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Gear Q&A: Treasure Map
Three things to consider when searching for a new racquet.
Published Dec 31, 2021
I’ve been reading a lot of racquet reviews on the site lately, and many of the frames sound intriguing. I’ve been playing with the same frame for many years and it’s probably time for an upgrade, but I find the process a little daunting. Any advice on how to go about my search?—Todd G.
I probably get asked a version of this question more than any other. Unless the query concerns a particular model, I’m generally reluctant to suggest one because there are so many good offerings available, and a racquet is a personal relationship that can defy conventions. I’ve known light-hitting, short swingers who love a heavy midsize, and highly advanced players who prefer feathery power frames. It’s whatever feels right and works for an individual’s game.
So rather than blindly toss out individual racquet brands and models that suit my preferences, here are three suggestions that might help you navigate your quest:
Establish an endgame
It’s a fairly significant investment of time and money, so there should be a reason behind a new racquet purchase. Goals could be things like more pop, better control, or quicker handling. Sometimes your game feels stale and may need a B12 shot; a new frame can often do that. Knowing what you’re looking for will narrow your hunt considerably.
For instance, if you’re craving more swing speed, it wouldn’t make much sense to demo frames with the same balance and swingweight as your current model. If a more forgiving hitting platform is your desire, trying a larger head size might be a smart option. Regardless of what you’re after, don’t be afraid to experiment with different specs that might be out of your current comfort zone.
Have a priorities list
For quite some time, whenever I demoed a frame my biggest barometer was my weakest important shot: the down-the-line backhand. I felt confident that I could serve and stripe my forehand with just about anything in my preferred category of frames, so if it improved my down-the-line backhand, then the racquet was worth considering.
I’ve since done a 180 on that philosophy. My serve is clearly my best shot, so if a frame doesn’t produce the same results (or ideally better) than my current one, it’s out of the discussion. Of course I’d like to be able to nail a formidable down-the-line backhand, but I’m going to lean on my serve far more frequently. With practice the hope is for the down-the-line backhand to become dependable enough not to be a liability.
Often there’s give and take when demoing a new frame. A gain in some category means a loss in another. The extra power on the forehand is great, but it’s going long more frequently; the added spin is terrific, but ground strokes seem less penetrating. Since no racquet is perfect, at least not at first hit, it’s helpful to establish a preferences pecking order. If you’re looking for more control and consistency, but the frame you’re trying limits the explosiveness of your best shot perhaps it’s not a good fit. Or, maybe you’re willing to make that concession for the sake of getting more balls in play. Unless you stick to a grading scale it’s easy to waver between frames and never come to a conclusion.
Since no racquet is perfect, at least not at first hit, it’s helpful to establish a preferences pecking order.
Think big picture
Here’s the simple truth: You’re initially probably not going to play as well with your test frame as you do with your regular racquet. Even if you do honeymoon for a match or two, there’s undoubtedly going to be some growing pains; the proverbial one step backward for two steps forward. You may even lose to someone you ordinarily beat. Not liking early returns on the scoreboard is a major reason players avoid switching to a new racquet. It’s shortsighted since overall performance—not wins and losses—should be the measurement. If there’s no necessity to replace—you like your current frame and it’s still intact—then some disappointing short-term results can deter a switch even if it could mean potential improvement.
Think of it this way: When you buy a suit or dress off the rack, it seldom fits perfectly. It usually takes some alterations before it has the ideal dimensions. Over time, as we…ahem, grow, further adjustments might be needed as well. When buying a new frame it helps to be, or know, a good racquet tailor. That way you can take what is essentially a good racquet for your playing style and customize it so it’s an even better fit.
In other words, if a racquet feels good to play with, and checks the boxes you were searching for, then minor quibbles can be worked out. Not quite stable enough against heavy hitters? Some additional weight can remedy the problem. If it’s got the added power you were looking for but can be a bit wild, the right strings and tension can be the solution. If you’re not willing to work a little with a new frame, then it probably won’t work for you.