Most people when they first start out to play tennis make purchasing mistakes because they don’t know better, and can’t tell when they’re being taken advantage of.
A reasonable person might think ‘hmm well I don’t want something super cheap and super crappy, but I also am not a pro, so I won’t spend $180. How about instead I go for something in the middle, and get that $100 racquet? Surely if it costs that much it must be half decent?’
Unfortunately this is a great way to spend a ton of money and get a crappy product. If you just want to dink around in the back yard with friends for the summer and have no intention of getting any good, maybe this is okay. If you want to get good, just get a good racquet. Save that extra $80 and get a racquet that will last you 20 years+.
There are racquets you can find in three different price ranges.
$0-$50 range – Total garbage. Maybe okay for small children who are just starting and likely to quit after a short period of time.
$50 – $100 range – If you are buying new, these racquets are almost surely crap relative to what you are paying. They’re heavy, bulky, defective, have weird shapes, bad balance, cheaper materials, etc. They may break suddenly and generally be useless once you become an intermediate player.
That being said, you can find some high quality used racquets for around $100. For instance, an older model babolat or head racquet that sells retail for $190 or $200 may resell for only $100 on ebay. But you have to really know what you’re buying if you go this route, and that might be tricky for someone who’s just starting.
$100-200 range – This is what you can expect to pay for a decent racquet. Good racquets such as the Babolat Puredrive or Aeropro sell today for $189. I would be hesitant to buy anything lower than $140 as a general rule. There may be exceptions.
I personally like the Babolat pure drive and I have been using it for over 10 years now. I also like the Head flexpoint when I have played with it.
Decent brands are generally:
1) Babolat – Solid, well rounded
2) Wilson – I find a little heavier and harder to manipulate
3) Head – Can be too light or rigid, but I like the flexpoint
4) Prince – not used by many pros, I personally don’t like the feel
5) Yonex – generally lighter, sometimes with weirdly shaped racquet face
It’s a very personal choice, and you want to try them out to see what feels good to you for your body. Most tennis shops will loan you a ‘loaner’ racquet for 2 weeks so you can get a feel for it before buying. It is a big purchase afterall.
Racquets that have overly large racquet faces, or that boast “50% larger sweetspot!”. These are for noobs who think that a larger racquet face means increased sweetspot and thus more consistent strokes.
In reality it just ends up making your strokes less compact, more unweildy, and generally slower — ultimately, making it harder to hit the ball cleanly.
Avoid racquets that come pre-strung. These are generally pre-strung because noobs dont want to have to deal with a racquet stringing, and want something ready to use. A good player will never use the strings that come in a racquet. This is because over time the strings lose their magic and become dull. So while not a hard-and-fast rule, a pre-strung racquet is usually for noobs (ie. high price, crappy quality).
Don’t be distracted or lured in by pictures of pros on the packaging. No, the pros do not use the wilson hyperwhacker with the 100% bigger sweetspot. They have an endorsement deal with Wilson and then their face gets plastered all over everything, even the junk. If you really want the racquet your favorite pro uses, look it up online before going to the store. Even then, it’s possible you might not be buying anything good. Pros have been known to use the same racquet for decades, but with each new endorsement deal, they just give their old racquets a new paint job to make it look like whatever their sponsor wants to sell off the shelves.
Too heavy, too light, too rigid, too flexible, too long, too short, head heavy, handle heavy— these are all things to look out for. Generally you want the center of balance to be right in the middle of the racquet, on the throat.
This site has a fairly good rundown on some basic issues.
I like string tension around 58. You can experiment with 56 on the mains 58 on the crosses, etc.
Pros string their racquets in the 60s but this is way too high for the average player. Typically a racquet will have a range written on it for you to string your racquet within.
It costs about 30 bucks or so to string your racquet at any tennis shop.
I like the luxilon big banger ALU strings for durability and spin.
Lower guage string has the tendency to generate more spin, but it lasts only short periods of time.
16-17 guage is probably what you want if you’re going to go for a gosen micro fibre string.
Gut lasts even shorter before it starts going dead and you begin to lose feel of the ball.