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.
I've read that some touring pros like Stanislas Wawrinka, Robin Soderling, and Michael Russell prefer a grip with a built-up, flared butt cap. What would the benefits of a larger, more flared butt cap offer versus a smaller, more tapered one?—James
Good observation, James. A number of touring pros, like the three you mentioned, custom build their grips to “flare out” at the very bottom, lending the handle a kind of bell-like shape. (For a photo of Soderling’s racquet, click here. Also see Richard Gasquet’s flared palette here.) Today, there are even a few stock frames that employ the effect, like the Wilson Juice, though the level of flare is much less obvious.
So what’s the point? Why not just stick to a standard circumference? I had the chance to ask Russell this very question during an interview last fall at the U.S. Open. In Russell’s mind, the flared-out grip offers extra leverage, as well as security against slippage, especially when hanging the hitting hand off the edge of the butt cap. As he told me then,
I do build up the butt cap a little bit with athletic tape [before the grip goes on]…It’s kind of like a hockey stick, you know, kind of like that nub on the bottom. I hold the racquet quite low on the handle, and I pull against it on my serve and my forehand. If I didn’t have the athletic tape, then my racquet would probably go flying half the time. Because I also sweat, like, ridiculous.
Stability, tact, leverage: Those seem to be the objective reasons for a flared-out grip. But as with any equipment preference, there’s also a more subjective component, i.e., “feel.” In the past, I’ve tried a few sticks with hockey-like palettes; and without a doubt, that shape changes how the grip rests against the palm of the hand. (I wasn’t too thrilled about the feeling, personally.)
Still, I’d encourage you to experiment with the style, not so much because reputable pros use it, but just for your own sense of feel. There’s undeniably an element of mystery to why certain racquets, strings, and grips are comfortable to some players but not to others. And while this can be frustrating to those of us who want to uncover universal truths about taste, it’s also one of the more interesting facets of the game—as a player, you continually define your own sense of feel. Regardless of your ability level, through enough trial and error, you’ll have that aha! moment, when suddenly you think to yourself, This feels really good. From now on, I’m playing this way.