Gear Q&A: Balancing Act

by: Jon Levey | November 23, 2020

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Dunlop Balance Board

Jon Levey answers your equipment questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to email your question, or send him a tweet @levey_jon.


I’m relatively new to tennis and have been shopping for a new racquet. During my search I’ve seen the balance point of racquets listed in inches, points and centimeters. What’s the difference? Also, why is this a valuable thing to know when buying a new racquet?—Kevin N.

Kevin,

It’s true, the terminology concerning the balance of a racquet can be confusing. One simplified standard unit of measurement would undoubtedly help. Understanding the concept is one thing, but the specification  also varies from racquet to racquet, and simply knowing the number won’t necessarily reveal how a frame will feel in your hand. Let’s nerd out a bit to see if we can make this figure a little clearer.

Every racquet has a static weight, or what it weighs on a scale. If a 27-inch, standard length racquet has an even weight distribution, then its balance point—think of two sides of a seesaw being perfectly level—would be exactly 13.5 inches from the butt handle. There are DIY methods for doing this, but I prefer the convenience of my trusty Dunlop balance board (pictured above). 

However, most racquets don’t have their weight positioned evenly throughout the length of the frame. And knowing where it balances is worthwhile because it can shed light on maneuverability and how it might swing through the air, as well as its power potential and stability.

Typically, the heavier the frame, the more of its weight will be portioned toward the handle. Otherwise it would be too burdensome to swing. This doesn’t mean the handle is actually heavier than hoop; the materials inside the frame have just been positioned in relation to the balance point in such a way so that the bottom half behaves heavier. That’s physics for you.

The opposite is true for lightweight and game improvement frames that generally have more of their weight distributed towards the head. These are frames that typically have a static weight around 10 ounces and below. Like a hammer driving a nail, this brings more of the mass to contact to provide increased hitting power and resist twisting at impact. It can also make a lighter racquet feel heavier through the air than a frame that actually possesses more weight. 

The trend in performance racquets has been to lighten the static weight so they’re easier to accelerate and keep up with the increasing ball speeds of the modern game. More of the weight is therefore distributed toward the head to provide enough stability and shock absorption to handle significant incoming pace. Still, almost all are varying degrees of being head light. 

Which can also confound players. I constantly hand test frames to playing partners who take a few shadow swings and claim: “This thing is head heavy.” Which irks me because it’s almost always not the case. Sometimes glaringly so. However, it might be head heavier compared to their customary frame. By the “feel” barometer it may deserve to be called head heavy, but not according to the numbers.

This is where those measurements like “points” come into play. A point stands for 1/8 of an inch. If a racquet is 4 pts. head light, the balance point would be 0.5 inches toward the handle. On a standard length racquet, that means it would essentially be 13 inches from the butt of the frame. You might see that frame referred to as ½-inch head light. If a racquet were 2 pts. head heavy, the balance point would be 0.25 inches toward the tip of the frame, or 13.75 inches from the end of the handle.

The balance point can affect the playability of the frame and generally draws certain styles of players along with it. For instance, many popular tweener frames like the Babolat Pure Drive weigh around 11 ounces and have strung balance points in the 3-to-5 pts. head light range. These racquets are designed to have enough weight toward the head to slug big serves and ground strokes—making them attractive to aggressive baseliners. Sometimes the proportioning can make the racquets feel “clubby” or chunky through the air.

Heavier, more control-oriented frames like the Head Prestige Midplus and Yonex VCORE Pro are closer to 7 pts. head light strung. This typically makes the frame more conducive to all-court and net play. About eight years ago I was using a Pro Staff Six.One that was 9 pts. head light, but such a balance is practically a dinosaur in the current market. It’s possible for a very head light racquet to feel too “whippy” or seemingly lack power.

Still, inches are a somewhat large denomination for such a razor small measurement. If you want to be more precise, you have to embrace the metric system. It’s similar to addressing the weight of a frame: For most, it’s far simpler and more accurate to deal in grams rather than ounces when referring to and manipulating the mass of the racquet.

In the case of balance point, that means trafficking in centimeters or millimeters. The length of a standard racquet is 68.58 cm or 685.8 mm. Depending on manufacturer preference, the balance point will be a number derived off that length. For instance, Wilson lists the unstrung balance point of the Blade 98 v.7 at 32 cm; Head puts the Extreme Tour at 315mm. It’s the same thing, just a decimal point to the right. 

If you’re trying to draw a distinction between two frames, or want to match all your frames so they have the same balance point, it helps to be this exacting. If your favorite stick has a balance point of 327 mm and you want your new spare to match, it will be more difficult to do so by comparing points. 

But those are concerns of racquet customizers and highly discerning players. For the large majority of recreational players it’s most important to understand what the balance point means. Which, on its surface, is a basic measurement. But it’s also not uniform, and that taken in context with a frame’s other specs will influence the playability of the frame. Which is far more subjective and complicated.

Hope that helps and good luck in your search.

 

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