TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions Mondays and Wednesdays in the Mailbag. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I would like to ask a question about "old school" racquets, circa late 1980s. I have returned to playing tennis and enjoy my frame: a Prince Power Pro (1986) with a 90-inch head, fiberglass graphite composite, and thin beam (no thicker than a Pro Staff 85 or 90 these days). The Pro’s recommended tension range is between 55 to 70 lbs; I string Prince Endurance at around 59 to 61 lbs. Tennis has changed an awful lot since 1986, but I like the old-school frame. (Surely, it’s liable to break any season.) While I still have it, what are some things I can do to update my racquet? Will trying new strings or new grips make a difference? Thanks for your review.—Andrew M.
Certainly, Andrew. While you won’t be able to update the frame itself, there are a number of things that you can do to improve upon your racquet. For starters, wrap on a new replacement grip. Because a grip’s feel is almost entirely a matter of personal preference, it’s hard for me to recommend a particular brand or product. (If you’d like to stick in-brand, a list of Prince replacement grips is here.) But what I can say is this: If you prefer a harder, more classic feel—which will allow you to distinctly feel the edges of the handle—consider a new leather grip. You may be used to this feel already, as leather grips were much more commonplace when the Power Pro debuted. On top of the leather grip, you can also wrap a thin overgrip, which will add a bit of tack.
Next, try out some new strings. It’s hard to make a recommendation without knowing your style of play, whether you like a stiffer or softer string, or how frequently you break strings. But one thing’s for certain: There are better options out there than your old Prince Endurance. If you play a relatively flat game, and you want to accentuate the “old-school” feel of your Power Pro, talk to your stringer about natural gut or a high-end multifilament. A newer co-polyester string could also be an option—as a full set or as a hybrid with gut or a multifilament—if you play with Western grips and rely heavily on spin. Meet with a certified racquet technician or knowledgable tennis pro in your area; they’ll be able to match you, your racquet, and your game with a string that’s right for you.
Finally, look into replacing the Pro’s bumper guard and grommet strips. New grommets (the pieces connecting the stringbed with the frame) can make a world of difference in how the stringbed responds. The only problem is, with a racquet that old, you’re going to have to look hard to find them. Try searching eBay or online tennis forums. Grommet/bumper sets for similar models, like the Prince Original Graphite Mid, may also do the trick.
I have an old Wilson Sting that I continue to play with. I like its feel, but am leery about its future. When has a racquet passed its prime? Are there disadvantages (and perhaps advantages) to playing with an older frame?—Enrique R.
Good question, Enrique. Objectively speaking, each time a racquet is restrung or makes contact with the ball, it becomes progressively less rigid and, in general, less adept at transferring energy back into the ball. Over time, this translates into a “softer” feel and a less powerful racquet. For this reason, most racquet technicians recommend that players who restring regularly (i.e., multiple times a month) and play frequently (i.e., multiple times a week) consider switching to new frames every two to three years.
That said, whether or not your Sting has “passed its prime” has just as much to do your own perception of its performance and feel, as it does any objective determination. Asks Joe Heydt, a professional stringer out of Omaha, Nebraska, “Is it bad for you to use an old frame? No. Are you winning? If so, keep using it and let all of your friends make fun of you as you hold up the trophy. The only problem with keeping a frame too long is that the adjustment to modern technology will be that much more difficult. ‘They don’t make them like that anymore,’ is not just a simple cliché. They really don’t.”
I’d like to customize to my racquet, but am having trouble sorting out all the math. Do you know of any software out there that will determine changes in swingweight and balance as a result of lead tape customization?—John L.
Recently, John, I came across a cool application for iPhone and iPad called racquetTune. In addition to using the ping of your strings to calculate their tension—pretty wild, right?—the program also features an interactive swingweight calculator. The calculator allows you to see how certain weights, at certain locations on the frame, will affect its swingweight, balance, and sweet spot. Check out the video below for a short demonstration of racquetTune’s capabilities, and let us know about your findings.