Balance Point

Thursday, October 08, 2009 /by

Do you know your racquet's "swingweight"? You should.

What’s the right weight for my racquet?” It’s one of the more common questions any prospective racquet buyer asks. Yet the weight of a racquet is just a number. It won’t tell you how it’s going to feel in your hand, or, more importantly, in motion. A better question to consider is how the weight is distributed throughout the frame. In other words, is there more weight toward the head or toward the handle?

The balance and weight of a racquet are two critical attributes in determining how a stick will perform. The measurements are inextricably linked. “You have to combine weight and balance. You can’t divorce one from the other,” says Roman Prokes, TENNIS technical adviser and owner of RPNY Tennis, a retail and racquet customization shop in New York. “You can’t just say, ‘I want a headheavy racquet.’ Then it has to be lighter in [overall] weight. Otherwise the racquet would feel too heavy for you.”

To determine whether a racquet is head heavy or head light, you need to find its balance point. If a racquet is the standard 27-inch length and evenly balanced, its balance point will be in the middle (13.5 inches from either end). If the balance point is closer to the top of the frame, it’s head heavy. If it’s toward the butt cap, it’s head light. The more severe the positioning of the balance point in either direction, the more head heavy or head light the racquet will feel.

To get a hands-on feel for balance, pick up two racquets by the handles. If the racquets have identical weights, they’ll feel the same when you hold them with the head of the frame pointing down toward the court. But when you hold the frame parallel to the court, as you would when hitting a stroke, the racquet with more weight in the head will feel heavier because more of its weight is distributed farther from your hand. For example, if you have an 11-ounce head-light racquet and a 10-ounce headheavy racquet, the head-heavy frame could feel heavier in your hand.

“I’ve had people come into my shop and hold up the Wilson [K] Five, a light racquet, and tell me it feels heavy,” Prokes says. “Then they hold Federer’s racquet [the [K] Six.One Tour], the heaviest one I carry, and tell me it feels light. That’s because they’re talking about the balance.”

The [K] Six.One Tour weighs over 2 ounces more, but because the [K] Five 108 has so much of its weight in the head, it can feel just as heavy. Light racquets like the 10.1-ounce [K] Five 108 generally have to be head heavy to provide power and maintain stability. Otherwise, the racquet will twist too much on off-center hits. Conversely, heavier racquets, which are more stable and absorb more shock, tend to be head light so they don’t feel unwieldy.

Swingweight
The perceived disparity between what a racquet weighs and how it feels in a player’s hand is why some racquet experts prefer to use another spec. “Ideally everyone should be getting away from talking about weight and balance, and instead talking about one number, which is swingweight,” says David Bone, TENNIS technical adviser and executive director of the United States Racquet Stringers Association. “If you know the swingweight of a racquet, you don’t need to know the length of the racquet, you don’t need to know the weight of the racquet, you don’t need to know the balance of the racquet. All of those get incorporated.”

Swingweight is a measurement of how heavy a racquet feels when you swing it, or, in more scientific terms, when rotated around a point roughly 4 inches from the bottom of the butt cap. This is where most players hold the frame when they play. The unit of measurement is kilogram centimeter squared (kg·cm2), but it’s often simply referred to as swingweight units. A racquet with a relatively high swingweight would measure around 350, and a frame that is exceptionally maneuverable would be in the 270 range.

Going back to those Wilson racquets, the [K] Six.One Tour has a swingweight of 331, while the [K] Five 108 measures at 335. The significantly lighter racquet actually takes more effort to swing. At the center of the swingweight universe, according to the USRSA, are frames that fall between 310 and 315. Two racquets with identical weights and balance points can have differing swingweights depending on how the weight is distributed throughout the frame. That precision is the reason why most racquet experts consider swingweight to be preferable to talking about the weight and balance of a racquet.

“In scientific terms, measuring weight and balance makes sense,” Prokes says. “But when you go on the court the numbers can lie.”

Why isn’t swingweight more commonly used? Word is spreading. All manufacturers know the swingweights of their racquets and some make the information available on their websites. Many tennis shops use an expensive piece of equipment to find the number (the Babolat RDC machine is the most common). If that isn’t an option, you can check certain online retailers.

Still, as with weight and balance, swingweight is just a reference point. The only real measurement that matters is how the racquet performs in your hand. No number can tell you that.

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