Back in the day, when I was learning tennis, we had, maybe, five to six VHS (remember those?) instructional tennis programs to chose from at the local video store. Today, there are literally thousands of websites and YouTube videos on tennis instruction. So how does the average recreational tennis player sift through all of this information and decide what to read, follow and apply?
Let us start by looking at some of the bigger myths that may be holding you back or confusing you, if you are one of the many self-learners who are trying to improve at tennis on your own. Others, who may have been playing for years, will find these columns enlightening as well. The racket is certainly the most important piece of equipment for the tennis player, so let’s start with that.
Myth: I should buy and use the same racket that my favorite professional player uses because it will improve my game.
Reality: Top-level men’s and women’s professional players often receive financial compensation (or free products) to use and endorse. Very often, the actual tennis racket a certain pro is using is not one “off the shelf” that we could actually buy for ourselves. Sometimes they are models that have been specially made for the pro, but painted to look like the one available to us.
If some players are using a stock model, it probably has been tuned —weighted or slightly modified — in some way.
With that said, it may be, that the flashy, new, stock model racket is a very good one for you. Think of the contact event between the tennis ball and your racket strings as a collision. A standard tennis ball weighs about 2 ounces. In order to remain stable through that collision, it’s best if your racket weighs at least 10 ounces (unstrung). In the past, racket manufacturers experimented with lighter-weight rackets, but that lead to more reports of tennis elbow within the sport.
For teen and adult players, it really comes down to what you get used to. The newest, prettiest frame does not always feel better than an older model. I, myself, am still using a 20-year-old model. When I heard they were being discontinued, I purchased several frames that I still use because I prefer its tighter (more dense) string pattern (18x20) and I love the solid feel of the racket.
Most singles players prefer a racket with an even balance. Most doubles players prefer a frame that is slightly head light. You can test your own for balance by simply measuring the length, finding and marking the middle, and seeing how it balances. Usually, racket manufactures test and have these specs available for you.
And that brings us to choosing the right strings for you and your racket.
A number of years ago, I attended a local United States Tennis Association event that was associated with a professional exhibition match held at the Xcel Energy Center. David Wheaton, the former pro from Lake Minnetonka who was ranked No. 12 in the world, was one of the speakers (and players) at the event, and he was taking questions from the audience. I raised my hand, nervously stood up, and asked David, “What poundage do you string your rackets at?”
Mr. Wheaton replied: “Ah, a personal question!” All eyes were suddenly on me, and I’m sure my face turned beet red. David was cordial enough to give us an approximate number in answer to my question. (I think the audience loved the question too.)
Anyway, your choice of strings for your racket are as important to your game as are the tires on a race car. String manufacturers have also experimented with different materials over the years, but they always end up comparing their fancy new ones to gut strings — yes, gut strings are made from animal intestine and have been used for centuries in things like musical instruments and hunting bows. Natural gut strings were introduced to the then-new sport of tennis in the year 1875. I won’t go into detail on how, but it takes about 60 days to make a set of natural gut tennis strings.
The trend in string materials used by some of the pros has been polyester, Kevlar and even some hybrid string combinations. These too have contributed to more reports of tennis elbow among recreational players, as these materials are very hard and unforgiving. Most recreational players would do best sticking with a 16- or 17-gauge natural gut, nylon or a synthetic gut string at 55-65 pounds maximum.
Restring your racket often because strings lose their properties/qualities fairly quickly.
If you would like some specific recommendations, feel free to send me an email. Stay tuned for my next tennis myth exposed column.