If you've read any of my other guides on equipment and tennis racquets, you'll know I'm a big fan of demoing a racquet before you splash the cash on buying it outright.
That's because a racquet demo program is an excellent way of getting a feel for a racquet without risking buying something you don't like. Online reviews and feedback from other users are undoubtedly useful to narrow down your choices but hitting with a frame beforehand is far better.
Most major tennis retailers and local racquet shops (sadly dwindling) offer a demo program where you can select several racquets, get them shipped to your home (or collect in-store), use them for a week or two and then send them back. No strings attached 🙂
But how do you make the most of a demo racquet for a week? Are there some things to look out for and pitfalls to avoid? Let's take a look.
The Problem With Demo Racquets
While demo racquets are a great idea, there is one problem. The vast majority of demo racquets will come with a string setup that you have no control over. This could be a dead poly that's been used several times by previous racquet demos which means the racquet will not play well.
Or it might even be freshly strung with a synthetic gut, but if that's not the string you like or use so you won't get the exact feel you'd get had you bought it and strung it yourself.
Can I Restring a Demo Racquet With My Own Setup?
Restringing a demo racquet very much depends on the retailer, but in most cases, it's not a problem and I would hazard a guess most retailers wouldn't even realise. For example, Tennis Warehouse says the following:
We don't have an official policy regarding restringing TW demos. While we don't recommend it, if you do choose to re-string the demo, you take full liability if anything happens to the demo during the re-stringing Tennis Warehouse Demo Racquet Policy
In my opinion, if you're a fairly serious player that understands types of tennis strings and how they can affect your game, then you should restring demo racquets with your own string and tension.
The thing to be aware of is that every time you put a racquet in a stringing machine, then you do risk damaging the frame due to the forces exerted when pulling strings to the required tension.
If you decide to restring a demo racquet, please use a competent racquet technician that will do a high-quality job.
Yes, there's extra cost involved, but the strings change the playability of a racquet a lot. For example, if you use a full bed of RPM blast in your existing racquet, a demo racquet that comes with Wilson NXT (like the Tennis Warehouses program) will feel vastly different.
How Many Racquets Should You Demo?
I recommend demoing around three or four frames to get a decent enough sample size. You could then narrow it down to two racquets that you like and re-demo them if you are not sure before picking your preferred choice.
Doesn't Demoing Racquets Just Create Extra Expense?
Yes, it certainly creates an extra expense, but if you are playing tennis often and seriously, then it's worth the extra hassle and cost to get the most suitable racquet for your game. It's more expensive to keep buying the wrong racquet only to replace it six months later.
How Do I Know Which Racquets To Demo?
There are literally thousands of different tennis racquets on the market, so how do you know which to demo?
Generally speaking, if you want a new racquet, you will fall into the following categories:
- I like my current setup, but my existing frame is no longer available.
- I have changed my playing style, and my racquet is no longer suitable for my new style of play.
- I am looking to reduce the amount of arm strain or injury that I am experiencing with my existing racquet
- I am looking to increase the overall power, control or spin associated with my game.
For those who like their existing setup and see no reason to change, then choosing is fairly easy. Just find a handful of racquets that fall within very similar specs of what you currently use. Look for a similar weight, head size, string pattern, swing weight and stiffness. Of course, you can experiment by mixing in a slightly lighter or heavier racquet to see if you find any advantages.
If you have changed playing style, then that's a whole different post. I've written a guide here on choosing a tennis racquet which will give you some pointers. If you are looking for advice, leave a comment below telling me what racquet you are currently using, what you think the downsides to it are, and what you are looking for in a new frame and I will try help.
If your current frame is causing you physical problems with tennis elbow, wrist or shoulder, then the first thing you should do is try a softer string such a natural gut or a multifilament. Maybe that solves all your problems, but if the problem persists, you should switch racquets. I've written a guide on racquets for senior players which also caters for those looking for more forgiving frames. One thing to note is much of the reasoning behind which racquets are good for tennis elbow is anecdotal and what helps one player might hinder another.
