TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions every Monday in the Mailbag. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I have been searching for a racquet replacement for quite some time. I am a 50-year-old 4.5 player. I used to play with the Volkl Mid. I’m looking for more power these days, and I’m torn between lighter versus heavier racquets due to my age. I really liked the Wilson BLX Six.One 95 16x18, but after two days of play my arm was pretty sore. The new Babolat Pure Drive also felt pretty good, but I am similarly concerned about its stiffness; many people have reported arm troubles playing with it. On my game: I don't play long points, love to serve, and have a decent two-handed backhand. Any recommendations as for a new racquet that’s 11 oz. or so, is catered to serve/volley play and flat hitting, and is easy on the shoulder, elbow, and wrist?—Silvio S.
Thanks for such a multi-faceted question, Silvio. It can be tricky negotiating the divide between light and heavy racquets, especially if you’re entering middle age and are predisposed to arm problems. On the one hand, you shouldn’t pick a racquet that’s too light (i.e., <11 ounces), as racquets with low mass tend to transmit more shock to the arm. On the other, choosing too heavy a racquet (i.e., >12 oz.) may not be advisable either, as swinging it over the course of a long, three-set match may leave your arm feeling overly fatigued. So with respect to weight, I think your instincts are reasonable; a racquet somewhere in the range of 11 oz.—on the heavier end, most likely, for someone of your skill level and playing style—shouldn’t invite injury.
As you’ve already surmised, it can be tricky finding a racquet that’s powerful, arm-friendly, and still suited to advanced players. The Wilson Pro Staff BLX 95 and Babolat Pure Drive—while powerful, at least relative to other player’s sticks, and appropriate for serious players—both sport thicker beams and stiffer constructions. Which, compared to thinner beams with more flexible constructions, can be harder on the arm and shoulder.
Off the top of my head, I’d suggest demoing the Head YouTek IG Radical Oversize. It sports an oversized head, which will expand the sweetspot and afford you more margin of error for more power, as well as a relatively thin 21.5mm beam, which shouldn’t place so much stress on your arm. Strung, the Radical Oversize weighs in about 11 oz.; it's balanced 4 pts HL. If you try it out and like its feel, great. But if not, you might consider adding about half an ounce of lead tape to the throat and handle, increasing the stick’s weight and balance (i.e., headlightness) so that it’s more amenable to your flat-hitting, serve-and-volley play. Consult a certified racquet technician or knowledgable tennis professional in your area. They’ll be able to help you accurately modify and match your racquets.
Finally, remember to string with your arm in mind. Use natural gut or a multifilament strung at the lower end of the racquet’s recommended tension range; stay away from polyester. Also make sure you’re using a softer, thicker synthetic grip instead of leather.
My son is 14 and is joining the tennis team at his school. He has never played before and needs a racquet, but we cannot afford an expensive one. What should I look for in either a new or used racquet? Any advice is appreciated.—Mary
First and foremost, Mary, read the article I recently wrote on the topic, New to Tennis? A Brief Racquet Primer for Beginners. It goes into some of the details, from head size to grip size, that aspiring players should pay attention to when shopping for their first racquet.
If you're son's joining the high school team and wants to begin competing seriously—and long-term—I’d recommend looking for a discontinued graphite racquet model, $70 to $100, that falls within the categories outlined in the above article. Such discontinued racquets, which give you a lot of value for your money and will last him multiple years, can be found at local tennis specialty shops, or by perusing online tennis retailers’ sale pages. (Tennis Warehouse, Tennis Express, and Midwest Sports are three online tennis retailers you might want to consider.)
One note: When considering racquets on sale, pay attention to grip size. If your kid has standard-sized hands, he should go with a 4 and 3/8 sized grip. Overall though, I'd recommend you talk to a local qualified/certified teaching pro (by the USPTA or PTR) in the area and get his or her opinion.
I used to play with synthetic strings, but they broke so frequently that I opted for polyester, which has improved durability significantly. In many of your recent posts, you say that poly should be strung at tensions between the high 40s and low 50s. My string tension is currently at 53 lbs. I use a Prince O3 racquet with a 100 sq. in. head size. Does this comply with your recommendation?—Lems
Thanks for your question, Lems. You’re correct in saying that polyester should be strung from the high 40s to low 50s lbs. (Check out this recent mailbag for a more comprehensive exploration of this topic.) As such, your string tension looks good to me. If you haven’t already, you might want to experiment with tensions lower than 53 lbs. If you find that you can still maintain control over the ball at, say, 48 lbs., all the better; lower tensions provide more pop and depth and ultimately impart less shock onto the arm.