This article takes a look at how to choose a tennis racquet that will suit your game. Think of it as a short buying guide, where I will break down what the specifications mean, what you need to look out for and I'll also make some recommendations for the best tennis racquets to buy in 2017.
Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to fall into the trap of buying a racquet just because their favourite player uses it or they fall in love with the idea of the “control” and “feel” that the racquet manufacturer promises in their advertising campaigns. In some scenarios that may work out just fine but it could lead you to buy the wrong racquet for your game.
Don't buy into the various marketing guff used by the manufacturers about how they have improved their new line of racquets tenfold this year to have more feel and control. A good racquet will last you 5 to 10 years if you take care of it. So like Apple and the iPhone, they have to dress up the advancements to make sure you part with your cash at more regular intervals.
I'm a beginner, what racquet should I buy?
The most common question on any tennis forum from beginners is what racquet I should buy? And the most common advice tends to say ‘buy the cheapest model when starting out'. I disagree with that as it will negatively impact your game and lessen your enjoyment of the sport.
If you're planning on playing once every blue moon then, by all means, pick up a bargain bucket racquet. But if you're looking to play frequently and get to a certain level then you might want to consider reading this guide.
That way you're not starting off with a flimsy racquet that could lead you to develop bad habits. Or feeling like you're never going to learn the sport correctly.
What Types of Racquet Are There?
Generally speaking, racquets can be broken down into three different types, and each type is then made up of 5 key attributes. I'll break down each category below, and I'll show some example racquets for each – they're ones I've used personally, heard positive things about from several sources or demoed.
1.) Beginner Racquets for Power and Game Improvement
Typically these are light rackets that feature large/oversized head sizes, around 107-135 inches. They also have a heavy head balance and are for players with short, slow swings who need the racquet to help them generate power.
Best Beginner Tennis Racquets:
|Racquet||Headsize||Unstrung Weight||String Pattern|
|Wilson Blade 98L||98 sq. in||265g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
|Wilson Pro Staff 97LS||97 sq. in||270g||18 x 16||View on Amazon|
|Yonex EZONE DR Lite||100 sq. in||270g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
|Babolat Pure Aero Lite||100 sq. in||270g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
|100 sq. in||265g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
|Wilson Burn 100LS||100 sq. in||280g||18 x 16||View on Amazon|
|Prince O3 Blue+||110 sq. in||265g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
|Head Graphene XT
Instinct REV Pro
|100 sq. in||255g||16 x 16||View on Amazon|
|Head Ti S6 Titanium||115 sq. in||225g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
2.) Intermediate Racquets – Inbetweeners
These are racquets, as the name suggests somewhere between beginner and advanced. They often blend features from the categories either side of them. Weight wise they are medium weight (9-11oz) usually slightly head light and have reasonably large (or mid plus) head sizes. They offer a tad less power than the beginner racquet but consequently provide more feel.
Best Tennis Racquets for Intermediate Players:
|Babolat Pure Aero
(My top pick)
|100 sq. in.||300g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
|Wilson Blade SW104||104 sq. in.||306g||18 x 29||View on Amazon|
Touch Instinct MP
|100 sq. in.||300g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
3.) Advanced rackets – Control Orientated Racquets
Advanced racquets are of course the type used by professional and high-level club players. They are typically heavier in weight (11.5-13+ ounces), have smaller heads sizes along with thinner and more flexible beams. The balance will usually be head light to keep the manoeuvrability. Advanced racquets are more suited to players who generate pace on the ball and need a lot of control.
Best Tennis Racquets for Advanced Players:
|Yonex EZONE DR 98
(My top pick)
|98 sq. in.||310g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
|Wilson Blade 98
16 x 19 Countervail
|98 sq. in.||304g||16 x 19||View on Amazon|
|Babolat Pure Strike
16 x 19
|98 sq. in.||305g||18 x 19||View on Amazon|
What Factors Do I Need To Consider When Buying a Racquet?
Throwing personal preferences for design out of the window there are only a few characteristics that you need to consider when buying a racquet:
- The weight of the racquet
- The string pattern of the racquet
- The balance of the racquet
- The stiffness of the racquet
- The head size of the racquet
That's it! Forget kevlar, basalt and the rest of the new materials. Those five things govern the playability of any racquet available today. Of course, the strings in the racquet make a huge difference, but that's another talking point.
Try to remember that one racquet manufacturer doesn't have access to technology that another one doesn't despite what they might tell you in their brochure.
If you play with a Wilson 95sq” and then a Dunlop 95sq” with similar specs and the same string you're not going to feel a whole world of difference. Sure you'll have your favourite, but it's unlikely to be a result of ‘modern technology'.
