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When it comes to worldwide reach and scope, few sports hold a candle to tennis. To celebrate all that makes tennis so rich and deep, Tennis Channel kicks off "TenniScope." Authored by Tennis Channel writer Joel Drucker, these short pieces describe many of the fabulous moments and places, people and products that have added sparkle and passion to our sport.

The Racquet Racket

by Joel Drucker

Few moments in tennis glisten with more hope and promise than the unveiling of a new racquet. The smell of an unsullied frame, the texture of a new grip and fresh strings, the possibility of improvement simply by spending money all adds up to an alluring package.

Though I try not to think of myself as overly neurotic, early in my tennis life I used a different racquet for ten straight summers. Even if I've since learned that many of these frames ostensibly played the same - my PDP was literally a replica of the red Head Professional - there was something in me that craved a new courtside companion. Was it really about playability? Or was it more a matter of looks?

And I suspect what's true for me might be true for you too.

To give you an idea of how far back my tennis life goes, one of my summer romances took place with a Dunlop Maxply Fort, a racket I believe is the most beautiful frame ever made. And yes, I'm biased. Lefthanders like myself have been drawn to this racquet for decades since it was the one used by Rod Laver. John McEnroe - as great a Laver lover and emulator as there ever was - held one in his hands when he won his first Wimbledon title in 1981. 

It wasn't until just before I met my wife that I settled down and found a racquet I could use for years at a time. The Head Graphite Edge and I enjoyed seven consecutive years together. It's simple black design isn't much different from the frame I just recently switched to, the Prince Speedport Black. 

Now while I may wax about new racquets, I'll also confess that in many ways the first couple of times I play with a new frame I find it a little too harsh, the strings too tight, the shock and absorption a bit bracing. Many times when using a new racket I have to remind myself that it takes a while to break it in. It's a bit like wearing a brand new pair of shoes.

A few years ago I found affinity with a very light frame. It indulged my lazy tendencies, as I've always needed rackets more for power than control. But then one day I was taking a lesson and the instructor said that if I used a heavier frame and bent my knees a bit more I'd actually get more pace and even have less injuries. I was sold. A friend of mine who was also using the light frame thought I was making what he called a "misguided" effort. But check this out: He too went to the same heavier frame. Vindication. 

Finding a new frame took a while, though. Pros are lucky in that they play every day for hours on end and can probably issue a verdict on six frames in a day - a particularly easy process when racquet reps are literally toting customized frames right to the court. 

But if you play two to three times a week, evaluation is painstaking. Of late I've even gone so far as to have demo frames strung to my own specifications rather than use the crappy strings that usually come with them. 

I guess all this reveals that I too am a form of what I call a racquet psycho. At least I'm not a binge buyer. These are the people who think that since Roger Federer is the best player in the world it makes sense to purchase a fleet of his sticks. But as I look back over my own racquet journey I see my own predilection for low-grade grousing, discreet experimentation and persnickety behavior in matters of looks, playability and strings. 

In the case of the latter, for example, I remain committed to gut (I was once given a set of 17 gauge VS and for the week it lasted I felt like I owned a Porsche). I shudder when I hear about recreational players who seek to use the dead Luxilon strings favored by pros. Those require a massive physical commitment. But then again, gut isn't cheap. Still, I'm shocked to see players spend hours trying frames and give nary a thought to such matters as string quality, gauge or tension. 

One thing that's particularly vexing is when racquet companies discontinue making a frame that a particular player likes. So many times I've talked with tennis buddies who are miffed that has taken place. I wonder, though, if this is just another form of displaced anxiety. 

At another level I believe that at least 90 percent of how anyone plays has nothing to do with the racket. As I said recently to a friend who'd just plunked down $500, it sure beats taking lessons, doesn't it? 

Then again, it's a free country, so why not have fun with rackets? I'd be curious to hear how any of you live and die with your frames.

