If you have ever looked at the specs of a tennis racquet, be it in tablature form on a website, or printed on the throat of the racquet in a store, you'll have seen specs such as “8 PTS Head Light”, “2 PTS Head Heavy” or “320mm balance”.
These numbers relate to the balance of a tennis racquet, and a frame can fall into one of the following categories:
- Head Light
- Head Heavy
- Even Balanced
But what difference does the balance make? Is head heavy better than head light, or vice versa? What do the pros use? Let's take a look.
What is the Balance of a Tennis Racquet?
The balance of a racquet relates to how weight is distributed throughout the frame and where that weight is located.
The balance point itself is the point on the racquet where if it was resting on a thin piece of half-inch dowel on a table, neither the head of the racquet or the handle would be touching the surface of the table. If you have ever tried to balance a pen horizontally on the tip of your finger, this the same concept.
Going back to racquets, if you have a standard 27″ tennis racquet, and rest it on a piece of dowel at 13.5″ and it balances, then the racquet is said to have an even balance.
If you needed to move the dowel closer to the head of the racquet to get it to balance, this would be a head heavy racquet. If you needed the to move it closer to the handle, this would be a head light frame.
Although the names make it sound like the handle would be heavier than the hoop, this does not actually mean one end is lighter or heavier than the other.
It just means that mass of the materials is distributed in a way that the shorter half of the racquet (in relation to the dowel or whatever pivot you are using) behaves heavier. Lower weight at a great distance from the balance point will counter balance a heavier mass at a lesser distance from the balance point.
The Three Racquet Balance Types Explained
If most of the weight is concentrated in the handle of the racquet, then the racquet will be described as head-light. Whereas, if more weight is concentrated in the head, it’s called head-heavy.
If the distribution is in the middle it’s called even balanced. But let's break down each one and look at the advantages and disadvantages.
Head Light Tennis Racquets
With head light racquets, the weight of the racquet is greater toward the handle and this helps make the racquet more manoeuvrable.
Generally speaking they tend to be heavier in static weight than head heavy frames to ensure they are able to produce enough power.
You will find that 99.99% of ATP pros use a head light racquet and to my knowledge, there isn't a single player in the top 100 that is not using a head light (or at the very least evenly balanced) frame.
The reason here is two fold, most pros are playing with short, fast swings and need their racquet to be easy to swing in fast paced rallies and up at the net.
Their technique and racquet head speed mean they have no issue generating power so it makes little sense to wield something that is head heavy and produces more power than needed.
The other key element here is injury prevention. When more mass is placed in the head of the racquet, you're applying more torque on the joints of the body. This can lead to wrist and elbow problems.
Imagine swinging a racquet that has more weight in the head like an axe for three hours every day of the week, and you'll soon realise why they aren't good on the arm.
Head Heavy Racquets
Head heavy racquets see more of the weight distributed in the head of the racquet. This gives a racquet more power potential as there's more mass directly behind the ball at contact.
In general, head heavy racquets have a lower static weight than a head light frame. At first glance, this often sounds like a good thing, you can get a lighter racquet that offers more power than a heavier, head light frame.
However there are some big trade offs. Firstly, a head heavy racquet is far less manouverable than a head light frame.
They are harder to swing and harder to control. If you play with one that's extremely biased towards the head, it feels like the racquet is controlling you.
For an extreme example, swing an axe in the normal way, then flip it around and swing it by holding it from the blade end, you will quickly see how much more manouverable it is.
The second is the reason I mentioned above – injuries. Head heavy racquets put far more strain on the wrist, elbow and shoulder. This is why you see few (if any) top players using them.
In fact, Carlos Moya is the only player I know of who's specs came in head heavy. If you know any others, let me know in the comments.
So if no pros are using them who are head heavy racquets for? In my opinion, not many players are going to be well suited to head heavy frames.
They're often sold as beginner racquets as they give easy access to power, but why give a beginner a piece of equipment that prevents them from developing proper strokes and increases their chances of suffering tennis-related injuries. It doesn't really make sense.
To that end, they're only really suitable for players who are struggling to generate their own power. That's why some older players with slower swings tend to go for head heavy to ensure they can hit the ball with enough pace to get it over the net consistently.
Even Balanced Racquets
A balanced, or equal balance racquet, is one where the weight of the tennis racquet is distributed equally throughout the frame. It would balance at 13.5″ assuming it was a standard 27″ racquet and be 0 points head light.
So does this bring the best of both worlds? A racquet that offers plenty of power in the head, but is still easy enough to swing?
To some players, this may be the case. But it boils down to personal preference. I personally find even balanced racquets to sit in no man's land. They're still quite difficult to swing after playing for extended periods and in some ways it's like you nullified the benefits of head light or head heavy. So for me the sweetspot has always been no less than 4 PTS HL.
While there are some pros that are using close to even balance frames, the vast majority use head light balances and I think that has to tell you something.
There is a bit of a minsconception around certain players too, many fans for example think Sampras used an even balance racquet becaus he added lead at 3 and 9 on the racquet.
However his frame was was 6 points head light and I don't think you could volley like Sampras with an even or head heavy racquet.
