Certainly, there are a lot of factors that contribute to whether you hit the ball like Roger Federer or Serena Williams—or whether you can hit the ball at all for that matter—but as is the case in most sports, the equipment plays a big part in how well you play the game.
In the past several decades tennis racquets have undergone some significant changes. From the size of the racquet and the materials it’s made with, right down to the way it’s strung; just about every aspect of the racquet has seen some technological advancement.
Let’s talk about size first. Unlike years ago, when there was typically only one racquet size, today, there are four distinct head size classifications: mid-size (95 square-inches and below); mid-plus (100-107 square-inches); oversized (108-120 square-inches); and super-oversized (122 square-inches or larger). So, what does this mean to the average player? Put simply, the bigger the head size, the larger the “sweet spot”, and thus, the better the chances of hitting the ball cleaner and perhaps even farther.
That said, according to John Rapson, Wilson Territory Manager for Michigan and Ohio, these days, head sizes are actually getting smaller.
“Ten years ago,” says Rapson, “there were a lot of 135 square-inch racquets. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s over 120.” In fact, Rapson says that today, a lot of players are gravitating toward racquets with a 103-110 square-inch head size, as they are less bulky and more aerodynamic.
In addition to head size, the balance point—head-heavy or head-light—and grip size of racquets have also changed. A head-heavy racquet (which, if held by the shaft would feel heavier toward the face) provides more power on serves and groundstrokes, while a head-light racquet (which would feel lighter toward the face) provides more control. Either balance point can be easily changed to fit a person’s style of play.
Like the racquet balance, the grip size (also easily customized) can affect play style, so care should be taken when choosing one to fit your hand and stroke.
“Racquets have become a lot more forgiving,” says Mike Graff, ASPTA and Director of Programming and Operations for Baseline Tennis in Michigan. “With larger sweet spots, vibration dampening and technology that affects how the racquet responds to off-center hits, the average player is going to have a much more enjoyable game.”
Now, let’s talk about materials. Do you remember the tennis racquets from the days of Bobby Riggs, Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King? Chances are, they were made of wood. That alone caused a number of inconsistency problems—the most common of which was warping. Gradually, manufacturers started designing racquets with metals like aluminum and titanium, and soon after materials like boron, graphite, ceramics and composites were used. While each material had its own advantageous qualities, ultimately consumers gravitated toward ceramics and graphite because they were lightweight, stiff and had excellent vibration reduction.
According to Rapson, while graphites and carbons are the still the most widely used materials—Wilson uses a hyper carbon graphite material called [K]arophite Black in most of their racquets—these days the trend in the marketplace is actually toward a heavier racquet.
“The sub-10 ounce frame is out of vogue,” says John. “You have a more stable feel with a heavier racquet, and if you hit the ball off center, it doesn’t twist or torque as much as with a lighter one.”
In addition to the size and composition of the racquet, the type of string and the way it is strung has a lot to do with what happens when you hit the ball. A lot has changed with regards to strings—namely the fact that the earliest ones were made from cow intestines—but with time and improved technology, manufacturers have been able to create synthetic strings that are designed to produce more spin, power and durability. Generally speaking, tighter strings give you more control when hitting, while looser strings give you more power.
Ironically, with all of the technological advancements in the industry and with so many ways to customize a racquet to fit your game, these days many of the pros play with “off the shelf” racquets. From Federer and the Williams sisters, to Feliciano Lopez and Pete Sampras—who currently plays with a Wilson KPS 88—the same racquets that are making their way to Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are also being used on neighborhood courts and in tennis clubs across the U.S.
So, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just getting into the game, with so many high-tech racquets available today you’re sure to find a Love Match.
-Tennis is My Racquet
*To receive Dunham’s coupons and information on new products, events and sales, sign up for Dunham’s Rewards.