Gear Q&A: A Senior Moment

by: Jon Levey | October 16, 2013

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Photo Credit: Manula Davies / doubleXposure

Jon Levey answers reader questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to submit your question.

I have been looking for articles about "senior" tennis racquets and don't seem to find any that specifically address the "older" tennis player's style. That is, slower, more compact strokes; added power by the racquet; arm/shoulder friendly. I tore my rotator cuff and my bicep tendon about a year ago, and while I'm rehabbing I'm looking for a racquet that will do more of the work for me and have less strain on the arm. I'm in my mid-seventies and play doubles at the 4.0 level. I've been looking for racquets with a head size of 110+ sq. in., high power level, head light, and with arm-friendly recommendations.—Richard A. Schlueter

Racquet manufacturers prefer to avoid pigeonholing products by labeling them for a specific demographic for fear of severely limiting the audience. Call a frame a “senior” racquet and nobody south of Social Security will want to play with it. Even attempts at designing racquets specifically for women have been poorly received. The group of frames you’re searching for—lighter, large head size, powerful—generally falls under the “game-improvement” category. This can encompass seniors, beginners, or anyone who wants a racquet that does more of the work.

Where you need to be most diligent in your search is finding one that is also arm-friendly. Everybody reacts differently to equipment; what feels jarring to some could feel quite comfortable to others. However, these oversized, lightweight racquets you’re interested in tend to be rather stiff. The general consensus is that lighter and stiffer racquets pass more of the shock of impact on to the user, whereas a heavier and more flexible frame acts as more of a shock absorber. Even if you have a slower, more compact swing, it’s worth taking into account. Your desire for a more powerful frame could be at odds with your want for something that can preserve your arm.

Instead of the racquet’s static weight, something to consider would be its swingweight. You mentioned looking for a head-light frame. These tend to be safer than head-heavy frames because having more weight in the handle also absorbs more of the shock. A frame that is heavy on the scale (11+ oz.), but rather head light can actually be easier to swing than a lighter frame that has more weight toward the head. The downside is you might lose a little power and have to work a little harder to put pace on the ball. But that could be a worthwhile trade-off when recovering from the types of injuries you've suffered.

Another factor is string choice. With your type of swing there’s no reason to consider anything in the polyester family. You’re going to want a soft, springy multifilament that adds a little pop and cushions impact. If cost is not a huge concern, natural gut is probably the best choice. It’s unlikely you break many strings and gut holds its tension better than any other string. The initial higher cost can be offset by its extended playability.

So which specific frames would I recommend? Again, it’s difficult because no two players are alike. I have a friend who swears that playing with a Babolat Pure Drive—notoriously tough on the body—has alleviated his elbow pain. However, given your parameters I would suggest checking out the ProKennex line, which has garnered a solid reputation for comfortable, forgiving frames. Volkl racquets also have good dampening properties and the Organix V1 Oversize fits many of the criteria you’re looking for. Finally, you might want to take a look at the Head YouTek IG Radical Oversize. It has a slightly smaller head (107 sq. in.) and more weight (11.1 oz.) than what you want, but with a very manageable swingweight and a low stiffness rating (58).

Happy hunting.

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