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Can you recommend a few racquets for me? I’ve been using the Wilson Triad 3.0 Oversize (115 square inches) for several years. I’ve tried the Wilson K Three in the past, but the result was a sore arm and shoulder. I’m not fussy about the brand. I am a doubles player at a USTA 3.5 level. The goal here is to avoid tennis elbow! Thanks so much.—Paula Huttner
As I wrote a few days ago, Paula, there are a number of measures you can take to reduce your risk of elbow injury. I regularly emphasize the following six.
1) Switch to a softer string, preferably natural gut.
2) Lower your tension 10 to 15 percent—even lower if your ball control permits.
3) Avoid using racquets that are very light (~<10 oz. strung) and/or very head-heavy (~>5 pts. HH strung).
4) Avoid racquets with RA (stiffness) values in the high 60s and 70s.
5) Build up your grip with a cushioned material.
6) Take regular lessons with a teaching professional to iron out injury-inducing kinks in your form.
Not knowing any details about your current stringbed, I can’t comment on where you stand in relation to the first two guidelines. However, it is clear that, when viewed purely in terms of its elbow safety, your Wilson Triad Hammer 3.0 has several shortcomings. According to the USRSA (United States Racquet Stringing Association), the Triad weighs in at 9.5 ounces (unstrung), with a balance of 7 pts. HH and an RA of 70. While the racquet’s weight is passable, for players with sensitive elbows its balance is much too head heavy, and its construction is overly rigid. (Spec-wise, the K Three Oversize exhibits similar shortcomings.)
The challenge with finding a replacement, Paula, is simply this: The Triad derives its easy power and forgiveness from the same characteristics that can aggravate elbows—again, a light, head-heavy weight and a stiff build. Gentler replacements, then, may not give your strokes the same amount of sting.
With this in mind, I’ve tried to pick sticks for you that strike a balance between power, off-center (i.e., mis-hit) forgiveness, and elbow health. Here are three.
1) Völkl Organix V1 Oversize
The V1 Oversize—reviewed here—is, at 110 sq. in., slightly smaller than your Triad. But it’s still appropriately powerful for a 3.5 player like yourself. Plus, the V1 isn’t nearly as stiff, and it maintains a weight to balance ratio (10.5 ounces/3 pts. HL strung) that should be much easier on your arm. This would be my number one recommendation to you.
2) Yonex EZone Xi 107
The EZone 107—reviewed here—is also on the smaller end of game-improvement racquets. And it may be a bit stiff, which accounts for the stick’s generous power. But the EZone’s weight (10.5 oz.) and balance (1 pt. HL) are well within the proverbial "elbow safety range," and thus should be on your demo docket.
3) Dunlop Biomimetic 700
If you’re uncomfortable venturing far from the Triad’s feel, you might want to give the Biomimetic 700 a whirl. (It’s reviewed here.) It’s stiff and below 10 oz., which could cause a problem for a serious elbow injury. However, it’s less head heavy than what you’re accustomed to, which could help take some of the strain off the arm. If you did decide to go with the 700, it’d be imperative to string with natural gut.
And really, regardless of the racquet, switching to natural gut should be the number one priority for any tennis-elbow sufferer. There’s no question: Compared to other types of string, natural gut’s elasticity, comfort, and shock absorption cannot be matched. If you have any type of arm pain, talk to your stringer about different gut options. They'll be able to help you find the brand and gauge that's right for you.