Parents and players ask me this question a lot…about what is the right choice in racquet for beginning players. This is based on my own experience and opinion and should only be used as a reference and general guide. Players’ and pros tastes in choice of equipment varies, of course.
Most racquets these days are made with light-weight frames and provide excellent maneuverability. Racquets can be expensive so some families don’t want to upgrade year after year to a new size. I always tell them if they’re on the cusp of hitting the 10 & older age (and of average height), it’s about time to go full-sized (adult). This choice may depend on other factors in health, strength and budget, but here’s a chart for reference.
|Up to 4 years||40 inches or shorter||19 inches|
|4-5 years||40-44 inches||21 inches|
|6-8 years||45-49 inches||23 inches|
|9-10 years||50-55 inches||25 inches|
|10 & Older||55 inches and taller||26 inches +|
Grip is another determining factor when purchasing a racquet. As I always tend to lean toward a bigger size is racquet length, but grip size, on the other hand, I prefer to be on the smaller side of the scale. Buying a racquet with a grip size too big can cause stress and discomfort for smaller, weaker hands. Plus, the key to grip sizes is that you can always increase the size by building it up (with overgrip, etc.) but it’s harder to scale down on grip size without destroying your grip.
My simplest method in determining the proper grip size for my academy students is the pinkie test. I know other pros who use their index finger as a guide (which results in a bigger grip), but since I like to go smaller in grip size, I use the pinkie to measure.
Have the player grip the racquet normally with medium pressure (on a scale to 1 being loose and 10 being tight), I have them grip the racquet around a 4-5. Turn the grip so you can see where the heel of the hand and fingertips meet. Then insert the player’s pinkie of the other hand and it should fit rather snugly between the gap between fingers and the palm/heal of hand as shown below…
Like everything else in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to racquets. Prices range anywhere from $20-$400. Cheaper racquets are generally less durable and not as balanced (among other things) and this difference can really lead to a much different experience and performance.
However, most families don’t know what kind of player their beginner will turn out to be, so spending $200-$300 on a racquets is a very risky purchase for most. Tennis is a notoriously tough sport to learn and master, so some juniors over time may get frustrated and leave the sport (then leaving their families with an expensive piece of unused equipment).
So I can’t really answer the question of “how much should I spend on a racquet?” This depends on each family’s budget, the seriousness of each player and their expected enthusiasm / devotion to the sport.
This will start feuds in some circles, much like the iPhone and Samsung smartphone debates among consumers, so I’m simply going to post my opinion on my top-5 brands I prefer. Please note that I have a sponsorship from Wilson, so it’s my racquet of choice for many reasons, even before I received the sponsorship.
My top 5 favorite racquet brands are:
Where to buy? Since my academy is in the midwest, the go-to place for all my racquet purchases is Midwest Sports. You can shop online (if you’re not near the store), they ship fast, stringing new purchases to your specifications and have lots of choices in string and racquet brand.
Sometimes beginners can find discounted older models of popular Wilson or Babolat brands in Midwest Sports clearance section of racquets.
One of the most popular choices for academy players is to use a demo program to test out new racquets. In most of these programs, you can order 3-4 racquets to test for a week. The demo fee is then put towards the purchase of your next racquet. Many families love these programs and it’s a great way to get the right racquet for your child, tested and approved by them before purchase. Here are links to a few popular online retailers that have demo programs:
For advance players, stringing is a much more complicated decision, but for beginners, I usually advise them to go for free options and at a string tension that is mid-range. Each racquet will have a suggested range of tension (printed on the racquet handle or head / most likely listed online under specifications). Wilson, for instance, has many models with a suggested tension range of 50-60. So mid-range for these racquets would be to string at a tension of 55.
For most beginners, it’s usually impossible to have an idea of really how to tweak tensions for the betterment of their style of play, as they have yet to develop. But for general knowledge, the looser tensions you string, the deeper the ball will travel off the racquet face/strings (think trampoline effect). The tighter tension generally means more control (less depth).
Some pros will tell you that the looser you string your racquet, the faster you’ll hit the ball. This has actually been debunked. While looser racquets might feel as if the player is hitting harder, actually they’re hitting deeper via the trajectory of the bounce of the ball off the looser strings—this can actually be detrimental to some players who hit flat as their shots sail past the baseline more often (helping to create unforced errors). Again, many factors come into play when talking stringing, but for beginners, keep it simple, keep it mid-range. Adjust later in the more advanced stages of their development.
There are many other specifications we could debate on what’s best for beginners. Here are a few things left out in this guide, to be taken into consideration for more advanced players:
- Weight (strung)
- Cross Section
- String Pattern
Midwest Sports has a handy guide to finding the perfect racquet based on the more advanced specs and players.
As Wilson is my preferred brand of racquet, I will make one disclaimer for beginners on one of their models: their adult Roger Federer ProStaff racquets have a very unique design. They are a little heavier overall, most notably by feel in the neck/head area. I do not usually recommend this particular model for most younger/weaker-strength beginning players. It is a great racquet and is used by my son who will be playing in college shortly, so I do recommend this model for more advanced players.
I own Wilson’s Clash, Burn, Ultra, and Blade racquets and love all three. I use them in training and competing. Also, anyone experiencing arm discomfort (tennis elbow), Wilson’s Triad model is great for shock absorption, often helping to dampen vibration into the arm from contact of the ball against strings.
Hope that helps to make your choice!
Shane Staley is the founder of Staley Tennis and a USPTA-certified trainer, Accredited Professional Coach and instructor.