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Anatomy of the Tennis Racquet

See all parts of the racquet described below:


Key components of the tennis racquet


The Head and the Sweet Spot   The head of the racquet is where the ball must be hit to properly served and returned; it is where the strings are contained.  Specifically within the head area is an area within the strings known as the "sweet spot" - the area of the strung surface that creates the most amount of power with the least amount of effort.  The sweet spot is where the player aims to always hit the ball, unless deliberately trying to mis-hit the ball (e.g., after charging the net, to barely touch the ball).

Head Size and Shape   The shape and size of the tennis racquet head can vary and be classifed in the following three categories:

  • Over-sized racquet   A favorite racquet style, especially for beginners who appreciate the greater string area of over-sized racquets (and even jumbo racquets available).  These racquets can present a string area between 100 (over-sized) and a huge 140 (jumbo) square inches.  Because the string area is larger, so is, of course, the sweet spot; so you can see why it makes for the best trainnig racquet.

  • Mid-sized racquet   Mid-sized racquet heads range between 85 to 100 square inches of string area.  Most professional tennis players use head sizes that are standard or mid-sized in design, averaging a range more closely within 85 to 95 square inches.  The benefit of a smaller racquet head size is greater maneuverability and speed in swing.  Therefore, they are considered a great compromise providing the dual benefits of a larger sweet spot, while still allowing competitive speed and handling of the racquet.

  • Standard-sized racquet   Ranging in size from 80 to 85 square inches, standard-sized racquet head designs are now considered "old school" or obsolete, given the downside created by a smaller sweet spot and more limited flexibility in shot strategy.


 

Beam   The beam of  the racquet is the area on either side of the head.  It does not increase the overall length or width of the racquet, but is considered its thickness.  Compare racquets by placing them flat on a table, and you will see that their designs may differ in that some have wider beams than others.  Wider beams can add power to your shots, however, many say that a wider beam affects how the strings are contained and, therefore, how they perform; thus, creating a greater flex, or "trampoline" effect, that can affect control and direction of shots.  General advice is to start with a thinner beam and, once you advance your shots to a point that you are controlling spin, etc. you can try a thicker beam to determine if it presents a good feel for your style, or if it creates an adverse effect on your ball control.

Throat & Shaft   The open throat design has become a design standard in most of today's racquets, eliminating the now-defunct past lollipop design (e.g., imagine today's badmininton racquets, where the single main shaft is directly attached to the racquet head).   The open throat design was created to better stabilize the racquet head, better compensating for off-center shots and, along with the larger head areas, has worked to enlarge the effective sweet spot.

The shaft is the point at which the two sides curve down from the throat, where they come closest to extend down directly to connect to the racquet handle.   The throat, as it goes down, becomes the shaft, and then joins to the racquet handle.

Grip   At the end of the shaft, it joins with the racquet grip.  Different grip sizes are made available for both hand size and best comfort preference.  Grips range in diameter between 4 and 4-5/8 inches.  If you don't know which grip to select in your new racquet, a popular rule of thumb is that, when you grip the racquet comfortably (but not tightly), you should be able to take your thumb and touch the last knuckle joint (i.e., closest to the nail) of your middle finger.  If you are not certain which grip size to select, always choose smaller, simply because the grip size can be easily enlarged later using grip tape.

Butt Cap   There is no performance function to the butt cap.  It simply provides closure to the racquet handle and creates a convenient place for placement of manufacturer logos.

Shape   Not all racquets are the same overall length.  Although longer racquets give you more reach and power to the ball (e.g., especially when serving), they also make the racquet a little more difficult to control.


Other considerations when selecting the right tennis racquet...

Racquet Materials  
We've come along way from the original tennis racquets made of simple wood frames and pig or sheep intestines (for strings).  Today's strings are still made using advanced manufacturing (e.g., for consistent quality) of intestines from sheep, cows or pigs; or they are made of a synthetic polymer.

Natural gut (i.e., intestine) strings are susceptible to damage from moisture or high humidity and are more fragile than synthetic strings. Gut strings have a lower elastic modulus, giving hard-hitting players extra power.

Today's tennis players use the latest racquets made of advanced engineered materials.

Many of today's tennis racquets are made of carbon fiber composites. These composites have excellent strength-to-weight ratios, allowing for the development of popular oversize rackets and heads. Some rackets are filled with polyurethane foams to reduce vibration. Other rackets are hollow to decrease weight.

A whole smorgasbord of racquet materials awaits you at the sporting goods store. You may need a little help sorting through the offerings, so here's a list of the most common racquet materials you may encounter:

  • Graphite   The vast majority of racquets manufactured today use graphite in one form or another as the base ingredient. Graphite is the technological generation's equivalent of the trusty laminated wooden racquet that was so popular until about the 1970s.

    Graphite is remarkably strong for its relatively light weight. It provides terrific power, as well as good control and feel for the ball. But graphite is best in a composite mixture with any of the various thermoplastic- and fiberglass-type resins used today. Graphite-composite racquets are great for beginners as well as advanced players because stiffer racquets transmit shock and vibration to the arm and shoulders.
     

  • Boron and Kevlar   Both Boron and Kevlar fibers both resemble graphite, but boron and Kevlar are even lighter and stiffer than graphite. Kevlar is best known for its use to make bulletproof vests. Unless mixed with other materials, however, Kevlar's stiffness can transmit a lot of shock and vibration to your arm and shoulder, especially if you don't hit the ball on the sweet spot.
     

  • Aluminum   This material is still used in less expensive racquets. Aluminum offers decent power and a surprising amount of feel. Feel is the sensation you get for how you're striking the ball and where it's going. Some racquet materials are more sensitive than others to things like impact and vibration, so they transmit information to you differently.
     

  • Titanium   More recently, a new technology has emerged in the manufacturing of tennis racquets - titanium.  Made from a very strong, extremely light material, titanium has been a hit with professionals and serious recreational tennis players. Titanium is similar to aluminum. Either aluminum or titanium is an acceptable choice for beginners.
     

  • Wood or metal alloys   Low-cost tennis racquets may still be made made of of wood or cheaper (weaker) metal alloys.  Cheaper materials allow for lower costs.  Regaring the benefits you derive from the racquet, you get what you pay for:  very little.

Most of today's racquets are much lighter than their predecessors; weighing in at just 9 to 12 ounces.  However, you should be able to feel the weight of the racquet as it is a valuable tool to aid your hand-eye coordination.  You need a racquet that you can use comfortably, without feeling heavy; and light enough to allow you to efficiently swing, thus allowing you optimal ball control.

As a beginner, you should devlop your tennis playing skills with a standard-length tennis racquet (i.e., 27 inches) and then graduate up to longer racquets with wider beams as you establish your preferences and feel for the ball, especially as you developed advanced techniques. 


The Tennis Ball
  
The inner layer of a tennis ball is made of polybutadiene, an elastomeric polymer, which is reinforced with bits of clay, a ceramic. The outer cover of the ball is made of nylon polymer fibers.

The sole of a tennis player's shoes is made of an elastomeric rubber polymer compound which has been processed to withstand wear and tear.
 


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