What’s in a racket?

It’s been a bit of a revelation how much a tennis racket can impact your game. And it’s funny, that you don’t know any better, till you try a better racket, or maybe more accurately – a more appropriate one.

There’s so much that goes into picking the right racket – grip, head, strings, tension, length, weight, balance, design, etc. Not to mention that most of the pros have them custom designed and manufactured. Why would they do that? They’re pros, they should be able to play with any racket, right? Or at least the one that pays the most in terms of endorsements. But not quite. It seems a racket can mean a lot to their game and overall performance. If it’s not a good fit for their playing style, their game can suffer.

John McEnroe was about the only commentator, again, who was pretty vocal and somewhat disapproving of Jokovic switching from Wilson to Head. That was a risky move and his game slipped for a moment. I’m not even sure if it’s back up to his Wilson level yet or if it ever will be again. Somehow that huge forehand he had with the Wilson is not exactly there with the Head racket. Some rackets just seem to make some of your shots better and easier. Those shots can be harder or not as powerful if made with other rackets.

I wish more time were spent on pros changing rackets and the resulting effect of those changes. It’s a little surprising Federer’s move to the new Wilson went almost unmentioned. Is this something that doesn’t matter, or maybe the specs of his new racket are not disclosed? It would be nice to know.

I remember Brad Gilbert telling a great story at the 2009 USTA Tennis Teachers Conference in NYC, about one of Andre Agassi’s matches towards the end of his playing career. Andre had suddenly decided to change his Head racket for a different one immediately prior to a game. That raised all kinds of red flags for Brad and triggered a fiery discussion with Andre if that was the right decision to make. Andre had it his way though and went on to play with the different racket. Not surprisingly, his game was not going well and half way through the match he asked for his original racket. He switched back to that racket and won the match! That was my first credible and authoritative insight into what’s in a tennis racket.

Big Serve Compared to Penatly Kick

The Isner – Nadal match in Indian Wells got one of the commentators to commend John Isner’s focus, concentration, self-belief and not least – his big serve. He even compared receiving a big serve like that to being the goalie for a penalty kick in soccer. The goalie doesn’t have time to read the ball and plan his plunge. At best, he can guess and jump to one side. Same with a big serve. You don’t have time to read it. You make a guess and swing at the ball. Hopefully at some point that becomes an inherent instinct, a reflex.