In future articles, I will go more in depth regarding the “technology of tennis”, but today we will get things started by discussing the fundamentals of racquet maintenance. With the holidays fast approaching, many of you are considering the gift a new racquet (or maybe a new racquet for yourself!). Buying a new racquet is an expensive endeavor, so here are five fast rules that will ensure your new racquet a long and healthy life:
1) This one is a no brainer. Don’t hit anything but a tennis ball with your racquet. They don’t call it racquet abuse for nothing. Performance racquets are made with a composite of graphite fibers, which are actually quite sensitive. Every impact breaks those fibers down, and even if you cannot see any visible damage, the frame is undeniably compromised. Too many knocks on the concrete floor or iron net posts and you’ll soon be buying yourself a new racquet.
2) Do not punish your racquet by leaving it in the trunk of your car. This habit may seem like a harmless practice, but the extreme heat and cold make quick work of the frame and strings. Extreme heat causes the graphite fibers in the racquet to soften. Coupled the soft graphite with 60 lbs of constant pressure (caused by the strings), and your racquet will begin to warp. As for the strings, heat causes the strings to stretch and lose tension, and the extreme cold causes the strings to become brittle and hard. Try hitting with a racquet that has been hibernating in deep freeze and then let’s talk about tennis elbow.
3) Replace your grip. This is not so much for the health of the racquet as it is for the health of the player. The grip is the only part of the racquet you actually handle continuously while playing tennis, and a “played out” grip minimizes the control and comfort of the racquet in your hand. An overused grip is also a breeding ground for bacteria (can we say “yuck”?). As a rule of thumb, replacement grips should be replaced at least twice a year. Overgrips, which are applied over a replacement grip, should be replaced weekly or monthly, depending on the number of hours you spend on the court.
4) Restring your racquet. Again, this is not as much for the health of the racquet as it is for your own benefit as a player. After one year, your strings go “dead”- meaning that the strings are no longer able to maintain their tension. Tension (or lack thereof) directly relates to the power, control and feel of a racquet. The rule of thumb is that your racquet should be strung as many times per year as the number of hours you play per week (you play 3 hours a week, restring 3 times a year). There is some flexibility in the variables of that equation. For example, if you are a “big hitter” and use polyester string (like the ever popular Babolat RPM Blast), be ready to restring your racquet more often. Polyester looses tension fast, an automatic 15% in the first 24 hours, and 50% within the first 20 hours of play. Natural Gut, on the other hand, only looses 5% over the same period of time.
5) Have your racquet serviced by a USRSA Certified Stringer or Master Racquet Technician. The USRSA is the only organization recognized by the international tennis community to train and certify racquet service professionals. When you hire a USRSA Certified Stringer or Master Racquet Technician you are assured that the integrity of your racquet will remain intact during the course of any service. Leave your newly purchased racquet in the hands of an uncertified stringer, and take your chances. All it takes is a stringer unknowingly stringing your racquet with the wrong string pattern to void your warranty, or worst case scenario, crack your frame in half.
I hope you enjoyed my first “Gerald Says” column. From our family to yours, we wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving and warm and healthy holiday season.
Gerald Sarmiento is a USRSA National Certification Tester and Master Racquet Technician of 18 years. In addition to owning two pro shops in New Jersey, Gerald continues to string on the ATP Tour.