Weight of a Racquet
The weight of the racquet decides how powerful it's going to be. It also determines how it feels in hand and how easy it is to swing.
When it comes to the weight of the racquet, generally speaking, the heavier the racquet, the more power it has.
The other impact weight has the stability of the frame when you make contact with the ball. Again, it's simple physics, when there is more mass at the point of contact, there is less change in the stability of the racquet in your hand. As a result, heavier racquets feel more stable than lighter ones.
So what weight racquet should I buy? What is better – lighter or heavier? The answer here is it boils down to an individuals strength and conditioning.
The right weight tennis racquet will allow a player to swing equally on all the main points of contact. By that I mean it doesn't matter whether it's a shoulder high ball, or a low ball – you can accelerate the racquet with smaller muscle groups without fatiguing too quickly or losing efficiency.
For example, there's no point having a ridiculously heavy racquet that lets you blast winners on the forehand but tires you out when hitting high balls on the backhand. This will negatively impact all areas of your game and make you enjoy the sport less.
A lot of first-time players tend to opt for lighter racquets purely for the fact they feel easier to play with. This often hampers the way they develop their strokes as they never take a full swing at the ball.
If you are an adult male planning on playing regularly, then I'd recommend going for a reasonably heavy, head light (discussed in the balance section below) racquet somewhere between 30-320 grammes and balanced 5-12pts head light. For females it would be 290-310g, 3-8 pts headlight, 16×19 string pattern. With a 95-105 square inch head.
Remember skill level should not determine racquet weight so don't pick a light one just because you're new to the sport.
The Balance of the Racquet
The balance of a racquet relates to the weight distribution of the racquet and will either be head light, head heavy or evenly balanced.
I would always recommend using a head light racquet for any level of player. If you take a look at the pro game, you will be hard pushed to find any players in the top 500 that use a head heavy racquet, and there has to be a reason for that.
On paper head heavy sounds perfect as you get a lightweight racquet but with more weight where you make contact with the ball (more power) but as a result, you put the body under more stress which is likely to cause tennis elbow.
Less manoeuvrability and an increased chance of tennis related injury mean you should always go head light or at the very least evenly balanced.
The Stiffness of the Racquet
Stiffness relates to how much the racquet bends on impact with a ball and how that affects the power of a shot. A stiffer racquet bends less and thus allows more power. A flexible racquet bends more, resulting in less power as energy is lost from the ball.
Remember racquets don't work like catapults so if a frame bends back it doesn't return to its normal state quick enough to have any impact on the ball to propel it forwards.
Power aside the stiffness of a frame also relates to comfort and control, for this, I think it boils down to personal preference, and you won't find a whole lot of difference between most frames on the market even if they do have different stiffness ratings.
The String Pattern of the Racquet
The string pattern primarily affects the amount of spin a player can impart on the ball, which in turn affects the durability or life of the string.
The most common you'll see are 16 x 19 or 18 x 20. Those denote the amount of string on the main strings (horizontal) and the cross strings (vertical).
A looser string pattern, like the 16 x 19 allows a player to impart more spin on the ball than compared to a denser one (18 x 20). That's because there's more space between the strings, so they move more and snap back into place, all other things being equal.
A denser string pattern will usually mean increased durability of the string as there's less movement on the strings and therefore less abrasion so less spin.
I recommend a 16 x 19 pattern for most players as you'll have easier access to topspin.
The Head Size of the Racquet
Strictly speaking the larger the racquet head size, the more power a player will be able to generate with all other things being equal.
However, that's not to say a 100sq” racquet will produce significantly more power than a 90sq”.
The main benefit to a larger head size is that they provide more forgiveness on off centre hits, without giving a science lesson this is because the larger head size means, the less the racquet twists on impact due to the distribution of weight across the stringbed.
As usual, there is some trade off as a larger head size will result in less control as it becomes harder to yield and manoeuvre the way you want.
For an adult male, I would always recommend a head size of between 95sq” and 100sq”. Any less and you risk struggling against consistent baseliners, and any more will result in a lack of control or manoeuvrability.
My Top Tips for Selecting a Tennis Racquet
- Do read racquet reviews, I've reviewed some of the best tennis racquets here.
- If you're planning on spending good money, demo the racquet first.
- Speak to people who play the game and ask for advice, contact me if you need any help.
- Don't underestimate how much of a difference string and string tension make to how a racquet performs.
- Don't buy a racquet just because your favourite pro uses it
What Racquet Specs Do You Recommend?
For a typical adult male, you should be looking at a frame between 300-320g, 5-12pts headlight, with a 16×19 string pattern and a 95-100 square inch head.
For a typical adult female, I recommend 290-310g, 3-8 pts headlight, 16×19 string pattern. With a 95-105 square inch head.
If you have any questions, post them here too.