Which racket you should choose depends on many factors. Your level of experience, your physical strength, your height, your preferred style of play…
Not only that but the tennis racket industry is rife with jargon and evolving technologies that can be pretty overwhelming to even experienced players. Luckily, here at Heavy Topspin we’ve tried to make it easy – sifting through the technobabble to make your choice as clear and simple as possible.
Before you can decide which racket is right for you it’s important to understand the different facets of modern racket design and how they affect how the racket plays. So in this guide we’ll be looking at:
Then we’ll take a look at different levels and styles of play and help you to decide which kind of racket is right for you.
Power Vs Control
Before we get into the nitty gritty it’s worth understanding that most elements of racket design come down to two simple factors: Power Vs Control. Literally how hard you can hit the ball versus how precise you can be.
A powerful racket sounds great, right? You could be just an Amazon click away from blowing your opponent off the court. Well sure, but the more powerful the racket the less control – or precision – it’s capable of. In a nutshell, it’s no good hitting a 150mph forehand if it ends up out in the car park.
Something to bear in mind as we get into:
Racket heads come in four different sizes. Midsize, Midplus, Oversize and – more rarely – Super Oversize.
Unsurprisingly, the larger the head size the easier it is to hit the ball. Larger heads have larger ‘sweet spots’ meaning they’re more forgiving if you don’t hit the ball from the centre of the strings.
Larger heads also offer greater power. The longer strings allow for a softer string bed which provides greater bounce as the ball rebounds from it.
The downside is that rackets with larger heads are harder to manouevre. Smaller heads allow for greater swing precision. Also, that greater bounce from the larger head? Makes the shots less predictable. More variability equals less control.
For more info check out our guide to head sizes.
Tennis rackets come in three basic weight categories. Lightweight, Medium Weight and Heavy Weight.
A Lightweight frame ranges from around 9 – 9.7oz or 255 – 275g.
A Medium frame ranges from 9.8oz to 11oz or 275 – 310g
A Heavyweight frame is anything from 11oz or 310g upwards.
If you’re looking for more power without the expense of control a heavier racket can offer that. But only if you’re strong enough to use one.
A good rule of thumb is to use the heaviest racket you can swing with comfort for an entire match. Which is why beginners who haven’t developed that muscle set tend to go for a lighter frame.
As well as being more powerful, heavier rackets are more stable and absorb shock better than lighter frames. They’re also better suited to baseliners who favour power in their shots and rely less on speed of movement at the net.
It’s worth nothing that if you do go for a lighter frame you can add weight to it over the life of the racket by applying lead tape. Of course if you go for a heavier frame there’s not a lot you can do to take the weight off!
When it comes to full size adult rackets there’s actually very little variation when it comes to length (for juniors it’s different – see below). Rackets generally come in around 27 inches from the butt to the head. But they can legally measure as long as 29 inches total.
The benefits of a longer frame are greater reach and greater power as it’s easier to generate leverage on your swing.
But as usual there’s a cost. A longer racquet is harder to swing and therefore less precise.
They can be useful though – especially to add a bit of oomph to your serve. The higher serving angle is a particular benefit – especially if you’re not blessed with John Isner’s 6’10 frame.
A racket’s balance is literally the point along the frame where you could balance it on your finger – where the weight is split evenly between the head and the grip.
More than 350 mm from the butt would make it head heavy. Less than 330mm would make it head light.
The effect of a head heavy racket is that when you swing it, it feels heavier than a frame of the same weight that’s more balanced.
That gives it what’s known as a higher SWINGWEIGHT. And the higher the swingweight the more power generated.
Think of it like this… Imagine swinging a ball and chain over your head. Most of the weight is in the ball. If you swing it into a wall you’d likely do some serious damage.
Swingweight is expressed as a range between around 270 and 325 as follows:
Low swingweight = 305 and below
Medium swingweight = 310 to 325
High swingweight = 325 and above
As with other factors though be aware. Rackets with a very high swing weight tend to be used by very advanced players as they can be tiring to hold and tricky to swing.
Rackets vary in terms of how stiff or flexible they can be.
When you look at a racket’s specs you’ll see this stiffness expressed as an RA value – short for Racket Analysis.
Generally speaking an RA below 64 would be considered low stiffness or to put it another way, flexible. 64-68 is considered mid-range while 68 and above is a stiff racket.
A stiffer racket is more powerful as less energy is deflected as the racket swings through the ball. It can be tougher on the joints though.
A more flexible racket absorbs that energy – or shock – making it more comfortable to use – especially if you suffer from joint inflammation such as tennis elbow.
The final factor to consider is a racket’s string pattern. Literally, how many strings in the head.
The most common two string patterns in use today are 16×19 and 18×20, the first number representing the main strings or down strings, the second being the cross-strings.
16×19 is considered a more open string pattern as the gaps between the strings are greater. This makes it easier to generate spin and power compared to a tighter pattern which allows more control.
It’s worth noting though that due to greater movement, open strings tend not to last as long as tighter patterns and therefore will need replacing more often.
