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How to pick a racket

August 04, 2000

How to pick a racket



By MEG H. PARTINGTON / Staff Writer


So you've heard the calling of the courts.

You're tired of watching through the fence and are ready to step onto the concrete to put those felt-covered tennis balls in motion.

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But first you need a racket.

Basic ones purchased at all-purpose stores like Kmart and Wal-Mart are suitable for beginners, said Chris Stambaugh, coach of the men's and women's tennis teams at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and a tennis pro at Martinsburg Health and Fitness in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Rackets for recreational players sell for up to $95, while more consistent players can expect to pay $140 to $300 for a higher-quality racket, said Nick Skally, public relations manager for Prince in Bordentown, N.J.

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Newcomers to the sport should swing rackets around to find one that feels comfortable, Stambaugh said.

More experienced players should ask if they can borrow a racket from a store to hit with before buying, Skally said. Serve, volley, hit overheads and groundstrokes to see how the racket responds, advises Prince's Web site, www.Princetennis.com.

Beginners' rackets generally come with strings in place, while stores carrying rackets for upper-level players may require you to buy them separately.

Higher-end strings are made from cow intestines, Skally said. Others are generally synthetic, made from nylon, which is sometimes mixed with titanium or Kevlar, a fiber product.

Here are some basic guidelines to help beginners pick a racket.

Sorry, good strokes aren't included.

Head size

Head sizes range from 85 square inches to about 135 square inches, Skally said.

Whether you need a bigger head to be a better player is a debatable point.

"A bigger head size is going to be a more powerful racket," Skally said, while smaller heads work better for more advanced players who are seeking control.

Larger head frames are helpful with volleys, according to Prince's Web site.

Stambaugh said regardless of the size, players still have to hit the ball in the middle of the strings to make a good shot.

"I don't think head size makes much difference at all," Stambaugh said, though he knows a larger one sometimes makes tennis players feel more comfortable with their game.

"If it helps a person's confidence to use a bigger head, go ahead," Stambaugh said.

Frame

Probably the only place you'll see a wooden racket anymore is in your parents' closet.

"You'd be hard-pressed to even find a wooden racket for sale," Stambaugh said.

Frames are made of all sorts of materials now, including titanium and graphite, which is sometimes combined with titanium or carbon.

"They keep making them lighter and lighter," Stambaugh said.

The lightest rackets weigh in around 9 ounces, while the old wooden varieties came in at a whopping 1 pound, Stambaugh said.

Lighter rackets help curb tennis elbow, Stambaugh said.

They're also more expensive, Skally said.

The stiffness of the frame helps dictate the power the racket generates.

Stiffer rackets are more powerful, Skally said, but are tougher on the arms.

To compensate, some rackets have grips and strings with shock-absorbing powers. Sponge-like attachments called dampeners also can be put on the strings to cut back on vibration, Skally said.

The grip

To determine the correct grip size, wrap your playing hand around the racket handle. The heel of the thumb should be a pencil width from the ring finger, Stambaugh said.

"It's better to have a little bit bigger grip than you want," Skally said.

Length

Place the head of the racket against your armpit and extend the arm. The racket should be as long as your arm or up to 1/2 inch shorter, Stambaugh said.

Racket lengths average 27 to 28 inches from tip of head to end of handle, though shorter models are available.

"We definitely recommend a long-body racket," Skally said, because it extends a player's reach.

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