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New to Tennis? A Brief Racquet Primer for Beginners

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 /by

Tennis is a fun, healthy way to exercise and compete—but not without the right racquet.

Just starting out? Don’t know which is right and what is wrong? No worries. If you’re a beginner, this buyer’s guide is for you. It will help you choose a suitable racquet out of the thousands on the market today, so that you can make the most out of your on-court potential.

When shopping for your first racquet, bear in mind the following criteria: the racquet’s materials and pricing, head size, weight, balance, length, and grip size. Let’s get down into the details.

1. Materials & Pricing
Racquets today can be broadly (and somewhat crudely) divided into two categories: Frames made primarily out of aluminum, and frames made primarily out of graphite.

Aluminum frames are usually sold pre-strung (i.e., with strings). They’re a great choice if you’re unsure you want to commit to playing long-term, or you just want to whack a few balls around with friends. What’s more, they’re affordable, only about $30 in sporting goods stores.

But if you are looking to commit to the game—and plan to join a team and/or take lessons—go ahead and buy a racquet made out of graphite. A graphite frame’s light weight and rigid construction make it much more powerful and accurate. And, if you take care of it, it should last you for multiple years.

The prices of graphite frames range greatly, from about $60 to upwards of $300. If you’re on a budget, a great way to get value for your money is to go online or to your local pro shop and look for sales on older, discontinued models. Sometimes you can find an extremely nice racquet that’s only a few years old for less than $100.

2. Head Size
Another consideration is a racquet’s head size, or the size of the area where the strings are. Head size is by and large provided in square inches. The smaller the head, the more maneuverable and control-oriented the racquet will be; the bigger the head, the more margin for error and power a racquet will have. Most beginners should use a racquet with a head size between 100 and 115 sq. in.—on the smaller end of the spectrum if you’re coordinated and/or looking to develop long, fluid swings through practice and lessons. 

3. Weight
A third thing to keep in mind is the racquet’s weight, usually given in ounces. Generally speaking, a light racquet will be more maneuverable; a heavy racquet will be more stable. Beginners should choose a racquet that weighs somewhere between 9.5 and 11 ounces—on the heavier end if you’re strong or relatively athletic.

4. Balance
A further consideration is balance, which tells whether a racquet has more of its weight distributed toward the tip (head heavy) or toward the handle (head light). A racquet’s balance is usually measured in a unit called “points,” and can make a big difference in how heavy a racquet feels when swung. If you take two racquets, for example, one with a head-heavy balance and another with a head-light balance, both of which weigh exactly the same: the head-heavy racquet will feel noticeably heavier to swing.

To a certain extent, balance is a matter of personal preference; some people, usually more advanced players, like head-light racquets, while others prefer head-heavy ones. If you’re just starting out, choose a racquet that has a balance somewhere between 5 pts. headlight and 5 pts. headheavy—and, most of all, feels comfortable to swing.

5. Length
Finally, make sure you buy a racquet with the right length, which is measured from the cap of its handle to the top of its head. Longer racquets, the theory goes, give you more leverage on serves and greater reach on volleys; shorter racquets are more maneuverable. Until you’ve played long enough to know what your strengths and weaknesses are—and what you need from your racquet—it’s best to play with a racquet with a standard length, or 27 inches. 

6. Grip Size
Lastly, pay attention to grip size, or how big the racquet’s handle is. (It will be listed on the butt of the handle.) Most women use a grip size between 4 1/8” and 4 3/8”, while most men use a size between 4 3/8” and 4 5/8”. Choose a grip size that feels comfortable in your hand—or ask a knowledgeable tennis professional, at a club or pro shop, if you’re unsure of your size. If you’re in between two grip sizes, buy the racquet with the smaller size; a grip can easily be built up (about 1/16th inch) by adding an overgrip.

To Sum It Up
—Materials: If you’re unsure of your commitment, buy an aluminum racquet. If you’re looking to start playing competitively, buy a graphite racquet.
—Head Size: Choose a racquet between 100 sq. in. and 115 sq. in.
—Weight: Pick a racquet that weighs between 9.5 oz. and 11 oz.
—Balance: Choose a racquet with a balance between 5 pts. headlight and 5 pts. headheavy.
—Length: Pick a 27 in., standard length racquet.
—Grip Size: Choose a grip that feels comfortable in your hand.
—When in doubt, speak with a tennis professional or certified racquet technician.

Justin diFeliciantonio is the gear editor for TENNIS and TENNIS.com.

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