One tennis racquet and a can of three balls; that’s how many of us started our tennis habit. For some, that first purchase was the extent of their investment. Achy knees and elbows quickly drove them off the court.
For the rest of us, shoes, clothes, bags, and way more fuzzy, green balls than we ever anticipated buying in our lives have made us regulars at the local sports shop.
Eventually, no matter how much we love our first racquet, we have to step it up a notch and buy a newer model. The club pros tell us we need something better suited to our game or at least something without the dents and scratches from our earlier efforts.
To help you out, here’s some tips on how to find a better racquet as well as our choice of the top four rackets for intermediate players available today.
So Much to Consider!
You already know that tennis rackets and their strings are made of different materials and that the rackets come in different sizes. If that was all there was to consider, we wouldn’t need this article so much.
What a string is made of is an important factor, but so is how they are attached to the racquet, how many strings there are, tension and gauge.
Here is a list of things to think about when you are looking for the best tennis racquet.
Racquet Head Size
Did you know there was a rhyme and reason for different head sizes? It’s not as simple as saying, “Well, I’m a big strong guy, so I need a bigger and heavier racquet!”
Larger racquet heads (> 105 cm) will give you more power. This is not because you are stronger. It is because of the larger sweet spot and added “oomph” of the extra string.
If you are a player who values control, you will want to buy a smaller racquet (< 95 cm). Mid-range rackets (95-105 cm) give a bit of a balance between the two.
Your game may not be quite ready to describe as power or control. In that case, we recommend a mid-range racquet.
Racquet Weight and Balance Point
The weight of a racquet is mostly in the handle. The impact of that weight on the racquet head is what makes the difference.
A heavy racquet (> 11.5 oz) is called “head-light” because with so much weight in your hand, the racquet head feels like a feather.
Lightweight rackets (< 10 oz) are head-heavy. In other words, the racquet head feels heavier in your hand even if it is actually the same weight as your “heavy” racquet.
There is a mid-range for those of us who don’t think much about these things. But if you were thinking about it, you would know that lighter racquets swings faster and are more maneuverable. They are ideal for most beginners.
If you want to add more control or power, then consider a mid-range or heavy racquet.
Frame Stiffness and Flexibility
Tennis racquet frames are rated for stiffness and flexibility (flex). Almost all of them rate between 50 and 80. Stiffer and less-flexible frames (> 69) are durable and provide more power. That power comes at the expense of your arms, wrists and shoulders.
Lower stiffness rackets (< 60) absorb more of the ball’s impact and don’t jar your body as much. You lose some power, but the flexibility allows for more spin on your returns, plus you can still raise your arms over your head the next day.
Finding a racquet with the right grip size is vital. Grip sizes range from 4-to-4.75 inches. Any respectable sports store will have a grip guide and there are many on the internet, too.
An improper grip size will not only affect your game, but it will lead to irritation and injuries to your wrist and hands.
This is a real thing. Somehow they actually measure how heavy a racquet feels while it is being swung and assign a number between 0 and 1,000.
Typical rackets will rate between 280 and 350. Lower weights allow for faster swings and more spin. Higher weights give more power and stability.
There are several different types of string material, ranging from soft and sweet natural gut (literally cow intestines) to Kevlar, which might come in handy if you practice in a bad neighborhood.
The majority of strings today are synthetic gut made of nylon or polyester products. Each one offers something a little different to your game. They can be solid or multi-filament strings, combining two or more products.
Most professionals use polyester or some combination of two strings.
Gut is the most expensive because it feels the best. Nylon feels good and is cheap, making it the string of choice for many amateurs on a budget.
You will need to try different types of strings to find the one that feels best for your game.
String Gauge and Tension
Once you figure out which type of strings you like best, you have to decide if you want them thick and tight or thin and loose. Or maybe, Thick and loose or tight and thin?
Higher tension strings do more work for you, giving you a more powerful shot and better control. Lower tension widens the sweet spot, allows for more spin and decreases the impact on your arms.
Gauges range from 15 - 19 with half sizes, which for some crazy reason are designated as “L”. In other words a 15L gauge is 15.5. Also, the higher the number, the thinner the string is. We don’t know why that is either.
Thinner (higher gauge) strings are better in most ways than lower gauge. They offer more control, power, spin and comfort. The only advantage for thicker strings is durability.
