First of all is it tennis racket or tennis racquet? As I just found out in the online dictionary the more correct and preferred writing form should be racket so I stick with that.
When considering buying a racket you should consider the following attributes – how good of a tennis player you are, the balance of the racket, weight, head size, length, material, stringing pattern and grip. We will deal with all these to help you better understand what tennis racket to buy and why.
This is probably the most important thing to look at when buying a tennis racket. When you are a professional player you do not want to play with a racket from you local sports shop that costs 25 EUR. Why? Because these rackets are not meant for professional players. Also, it does not mean that professional rackets are always better. Professional rackets are made for professional players. It is like with cars, if you want to drive every morning to work, you probably don't want to buy a formula 1 car. Pro rackets are usually heavier than recreational rackets, have smaller head size and have less forgiving material – because pro’s usually have perfect technique - these rackets are meant to function in hands of people who can control them perfectly. So if you are just starting with tennis or you have only a few years of experience you will literally suffer when trying to play with these pro models.
Every racket states the basic information about its weight, balance and string pattern. These are usually written somewhere on the frame. Probably the most important is the balance and is given in mm. This number reflects the distance from the end of the grip to the balance point. Normally everything above 330 mm is said to be balanced in the head (head heavy) and below 320 mm to be balanced in the grip (head light). Pro rackets are usually balanced more in the grip (head light) and recreational rackets are more head heavy. This is because if an amateur player buys a head heavy racket the racket leads its way through in a simple motion and creates also more speed. On the other hand a head light rackets are usually heavier to compensate the balance and are more maneuverable – these are meant for players who already have good technique and can control the racket.
Weight is very overrated by choosing your racket. This has a lot to do with the balance of the racket. Imagine a very light racket e.g. 250 gr that has a balance of 360mm – if you take such racket in your hand it will feel as if it weights at least 1.5kg and will be difficult to swing with. If you take on the other hand a racket that is 320 gr with a balance point of 310mm it will feel relatively light in your hand. The weight is important only in combination with the balance and should reflect the overall idea of the racket. Also rackets that are heavy, in combination with bad technique can cause various injuries – elbow, shoulder, wrist, back... Therefore if your technique is not perfect do not opt for very heavy rackets.
The latest trend not only in the pro tennis is to opt for bigger head sizes. What was 20 years ago considered a big head size is now considered more or less standard. Again if you are a beginner try bigger head size – 100 in sq or bigger – this will make your sweet spot a bit larger and it will make it easier to hit the ball clean.
Standard length of a racket is 27 in, although many brands started doing extra-long rackets reaching up to 29 in. I personally prefer standard length as when I played with the longer racket it messed up my swing and you can really feel the difference. But I can see, why rackets are build nowadays in different lengths as if you are 210 cm tall you probably do not want to play with the same racket as somebody who is 175 cm tall. So just for orientation the longer the racket, the less maneuverable it gets, but the more power it can generate (again depending on the balance and weight).
The racket material directly affects the flexibility of the racket. Usually the more flexible a racket is, the more energy it absorbs at contact. This results in a loss of power when hitting and consequently the stiffer the racket the more power it can generate. Accordingly to this reasoning more flexible rackets should generate advanced control, although this comes only when the racket reaches certain speed in contact. So it can happen that the very beginners may feel more control with stiffer rackets, because their lack of technique and stroke power does not fully implement the attributes of the flex in the racket. Also flexible rackets absorb more vibration so they should cause less discomfort to the body.
Usually written on the frame of the racket in the form of e.g. 18x20. This numbers represent the number of main (vertical) strings and the crosses (horizontal). This is always important to check in relation to the head size. Because if a racket has a head size of 115 in sq and string pattern of 16x19 the holes between the strings will be much bigger than in a racket that has the same string pattern and head size of 95 sq in. Large holes between strings result in more spin and more restringing (as you will snap strings very often). The more dense strings will increase the control as you can direct the ball a bit better.
The racket handle (the grip) comes in different sizes – ranging from 1 – 4 (1/8, 2/8, 3/8, 4/8). The bigger the number the larger the grip. Do not think that different brands have the same grips – every racket manufacturer uses slightly different grip styles, so always test your racket in your hand with the grip size you need before you buy your racket. Normally the bigger your hand the larger grip size you should take. The racket should feel comfortable in your hand (also count with putting on an overgrip additionally to your base grip). Normally adult women use 2-3 grip size and adult men 3 -4 grip size.
Listen to your feeling
When buying a racket always try to test before you buy. It is quite normal to go to your local tennis shop and ask for test rackets. They should provide you with 2 or 3 different test models that you can take home and test during your training. Try to play with each racket for couple of minutes and then change the racket. Try to also play all the basic strokes - f/h, b/h, volleys, serve to make sure it feels good with all the strokes. Don't listen to the numbers, listen to your feeling.