Jon Levey answers reader questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to submit your question.
Recently I’ve started searching for a new racquet for the first time in many years. Since I haven’t really kept up with the latest trends I tried a “racquet finder” on a retail website. It asked me for racquet criteria I didn’t really know about, and then spit back a bunch of frames, many from companies I’m not all that familiar with. Are such search engines helpful in finding a racquet? Or am I better off sticking with the pro shop approach and working with an individual?—John H.
While not a perfect analogy, hunting for a new racquet can be a little like dating. Are you the type of person who prefers a buddy to set you up? Or would you rather be more adventurous and take your chances on Match.com? Each has its own advantages and drawbacks. The former method is less risky—your buddy knows your “game” and can screen the prospects—but limited to a smaller group of options. Going online opens up a wider pool of possibilities, but is fraught with the unknown.
When I’m on the lookout for a new frame, I think it makes sense to tap both resources. A good pro shop with a knowledgeable staff can be invaluable, but you can generally only test what it carries in stock. Less discerning players may not care if the store has the exact frame they covet. However, a broader search may need to incorporate some online reconnaissance for added knowledge and potential demos. Many of these websites (ours included) do have search tools that can offer advice on which racquets fit your parameters. And much like online dating sites, not all are created equally. A good test would be to see if the pro shop you trust suggests a frame that also shows up on the online retailer’s search tool. If yes, then you know it’s got a feel for what you need, and not just throwing out unsuitable models they’re hoping to unload.
Another route is to go directly to the source. Most racquet manufacturers offer some type of racquet selector engine on the company’s website. This is particularly helpful when a player has strong brand loyalty and knows there’s only one make he will play with. But it also could be useful for whittling down to one model per company if trying to test multiple makes.
For instance, Prince has released a host of new frames since last fall and this spring launched a new racquet selector web app (iam.princetennis.com) designed to match players with one of their models. You answer six questions ranging from frequency of play to importance of power and control and when you’re finished it spits out a suggestion. I did it myself and the recommended frame turned out to be my favorite among the Prince line. I had similar success when I used the selector on Babolat’s website.
Depending on how detailed the company is with its selector—some don’t ask very worthwhile questions—these can be hit-or-miss as well. But it is another source of information which can help narrow all the possible choices. Again, you might prefer the personal touch of a pro shop, which can certainly to lead to a happy coupling of player and racquet. But for those people who like to broaden their options, or wish to expand their knowledge of the racquet landscape, online resources such as racquet selectors have definite value.