The Pro Shop

Customizing Racquet Weight: How Heavy is Too Heavy?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 /by

TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.
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Dear Justin,
I’m writing to ask about increasing racquet weight. A year ago, I re-started playing tennis regularly after a decade absence. (I played from ages nine to 19.) I am now 30 years old, and consider myself to be an NTRP 4.5 player. Last year, when I started playing again, I used a stock 300g (unstrung) frame, the Head YouTek IG Extreme MP. Recently, I added five grams of lead tape to the 3 and 9 o'clock positions. My goal was to generate more power. I felt like I could handle the extra heft.
Nevertheless, I still feel that I need more power, thus I’m considering increasing the weight further. How do I know for sure if I should add more weight? If I were to add more, how much should I put? And where on the frame? I’m not that much of a big hitter, and am relatively skinny (72kg for 183cm), but I do think I’m fit enough and have the technique to handle heavier racquets.
Thanks in advance,
Marton Peresztegi
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Happy to hear that you’re back playing the game, Marton. To be honest, it’s difficult to give out specific, quantitative advice about proper racquet heft to advanced players like yourself. While there are certain weight ranges (~11.5 oz.+) appropriate to skilled players, as well as principles that justify “leading” up the frame—read: when swung at the same speed as a lighter racquet, a heavier racquet offers more power, stability, and control—there really aren’t too many comprehensive, scientific measures that are able to objectively judge how your stick’s heft is affecting your own on-court performance.
(Save maybe for the Wilson Trackman in Chicago, which uses Doppler radar to measure a spectrum of details about a player’s shots, such as spin, trajectory, power, and placement. To read more about the Trackman, check out our interview with Wilson executive John Lyons here.)
To determine whether your racquet is too light or too heavy—i.e., whether it’s negatively affecting the flight of your ball—you’ll just have to trust the opinion of a respected coach or hitting partner. After all, they’re on the other side of the net returning your shots; they should have perspective. And, of course, you’ll have to trust yourself, your own sense of feel.
Here’s a good question to pose on this front: Does the racquet seem cumbersome when handling hard-hit or difficult-to-reach shots? If so, you may want to hold off on the extra weight; if not, consider adding additional increments of three to five grams of lead tape. (Obviously, stop leading when the stick begins to feel cumbersome.) The general rule is that you should play with as heavy a racquet as you can swing, as long as it doesn’t slow down your strokes. At the end of the day, though, only you can decide what that comfortable weight is.
That said, looking at the racquet you’re currently using, the Extreme 2.0 MP, my instincts are that you could probably up the weight without issue. The MP (strung, 11.1 ounces and 4 points headlight) falls on the light side of the spectrum, at least for a 4.5 player. With its thick beam and stiff construction, it's already a relatively powerful baseliner’s stick. But in the hands of a good player, the MP needs to be heavier. (But not necessarily more head heavy; putting weight exclusively in the hoop will tip the balance forward. If you enjoy the way your racquet’s balanced as is, make sure to counterbalance weight additions in the hoop with additions in the handle.)
Now to your last question, on where to put the weight: It comes down to how you want to shape the racquet’s sweet spot and swingweight (i.e., how heavy the racquet feels to swing). On one hand, adding lead tape at the tip of the frame will pull the sweet spot upward and dramatically increase swingweight, diminishing maneuverability. On the other hand, leading the handle will push the sweet spot downward, but will hardly affect the swingweight at all. (Adding weight here will, however, still increase stability.)
Want about taping other locations? Let me defer to the explanation given by past gear editor James Martin in “Get the Lead Out,” published in the March 2004 issue of Tennis Magazine. As Martin notes, where you put weight has much to do with where you hit the ball on the stringbed (toward the tip? center? throat?), and what your playing style is.

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[Locations for Lead Tape]
12 o’clock: Sticking tape in this position will give you a big power boost and expand the sweet spot toward the tip of the racquet, which will appeal to baseliners. The potential downside? The racquet might become head-heavy and cumbersome.
10 o’clock and 2 o’clock: Weight placed at these positions will increase the frame’s power, add stability on off-center hits, stretch the sweet spot toward the upper edges, but also reduce maneuverability significantly.
9 o’clock and 3 o’clock: The most popular configuration enlarges the sweet spot toward the sides of the frame, where players frequently mishit the ball, and makes the racquet considerably more powerful.
6 o’clock: If you place tape here, your racquet will be a bit more stable, a bit less maneuverable, and a tad more powerful. The sweet spot will be pulled down, which will help those who miss shots low.
Handle: Lead tape under the grip will increase the racquet’s stationary weight with little effect on swingweight (how heavy the frame feels when you swing it). This position is best for net-rushers who want a heavier racquet without sacrificing maneuverability.  

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Remember, too, that string can also add power to your strokes. Natural gut returns more energy to the ball than other strings. Monofilaments can impart more spin, allowing players to swing harder while still maintaining control. And lowering tension can increase shot depth. Experiment with different string and tension combinations, and choose the one that satisfies your thirst for power.
Ultimately, in attempting to shore up your game, Marton, the smartest thing to do would be to talk to a certified USRSA professional. These people are trained to customize players’ racquets and strings, and you’d be loath to neglect their expertise. Go here to find a certified racquet technician.  
Take it slow: Make sure to get accustomed to each weight change before deciding to lead up again. Best of luck,

Justin

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