Joel Drucker has been part of Tennis Channel since the network first hit the airwaves in 2003, most notably as co-producer and writer of "Center Court," as well as working for Tennis Channel at many tournaments as an analyst and writer and since 2006 authoring this website's "Roving Player" column. 

Drucker is one of the world's preeminent tennis historians, having authored dozens of articles on every generation of the game's leading players - from past stars Don Budge and Jack Kramer to contemporary greats Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer. Along with Tennis Channel colleagues Bud Collins and Steve Flink, Drucker is one of three American writers on the International Tennis Hall of Fame Enshrinee Committee - the group that each year builds the ballot for the worldwide panel of voters. Drucker's first book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, is considered by Sports Illustrated to be one of five "must-read" tennis books.

Read all the Tenniscope columns:

Happy Birthday, Ken Rosewall | Davis Cup: How it all started | Mixing It Up In Mixed Doubles | Aussies Set The Tennis Code | The Royal Reign of Margaret Court | Reflections on Michael Chang | Let's Take it Inside | Warm-Up Suits | Death of a Player | A Tale of Two Backhands | Court Management | Movie Review | Racquet Racket | Sampras: Book Review

Comments

  1. tennis 4 me (5/29/2008 10:57:39 PM) 

    As a junior I also played with a maxply, a wilson pro staff(one a week they broke at the throat) and a "red" head but the important part of this was all of these raquets required me to have a full swing and hit in the middle of the racquet. I learned to hit my own power... The tennis industry in an effort to get more people playing tennis who 1. don't want to take the time to develop their strokes 2. are lacking the ability to develop a full stroke (not many). 3. Only want to play three times a year. Have come out with the oversize, light weight and could double as a snowshoe tennis racquet. They come in pretty colors and there are ones for women(the idea the poor weak women can't hit a ball with power, except all the juniors who weight less than 80 pounds can)Unfornately, this has cause players to limit their stroke development. Because if you take a full swing with a low to high swing pattern you will be killing the birds in the trees. So they take short swings never developing a true stroke...If you want to develop your game go with a racquet that is 10.5 - 11.5 oz even balance and less than 100 head size. Also a thin beam frame. The first thing I do with my students who come to me to improve is to put this type racquet in their hands. They love it and the tennis elbow goes away. ..Look for what is called a "player's" racquet, sales persons will say oh that's for 4.5 and above. Just say, yes that is where I'm headed and pass on the snowshoe. ..The racquet is as important as the correct grip, contact point and swing path. As for strings go with 17 gauge control string if you want to "feel" the ball. And restring your racquet four to six times a year if you don't break strings. Most rec players think strings last 5 years, they don't.

  2. Donna (5/23/2008 9:13:34 PM) 

    Pain in the xxx looking for new racquets what with pros telling you to buy whatever they are toting instead of admitting they don't know...mysterious ongoings with strings - I'm sick of it. I researched on my own and found similar spec Head racquets to replace the Head racquets I have since I had to learn the hard way they were different sizes - so much for club owner/stringers.... Definitely go with what you have demoed exhaustively and brings joy to your soul.

  3. Court Jester (5/21/2008 10:06:36 AM) 

    Interesting write up, but I agree that tinkering with different racquets, strings, and tensions can lead you to finding the exact stick that was meant for you. After all, your weapon of choice is also your partner in crime, and while on the court, it becomes an extension of yourself, your atxxxude, and your skill. It should allow you to play the game at your highest level, and should complement who you are as a player. I too have been around the game for several years, and sampled and owned numerous racquets. I must say that the technological advancements in frames and strings have been tremendous. With the game's progress in so many dimensions, then it would seem only fitting that a lover of the game should be open-minded towards trying new equiptment to help improve their game even further. A player's game also develops and matures over time, which means their needs will change. Thus, it becomes even more beneficial to experiment. I myself switched from a Head frame to a Babolat Pure Drive with yes, that Luxilon string that makes you "shudder". And while it may make you quiver, it makes me win, and I love it!



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