Midweek Mailbag: Small Grips, Supinated Feet, and Comeback Racquets
TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions in the Mailbag. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I've heard that many professional players, such as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, use smaller grip sizes to help them generate more racquet-head speed. Is this effect real or imagined? What are the benefits and drawbacks to using a smaller handle? I’m a 4.0 baseline player who uses a Babolat Pure Drive (4 5/8 grip size), eastern two-handed backhand, and semi-Western forehand, and am unsure whether or not I should go down a grip size.—Adrian B.
Good question, Adrian. There’s been a lot of talk the past few years about how grip sizes have shrunk on tour. Reportedly, Federer uses a 4 3/8 size grip, while Nadal uses a 4 1/4. Of course, both play with overwraps, which builds the grip up to a degree. Still, for players of their skill, size, and strength, such grip sizes would have been considered absurdly small 15 or 20 years ago.
So what does a smaller grip afford top players? According to Joe Heydt, who strings pros’ racquets as part of the Luxilon Team, “The benefits that Rafa and Federer are feeling [with smaller grips] come from the increased wrist snap they are gaining on the serve. It is not imagined. The increased head speed leads to devastating movement and kick on their serves. At a world class level, there are not any drawbacks to speak of, but for mortal players, a smaller grip can lead to a problem in technique with forehands and backhands being too wristy. It’s also much more difficult to keep the grip from turning in your hand on off-center hits when the size is very small.”
Smaller grips may also make it harder to volley or hit groundstrokes with traditional (i.e., continental or eastern) strokes, due to reduced stability. What’s more, smaller grips may stress players’ wrists and hands, because of the extra wrist flexion such grips allow, and because they force some players (with bigger hands) to squeeze harder to keep the grip from slipping.
When trying to decide whether to downsize, always remember the obvious: Hands come in many different sizes. If you try out a smaller grip and it doesn’t feel comfortable, you should think twice about switching. Just because it works for Roger or Rafa doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.
I am a senior woman, NTRP 3.5. I have supinated feet with high arches, and typically play three times a week, mainly on hard courts. Do you know if the Adidas Barricade II is good fit for players with supinated foot types? I tried it on in a local store and it felt good, but do not want to buy the wrong shoe for my foot type. Thanks for your help.—Donna D.
Thanks for your question, Donna. For readers who are not familiar with the term, players with supinated feet tend to have a wider forefeet and higher, more inflexible arches, which require shoes that provide extra cushioning. (Pronated feet are the opposite of supinated feet; pronators tend to have flat feet and need a shoe with extra support on the medial, i.e., big toe, side to help keep their feet from rolling inward. Neutral feet are the most efficient and versatile type.)
But back to your question, Donna. According to Dr. David G. Sharnoff, a consulting podiatrist for the WTA, the Adidas Barricade II, while rated for all three foot types, is not an ideal choice for older women with supinated foot types. By and large, earlier generations of the Barricade feature stiffer constructions, not to mention heavier weights. Instead, Dr. Sharnoff recommends that you give the Adidas Barricade 7.0 a try.
“As an older woman with supinated feet,” Dr. Sharnoff says, “you should be more up-to-date. Compared with the Barricade IIs, the Barricade 7.0 is more comfortable, which is appropriate for your foot type. What’s more, at 10.6 oz. in a size 7 women’s, the Barricade 7.0 is nearly two ounces lighter than the IIs, which should give you a little bit more spring in your step and will be easier on your hip. As they say, for every ounce at the foot, it’s a pound at the hip. Two ounces, then, can make a big difference. There’s really no reason why an older, club-level player should be wearing a very heavy shoe.”
Having just read your review of the Babolat Overdrive 110, I wanted to ask your advice. I'm a former high school player now looking to get back into the game at an amateur(ish) level. What racquets should I focus on? Back in 1998 when I last played, I used the Wilson Hammer. I tended to have a harder forehand and backhand from the baseline, but played an all-around game. Today, I swung for the first time…and had trouble keeping the ball in the court. Granted, that’s because I'm 10 years out of shape, but it’s also because I wasn't generating the same spin as I remember I used to in years past. Any thoughts?—Shantanu
It’s hard to make racquet recommendations at this stage in your comeback, Shantanu. After 10 years away from the game, any racquet that you swing for the first time will feel awkward; you’ll inevitably spray some balls. That being said, if you played at a decent (~NTRP 3.5+) level in high school, you should probably stay away from the Babolat Overdrive 110. With its head-heavy balance and very light weight, the Overdrive 110 is best suited for players with slow, short swings. Which, if you had trouble keeping the ball in the paint, I’m assuming you don’t have.
Given that you’re starting from scratch, I’d recommend that you go to your local pro shop and pick out about five to eight different racquets to demo; hit with one per session, and at the end of the sessions, go with the one you feel most comfortable with.
To figure out which you should pick, take a look at our 2012 racquet reviews here. (For an explanation of terminology, as well as a chart listing all the specifications of the racquets we reviewed, click here.) Narrow down the list by starting with the most obvious variable: Head size. Are you looking for a racquet with a small (~95 sq. in.), medium (~102 sq. in.), or big (~110+ sq. in.) head size? I'm guessing that, if you were launching balls into the fence with the Overdrive 110, you should try out a medium-sized head. Next, staying within that range, find racquets with NTRP recommendations that match your own level. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that, if you played in high school, you're around a 3.5 player.
There are other variables you can consider—weight, balance, swingweight, etc.—but the above two should get you moving in the right direction. Finally, throughout this process, it'd be a good idea for you to consult with an experienced teaching pro or certified racquet technician; they'll be able to help you find the racquet that's right for you. Good luck.