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