Finally, if you are looking for more power, spin, control etc., then you have a few things to think about. Want more power? A heavier racquet will offer that but go too heavy, and you suffer when on the stretch. Want more control? A denser string pattern can help. Want more spin? A looser string pattern offers more spin.
How To Demo a Tennis Racquet
The first time I demoed a racquet, I hit with it for half an hour and thought “that feels good, definitely better than what I'm using at the minute, I've found the racquet for me.”
However, that's not the best approach as just because racquet feels good after 15 minutes of hitting, doesn't mean it's the one you should buy.
While the racquet demo process can never be scientific, I recommend making it a bit more methodical to get a good comparison. So while there's more than one way to do this, I do the following:
- Don't demo a new racquet after a hiatus from tennis. If you haven't hit for a few weeks then get back into the swing of things with your existing racquet so when its time to demo you aren't rusty.
- When it's time to test, take your 3 or 4 demo racquets to the courts as you will use them all across one hitting sessions.
- Have a quick warm-up with your existing racquet to get a feel for how you are playing and striking the ball.
- After 10 mins, pick up a demo frame and hit some casual groundstrokes with it in what is basically another warm-up. Move up to the net, take some volleys, hit some overheads and then hit a few serves. Once you have done this, play some ten-point tie breaks to get a feel for how the racquet feels in competitive play.
- Before you move to the next racquet, take a few notes about the impressions of the racquet and what you liked and didn't like.
- You then rinse and repeat the same process for the other 2 or 3 demo racquets including the casual hitting before moving onto some tie breaks. This gives you a comparative framework to judge each racquet.
- Try to avoid only having one hitting session with each frame; ideally, you should repeat the exact process above two days after the initial hit. This should then be followed narrowing down your choice to just 2 racquets and having a third hit before you have to return them.
- While you want the same hitting partner for the duration of each test, try to hit with a different player when you hit with the racquets for the second and third time. Each player hits a different ball, and you want to test each frame against differing styles.
- If you are blessed with a lot of free time and a keen hitting partner, you could even test one racquet each day for a more extended period, but not everyone has that luxury.
When it's time to return the racquets, consult your notes and figure out where you are at. Do you want to test more? Do you want to re-demo one specific frame? Do you have some questions for the retailer or a second opinion from a coach or racquet technician? Or are you ready to buy? Either way, sooner or later, you will arrive at a racquet that is the best of the bunch.
You can then make a purchase and string it at the tension you like. Most competitive players want to have at least two matching frames. However I do not recommend buying two immediately, only buy a second frame when you have had a hit with the first one for a couple of weeks and then get a matching second frame when you have firmly decided it's the right racquet for you.
The More Expensive (But Viable) Way to Demo a Racquet
If you don't like the idea of restringing a demo racquet, don't have access to a demo program or want to hit with a brand new racquet then the more expensive, but surprisingly common way to test a tennis racquet is:
- Purchase a new racquet outright
- String it yourself with your preferred string and tension
- Play with it across multiple practice session and matches
- Re-test your old racket and compare
- Decide on it. Not a fan of the new one? Resell it on eBay or local classifieds and take the depreciation hit on a used item.
The problem with demo rackets is the grip size, tension, and string is usually different than what I use. The last frame I tried had gut in it, it felt great, so I purchased one, I then strung it with poly, and it did not play very well. Gut is $35 a set, too much money for me so I had to sell it. Now I just buy them and if they don't work for me I sell them on. Why demo racquets aren't for everyone
So there you have my tips for demoing a tennis racquet. As long as you understand some of the variables and technicalities associated with racquet construction, and have a logical and consistent process in place to test the racquets that interest you then you are well on the way to finding a frame that suits your game.
It might sound like a hassle, but given the rather exorbitant price tags associated with modern, player endorsed racquets, the effort is well worth it.
What tips do you have for tennis racquet demos? Got any questions about demo programmes or choosing a racquet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.