Tennis rackets come in either an open string or closed string patterns. This refers to the space between strings (or how big the little squares are.) It basically comes down to how many strings are on the racquet.
Open string rackets, with up to 16 vertical strings and 18 horizontal strings, offer more power and spin. The relatively loose structure tends to wear out quicker than the closed option.
The closed pattern rackets use 18 vertical and 20 horizontal strings or more. The stronger pattern allows for more control, but sacrifices power and spin. A closed pattern will last longer, however.
So Let’s Buy a Racquet!
Now that you know everything you should think about and look for in a new racquet, go buy one! If you find everything we told you so far to be a bit overwhelming, then maybe you should try one of these top four tennis rackets as judged by some of our favorite players (Us!).
1. Wilson Hyper Hammer 5.3
Wilson’s Hyper Hammer tennis racquet is aptly named. It offers a 16 x 20 string pattern on an 110 sq. in. head-heavy racquet. It’s swing rate is 301 and has a sturdy flex rate of 70.
As its name would indicate, it is built to provide power to intermediate level players. The over-sized head allows for greater maneuverability and stability.
What did our players say?
Everyone agreed that power was easy to come by with the oversized, head-heavy design and average swing weight.
Most mentioned surprising control for a racquet with so much power. A majority specifically mentioned improved control or placement of serves.
Several players restrung the rackets because they felt the stock swings were not strong or tight enough.
Most of our panel cited an improved game with this racquet. No one said their game got worse.
2. Wilson Pro Staff RF97
According to the manufacturer, Roger Federer himself helped them design this racquet! The Pro Staff RF97 (RF stands for Roger Federer- get it?) is a lighter and more easily maneuverable version of the racquet Roger uses in tournaments.
The Pro Staff RF97 is similar to the original Pro Staff racquet that many starters fell in love with, but with a larger head (and bigger sweet spot) it delivers more power.
With a swing weight of 335 and a flex of 68, it is easy to understand why it has such a strong following. The head size (97) is larger than the basic Wilson, but still on the smaller side for more control. Our players loved it:
Those who used earlier Wilson Pro Staffs had the most positive reviews of the RF97.
Everyone was positive about the quick swings and larger sweet spot.
All cited continued power along with added maneuverability.
Players using a Pro Staff for the first time were likely to note the amount of control sacrificed by the size and style of the racquet.
Player who like to play aggressively and attack the net really liked this racquet.
3. Babolat Pure Drive Racquets
Babolat calls its Pure Drive racquet a “puncher’s racquet”. They claim it offers a balance between power and feel. It has a flex rate of 72, so it is a little hard on the body. The swing weight is midrange at 317.
We were sure it would deliver power, but we were a bit skeptical about the feel. What did the panel say?
Almost everyone noted increased power, but a majority also mentioned better placement and control.
Several players said their spin was improved.
Most members said they could swing and maneuver the racquet very well.
No one mentioned any issue with wear and tear on their arms or shoulders despite the flex rate of 72.
4. Prince Warrior 100 series
Prince states that these racquets are designed to provide the perfect combination of power and spin for players who like to live on the baseline. It’s light head design (swing weight of 285) makes it a good racquet for people with a full or moderate swing.
The manufacturer says all Warrior series racquets have ESP, extreme string pattern, which improve topspin. Its open string pattern will help spin, too.
So what did our players say?
Every player appreciated increased control and a great feel on their shots.
Topspin was easy to come by with the Warrior racquets.
Several players cited its soft touch, virtually no vibrations in their arms on impact.
In limited play, there were several broken strings. Whether it was a string problem or a result of the open string pattern is not determined.
We’d be Remiss Not to Mention…
Two Head tennis racquets also fared very well in our review of best tennis racquets. The Liquidmetal 8 and Ti.S6 racquets were cited for excellence in handling, control and power.
Unfortunately, when we tried to get the specifications of those racquets from the manufacturer, we found they were no longer listed on their products page. Therefore, we did not include them in our review.
So Get Shopping!
We did include four excellent choices to get you started on your search for the best tennis racquet. Be sure to keep in mind what style game you prefer and what you liked about your previous racquets.
Remember that no matter what kind of rating a racquet has, if it doesn’t feel good in your hands, it’s not a good racquet for you.