Originally published on 20/06/14
Most of us customise our rackets without even realising it. Adding an overgrip, changing the strings, playing with a vibration dampener – they’re all modifications to the racket that left the factory. But when most people talk about customising a frame, they’re thinking about altering its weight and balance to change its playing characteristics. There are all sorts of reasons for wanting to do this. Some players find the relaxed margin for error in some manufacturers’ factories can sometimes lead to two supposedly identical rackets feeling markedly different – make the odd tweak and they’re soon playing the same way. Others adjust the specifications of their frames to improve their performance, fine-tuning their favourite racket into a bespoke beast of their own making. There are professionals who will do all this for you, of course, but if you’re thinking of toying with the spec of your racket at home, you’ll need a bit of obscure tennis kit that you can find online for under a tenner – lead tape.
Adding lead tape affects your racket in four ways – and you can rarely change one variable without changing the others.
Weight: It’s nigh on impossible to remove weight from a tennis racket, so it’s important to appreciate the effect of adding weight – and particularly where that weight is added. Heavier frames are more physically demanding than lighter frames, but are able to transfer more power into a stroke when meeting a ball. Weight can also slow down your swing. If you hit the ball fairly flat and find yourself constantly hitting the ball long, adding weight in the throat of the racket will both increase stability and decrease racket speed, bringing the ball back towards the baseline.
Swingweight: As the name suggests, swingweight describes how heavy your racket feels during your swing. Standard tennis rackets tend to fall between 275 and 350 kg/cm2. Again, the higher the tape, the greater the increase in swingweight – or dynamic inertia – but because your hand is the pivot point, weight added to the handle has little to no effect on swingweight whatsoever. Swingweight is a measure of resistance to movement in a circular direction, which is the basis of most textbook tennis strokes. That might sound bad, but it’s a balancing act. It is more difficult to swing a racket with a higher swingweight at top speed, but when that racket hits the ball, the ball has a less disruptive effect on the swing pattern – so the racket resists the urge to deviate from its path.
Balance: The balance point of a racket is the point at which it would see-saw when set on a thin edge without tipping over. The balance of a racket is referred to in two ways – a measurement from the buttcap to the balance point (as used in our reviews) or using a points system to describe how far the balance point is from the centre-point of the racket’s length – generally 34.3cm for a standard racket. There are eight points in an inch. Rackets with balance points below the midpoint are described as being headlight; and above it, head-heavy. Rackets behave as if all of their weight is passing through the balance point. In two frames of the same weight, the head-heavy frame will be more powerful and more stable, while the head-light frame will be more manoeuvrable. If you’re serious about tinkering with your frames, you’ll need the following
Sweetspot: The sweetspot will gravitate towards any added weight. Add tape to the throat or handle and it will move lower on the stringbed; add it to the tip and it will move upwards. Placing tape at 3 and 9 o’clock will stretch the sweetspot closer to the edges of the frame by increasing the racket’s torsional stability – but don’t forget the effect on balance and swingweight…