Tennis players, like most athletes, are creatures of habit. When something works for them they cling to it. Nowhere is this more apparent than their racquet. Some players just refuse to consider making changes to “old reliable.” But there’s an old saying: Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. The status quo may work, but deviating from the norm can work better.
With spring here and the outdoor season upon us, here are a few adjustments you can make to your stick to raise your game above the same old:
Change Strings and Tension
Same strings, same tension—it’s what almost all players request when getting their racquets restrung. Which is crazy because strings have undergone significant advancements in the past ten years, even more so than racquets. Multifilaments have gotten tougher, polyesters have gotten more playable, and gut is (slightly) less expensive and (slightly) more durable. Experimenting with strings is probably the easiest way to bring about a dramatic change in feel while still keeping the same racquet.
Even if you’re attached to a particular string, testing a different gauge—a thinner option can result in better bite on the ball—or trying a different tension can offer noticeable improvements. When shifting outdoors and dealing with the elements, shots generally don’t have as much pop and depth as indoors. It can help to go to a lower tension, which results in more dwell time on the strings and usually deeper shots.
Add Lead Tape
There’s nothing wrong with a stock racquet, but it wasn’t made with you specifically in mind. That’s why pros manipulate the weight of their frames to the gram, balance to fractions of a point, and grip size to 1/16th of an inch.
You don’t have to be that discerning, but tinkering with some of the characteristics can have worthwhile results. A great place to start is by applying lead tape to the frame. Standard practice is to apply four inches of ¼-inch thick tape to the 3 and 9 o’clock positions of the racquet face. Remember to apply to both sides of the strings. Even though it’s only a few grams, the added weight helps stabilize the frame on off-center hits and widens the sweet spot.
If you’re looking to raise the sweet spot toward the top of the frame, and give your shots a little more punch, many players favor putting the tape at the 2 and 10 o’clock positions. Keep in mind the more tape you put on the racquet face, the greater shift in balance towards the head (head heavy). If you like the current balance of your frame, you must offset the lead tape on the face with the same amount on the handle. Most players apply it underneath the top of the grip.
This is the nuclear option. Players can get so comfortable with their frames they resist searching for an upgrade, but your relationship with your racquet is not supposed to last forever. Trying out sticks with differing characteristics—weight, head size, string pattern, grip size, balance—can fill in some gaps in your game. Be thorough, be patient, and be inclusive. Brand loyalty is admirable, but unless you’re getting an endorsement deal it’s misplaced. There are numerous quality offerings, from the usual suspects down to the lesser known niche brands. Consulting a knowledgeable racquet retailer—big box stores can be hazardous to your game—is always a wise first step.