Gear Guy's Q&A
TENNIS.com gear editor Bill Gray and his technical advisors will answer your equipment questions every Friday. Click here to send one of your own.
Hey Bill, in my racquet research, I've learned that a smaller head and tighter stringing tensions offer more control. But would a more tightly strung oversize racquet compare more favorably to a mid- or mid-plus size? Could you get the same control, but with the advantage of the oversize’s larger sweet spot?
Tight stringing will make that big sweet spot on the oversize go sour at first hit. There would be nothing “sweet” about it; in fact, it would be almost as dead as playing with a wooden paddle, says TENNIS.com racquet advisor Bruce Levine. More bad news: balls hit off center would cause the handle to twist like a top, especially if you’re using a smaller grip. Oversize frames should be strung at a low- or mid-range tension level.
Should I choose a racquet that complements my strong point, a decent forehand, or one that elevates my less refined area of putting too much topsin on the ball than I would like on my backhand and hitting short?
Racquet guru Levine says it’s best to go with the kind of frame that accentuates your strengths. Assuming you play with a racquet with an open-string pattern that helps provide you the spin, you should stay with it and work on the stroke mechanics of your backhand by lessening your arm rotation. Hitting a slightly flatter ball should drive it deeper into the court.
After being transfixed by Justine Henin’s topspin backhand during the Aussie Open, I can’t imagine this diminutive Belgian weights up her racquet for power like the big two-handers on the tour. True?
—Jodie, Boulder, Colo.
Justine’s Wilson Tour racquet is, in fact, only a speck heavier than the off-the-shelf, store-bought version—11 ounces versus 10.8 ounces—says Ron Rocchi, who is Wilson’s global tour equipment manager and works on her racquets. But it doesn’t take two hands or Serena’s biceps to unleash the power of Justine’s frame because of its head-heavy balance and half-inch of extra length.
I switch from playing on clay to hardcourts on a pretty regular basis, often in the same week. Should I designate a racquet for each surface and string them up a little differently? Like, looser for more power on hardcourt, because the faster court means less time for a full-length swing?
It isn’t worth the trouble, and you won’t notice the difference, says Nate Ferguson, who strings and customizes racquets for a lot of Tour players. His clients are so picky they’ll change strings and adjust tensions if the weather changes slightly and even everytime a fresh set of balls is put into play during a match. But they don’t even string differently for clay and hardcourts, he says. The only exception he can recall is Steffi Graf. “If pros don’t adjust their strings to a specific surface, I don’t see much benefit for the recreational player,” he says.
I live in the Northeast where winter indoor court time is ridiculously expensive. So my tennis buddies and I found a nearby high school court where they keep the nets up in winter. We figure as long as the court’s dry and it’s a little above freezing, why not put on some gloves and hit? We can take it, but can our racquets and the strings?
We feel your pain, Joe, because here in New York City an hour of court time can cost $100. Unfortunately, the money you’d be saving on the high school courts would be washed away by equipment repairs. At below-freezing temperatures, both racquets and strings turn brittle, and the ball becomes rock-like in the cold. But, if you must, at least use an old racquet from the back of the closest and string it up with a low-end thick 15-gauge nylon at the at the bottom of the tension range.
I'm starting to play tennis again on a regular basis. In the past, I've played with an old 1986 Wilson Pro Staff 85. Unfortunately, I don't know how to compare it against the new racquets. Would you recommend any of the newer racquets that might be similar to the Pro Staff? Although I've played with Wilson, I heard that that the Babolat Pure Drive might be a good choice.
There are a lot of Pro Staff purists out there who regularly scour eBay for the old 85, believing that they just don’t make ’em like they used to. The fact is they make them better, with slightly larger and more forgiving head sizes, and using new technologies that expand prime hitting areas and add comfort without sacrificing feel and touch. Because you’re a Pro Staff fan, we suggest you playtest all the racquets in the new Wilson Six.One BLX line, from Roger Federer’s 90-square-inch Six.One to more forgiving frames like the Six.One 95 BLX, the Six.One Team BLX and the Six-One Light BLX. Try the Pure Drive, but you’ll probably find it to be a totally different hitting experience and harder for you to control with your Pro Staff background. The Drive has larger 100-square-inch head size and a thicker power-oriented beam.