Tennis players search for new rackets the way oeneophiles stalk the great vintages of Bordeaux. Like Percival, however, they never quite find the Holy Grail. Which is why the limitless imaginations of the racket manufacturers are giving us more new models than the Paris collections every year.
The key to the great and endless racket search is not what we or any other "experts" say, but how the thing feels and plays for you. Buying a racket is not unlike buying shoes: No matter what the specs, it has to look, feel and play right for you. Like shoes, you have to try the racket on; around Washington, the better tennis shops will let you take a racket out (against a $30 to $40 deposit) and try it for a few days. Keep taking rackets out until you find the one you like.
But there are a few fundamentals that most tennis people agree on. The first is that wooden rackets provide the best control (touch and feel for the ball), while metal alloy rackets provide the most power. The recent lines of very high-priced ( $100 plus) composition rackets purport to give you both. Two extremes are represented by the metal Wilson T2000, which is known for its almost uncontrollable, high-powered trampoline effect - this is what Jimmy Connors uses - and the wooden Dunlop Maxply Fort. This is a perennial favorite among touch players, but your arm has to provide most of the power.
Q - Why do the top players bring so many rackets to the court - just to show off?
A - No. They top pros hit the ball very hard and use a thinner gauge of gut string in their rackets. They sometimes pop strings in several rackets during one match. Jimmy Connors once had to finish a match with a wooden racket after breaking strings in three of his own metal rackets. He lost.
Q - Will gut strings really improve my play? Is it worth the extra money?
A - Former Wimbledon Champion Jack Kramer says only the pros need gut strings, but this is one of those endlessly unanswerable questions. Advanced players generally think gut gives them better feel for the ball because it holds the ball on the racket face longer. Yets gut is more adversely affected by weather, dampness, dryness and age than nlyon.
Q - My wooden racket is slightly bowed. Can I unwarp it with a racket press?
A - Too late. There's no method for ui warping a bowed racket. But you can als still play with it. We have seen players win amateur tournaments with warped rackets.
Q - My wooden racket has been restrung three times. Can I restring it again or should I buy a new racket?
A - For most wooden rackets, three string jobs is the limit. Have a tennis pro or experienced salesperson check the head for softness. If a new racket is indicated, keep the old one around as a back-up.
Q - How many times can I have the strings in my racket patched?
A - As many times as there are strings in the racket. The problem is that every time you break a string and patch it, you lose a little overall tension; so it's probably better not to patch it more than twice before having it restrung altogether.