Information like this usually stems for little tidbits shared in commentary like “Rafa has added weight to the head of his racquet” which instantly makes you think he's using a head heavy frame. This is not the case as the weight is often counterbalanced with a tailweight.
How To Measure the Balance of a Tennis Racquet
There are three ways you can measure the balance of point of a tennis racquet:
- Using an RDC Machine or similar
- Using a balance board (pictured above)
- Using a DIY method (explained here)
If you're just looking for a quick test, without getting a measurment in centimetres and then converting to points, just try to balance the racquet on your finger, you'll quickly be able to see where the bias is.
However, if you want a more exact method then can use one of the three methods above. Watch the video below to see the balance board method:
This gives you a measurement in inches or centimetres. You can then compare that to the chart below get a ‘points' head light or head heavy number.
How Does the Head Light Points System Work?
Each ‘point' of balance is 1/8″ either toward the head or toward the handle from the racquet's measured halfway point.
A standard 27″ racquet's mid point is at 13.5″, so if that frame is 8 points HL, the balance point will be 12.5″ from the end of the grip. If the same 27″ racquet is 4 points head-heavy, its balance point will be 14.0″ from the bottom of the grip.
The following table applies to a standard 27″ racquet:
|10 Points HH||14.75||37.47|
|9 Points HH||14.625||37.15|
|8 Points HH||14.5||36.83|
|7 Points HH||14.375||36.51|
|6 Points HH||14.25||36.20|
|5 Points HH||14.125||35.88|
|4 Points HH||14||35.56|
|3 Points HH||13.875||35.24|
|2 Points HH||13.75||34.93|
|1 Point HH||13.625||34.61|
|0 Points HL||13.5||34.29|
|1 Point HL||13.375||33.97|
|2 Points HL||13.25||33.66|
|3 Points HL||13.125||33.34|
|4 Points HL||13||33.02|
|5 Points HL||12.875||32.70|
|6 Points HL||12.75||32.39|
|7 Points HL||12.625||32.07|
|8 Points HL||12.5||31.75|
|9 Points HL||12.375||31.43|
|10 Points HL||12.25||31.12|
|11 Points HL||12.125||30.80|
|12 Points HL||12||30.48|
|13 Points HL||11.875||30.16|
How Balance Affects Swingweight
Two racquets that weigh the same (have the same static weight on a scale) may have very different swingweights because of the way the mass is distributed. More mass to the head of the racquet, such as by adding lead tape, will increase the swingweight.
Take a look at the two racquets below of identical specs aside from their balance. There's an 11g difference in swingweight:
|Head Gravity MP Graphene 360+||Wilson Clash 100|
|Head Size||100 sq. in||100 sq. in|
|Length||27 in||27 in|
|Balance||3 PTS HL||7 PTS HL|
Examples of Head Light Racquets
Here are some of the most head light frames you can buy in stock form:
|ProKennex Kinetic Pro 7g Midplus||9 PTS HL|
|Wilson Pro Staff RF97 Autograph||9 PTS HL|
|Wilson Clash 100 Tour||9 PTS HL|
|Yonex VCORE 98 (305)||6 PTS HL|
|Yonex EZONE 98||6 PTS HL|
Examples of Head Heavy Racquets
And some of the more extreme head heavy racquets you can buy.
|Head Titanium TI.S6||8 PTS HH|
|Wilson Triad XP3||6 PTS HH|
|Head Graphene 360 Instinct PWR||10 PTS HH|
|Gamma RZR Bubba Racquets||7 PTS HH|
|Prince Textreme Warrior 100L||5 PTS HH|
Examples of Even Balance Racquets
Finally, even balance. Anything under 4 PTS HL fits into the more even balance category of frame.
|Babolat Pure Aero Lite||0pts EB|
|ProKennex Ki 15 (260)||0pts EB|
|Prince Textreme Premier 105||1pts HL|
|Wilson Burn 100S||1pts HL|
|Babolat Pure Drive 110 (2018)||1pts HL|
How To Alter The Balance of a Tennis Racquet
The balance of the racquet can be altered in a number of ways such as by adding lead tape to the head, or by injecting silicon in to the handle.
Some players choose to do this themselves or instead use a specialist racquet customisation firm like Priority1 who look after several top pros including Federer. We'll be looking at how to customise a tennis racquet in an upcoming post.
What is Better: Head Light or Head Heavy?
When it comes to the balance of a racquet, there is no doubt about it: head light is better.
A head-light racquet has significantly lower forces from impact. Torque and shock on the shoulder, elbow and wrist are all reduced. All while the racquet can still possess a high mass and high swing weight. Head-heavy racquets, on the other hand, increase the risk of tennis elbow because of their high Moment and high torque.
Another reason head light wins the day is manoeuvrability, the racquet is more comfortable to position for volleys and returns, and is not heavy to swing all afternoon.
While there's no doubt some players out there will prefer to head heavy frames; I don't see them as a viable option for the vast majority of players.
What balance of racquet do you use? Does it play a big part when you buy a racquet? Let me know in the comments.