable source is risky and likely will result in you having to purchase a new racket earlier than you might have initially anticipated.