Why you should customise your racket
Originally published on: 05/05/12 00:00
"Customising a racket is something that’s very delicate for any player,” says a man who regularly altered the weight of his weapons, former US Open finalist Greg Rusedski. “The older I got the lighter mine became,” he adds with a grin. “If you go heavier with a racket, it’s harder to get started on the swing, but once you do it goes through the air quicker. It’s very important to get the balance right.”
Tinkering with frames is certainly not a new phenomenon. Most rackets you'll find in the hands of a club player may look the same as the model used by their heroes, but that is where the similarities end. The balance, weight and swing weight properties of the imitation model are all hugely different.
“Most guys on tour play with an overall racket weight of between 305 to 365 grammes,” reveals Rusedski. “Mark Philippoussis was at 400 grammes – which is basically what the old guys who used wooden rackets used to play with!”
By contrast, most rackets you could expect to pick up from a shop can be as light as 230 grammes and will rarely stretch above the 320-gramme mark, providing greater maneuverability that allows less accomplished players to glean more enjoyment from the game.
Even so, the rackets used by the pros do at least start off like the advanced frames any of us can buy. And the fact that rackets are mass-produced in a ‘one size fits all’ manner means that players at all levels should look to experiment with their equipment to find their very own perfect match.
“Personally, I think customisation should be done more than it is,” says Babolat racket technician David Munt. “Players already spend lots of money testing and trying rackets, which is a great part of tennis. The problem is, the average club player may have two or three rackets that look the same, and that they think play the same, but research shows that there may actually be up to 14 grammes difference between them. Even if there are six or seven grammes between frames you are not really using the same racket.”
The solution? “Matching rackets,” says Munt. “Which is basically just ensuring you have two or three rackets that are the same and then making them all as close as possible to the specified weight.
“If you have three rackets that are supposed to be 300 grammes, but one is 297 grammes and the other 302 grammes, then you would make them all 302 grammes so that you end up with rackets that are identical in weight, balance and swing weight.”
The process involves adding the desired amount of lead tape, concealed for aesthetic purposes, either under the grommet strip on the head of the racket or on the inside of the handle. Like Babolat, most racket manufacturers offer customisation as a service, allowing you to explain to a technician exactly what you are looking for without causing injury by adding excessive weight in the wrong place.
While most players on the professional tour will avoid regularly experimenting with lead tape, it can take them a while to settle on their optimum set-up, explains Munt.
“When players are younger, they will often start off with one racket and then change it the next year when they are stronger and more developed,” he says. “We will either send them a few pre-prepared rackets or get them and their coach to apply lead tape to the racket in the areas they want it – two grammes in the top, five grammes in the handle, and so on.
They won’t know what weight it is but once they like the feel of it they send it back to us. It generally comes back with tape all over the racket,” laughs Munt. “But we then take all the specs of the racket – the weight, balance point and the swing weight – and then copy that into their new rackets for the following year.”
A worthwhile practice to help you get the most out of your game, matching and customising rackets is a practice with a relatively low profile in the UK. In America, however, where rackets are sold unstrung, customers are much more exposed to the possibilities for both frame and game.
“The first conversation you’ll have in the States is, ‘What strings do you want?’” says Munt. “That means the customer is immediately a lot more aware of strings because they have a choice, and that inevitably leads to how else you can customise your racket.
“The UK is quite low profile on it because it costs the same to buy a racket, whether it comes strung or unstrung. It’s whether a customer is happy to pay the same amount of money for their racket and then shell out another £50 extra to have those two rackets strung.”
That decision is one for the individual, of course. It certainly pays to invest in a better playing racket, but adding your own stamp beneath the surface of your stick may just benefit your peace of mind too, for those as particular as world No.2 Rafael Nadal. Rafa is adamant that the main grip underneath his white grip has to be black, reveals Munt. “The original Aeropro Drive had a black grip and he wanted to keep it black, even though you can’t see it and he has a white overgrip on top of it.”
Call him particular or just plain nuts, Nadal is a leading example of the fact that we tennis types need our rackets just right.