You’ll notice that almost all frames are available in a variety of grip sizes. And while the grip size doesn’t affect the performance of the racket of course you need to choose the size that best fits your hand.
Grips measure between 4 inches and 4 ¾ inches in circumference although in the UK and Europe those sizes are expressed as L1 through 5.
To understand which grip size is best for you, check out our guide. But if you’re in any doubt it’s always worth aiming for a smaller size grip than you might need. You can always bolster it with an overgrip.
Now we’ve got an understanding of the different styles of rackets available, it’s time to explore which one is right for you.
How to choose a tennis racket for beginners
In general we’d advise beginners to look for a lightweight racket with an oversize head.
It takes time to build up your tennis strength and so the lighter the frame the easier you should find it. As you’ve seen above you might sacrifice something in terms of power but the larger head size should make up for that.
Plus – the bigger sweet spot will make it less frustrating as you learn to control your swing.
There are exceptions of course. If you already possess good upper body, arm and wrist strength a heavier frame may be preferable. But be careful. The muscles you use for tennis are not necessarily muscles you will have used in a workout. The worst thing you could do is buy a racket that’s too heavy and discourages you from getting on the court.
One other piece of advice – don’t pay over the odds for your first racket. The likelihood is it will take a real beating as you mistime strokes and scrape it against the court.
Choose a frame you’re not afraid to get bashed about. Practice. Improve. Then when you get to a good level REWARD YOURSELF with the dream racket. It’ll even give you something to aim towards.
How to choose a racket for intermediates
As an intermediate choosing a racket gets a little more interesting.
First up you’ll likely want to choose a smaller head size. Maybe try a Mid Plus. Not only will you appreciate the improved mobility, you might feel a little less self-conscious on the court!
If your strength has improved this could be the time to find a heavier frame or one that’s head heavy. It’ll make up for the power you lost with the smaller head. So consider graduating to a medium weight.
Hitting with more spin than you used to? You might want to try a more open string pattern. You’ll need to restring the racket more often but it’ll be worth it if you’re out on the court more regularly.
How to choose a racket for advanced players
For advanced players it’s all about your preference and your style of play.
Yes you should have good strength and stamina and be able to handle a midsize head and a heavy weight racket. But it’s not a given. Roger Federer is one of the more famous examples of a player who switched to a larger head size late on in his career to generate more power and spin.
As an advanced player you’ll have a good idea of what style of play you prefer. Are you a doubles specialist who spends a lot of time at the net? Maybe a smaller head with a lighter frame size is preferable, allowing quicker movement and reaction times.
Budding Rafa Nadal? You might like a heavier frame to generate as much power as possible on your groundstrokes.
At this stage more than any it’s imperative to try different rackets out. Get a feel for how they handle on the court. You may be surprised how much your choice affects your game. And the extent to which your old racket was holding you back.
It’s also worth noting that advanced players tend to buy a frame only and have it strung themselves. Not only does this allow for a higher quality of string, you can choose your preferred level of tension. Check out our string tension guide for more on that.
And if you’re in the market an advanced level racket, you can check out our guide here.
How to choose a racket for juniors
The number one factor when it comes to choosing a racket for a child is its length. Unlike with adult rackets there is a lot of variation and it’s important that your kid has the right racket for their height.
Get it wrong and not only will the child struggle to enjoy themselves on court but at worse they could risk injury.
Kids’ rackets vary in length from 17 inches to around 26 inches.
The 17 inch racket is meant for very young kids – 2-3 years old while the next up, the 19 inch is for 3-4 year olds.
4-6 year olds should aim for a 21 inch frame while the 23 inch racket is suitable for 6 – 8 year olds.
8-12 year olds should be looking at a 25 or 26 inch frame.
Massive caveat here of course is that IT DEPENDS ON THE HEIGHT OF THE CHILD. More specifically, their reach. If your child is tall for their age, likelihood is they’ll need a longer frame.
Best method to be really sure is to have your child stand nice and tall and hold the racket by the grip with their arm by their side. If the head of the racket just brushes against the ground it’s the right size. If the racket bumps along the ground it’s obviously too big. Nowhere close? You guessed it – too small.
Of course if you can’t get to a physical shop and want to buy online you can easily work this out using a trusty tape measure.
Most kids’ rackets are fairly basic and keenly priced. Manufacturers know that the most important thing at that age is having fun on the court. But many larger junior rackets do come with some of the same bells and whistles as the adult ranges. And from the age of around 12 we’d recommend graduating to an adult frame anyway.
If you’re buying, be sure to check out our round up of the best tennis rackets for kids
If you take nothing else from this guide, one thing should hopefully be clear. There’s no such thing as a one size fits all racket. The choice will be personal to you.
All the major brands – Prince, Head, Wilson, Babolat – produce a huge range of good quality rackets and you largely get what you pay for.
When every single factor has been researched and weighed up your decision may well come down to something as simple as the colour of the frame or the endorsement of your favourite player. And that’s okay.
The key is to choose a racket that – for whatever reason – gets you out there on the court. Playing, learning, competing and having fun.