By Wayne Clark
As a coach and instructor, my customers and students frequently ask me, “What kind of tennis racquet or pickleball paddle should I buy?” Like purchasing anything today, it can be somewhat overwhelming and confusing because there is so much to choose from.
In both tennis and pickleball, racquets and paddles were originally made of wood, and for the most part, all played the same. Today racquets and paddles are constructed from a variety of modern materials and composites, which can affect the way each individual racquet or paddle will feel and perform in our hands. Some will feel stiffer and more brittle and provide more power. Others will feel softer and mushier and provide more control.
So how do we decide which one is right for us? Just like buying a car, we test drive before we purchase.
As with everything we buy these days, the internet makes it easy to research and compare equipment. However, we still need to have a basic knowledge of our specific needs.
Online websites, like tennisexpress.com for tennis and pickleballcentral.com for pickleball, now provide the ability to input specific criteria such as head size and weight, to narrow down your choices. These companies also provide demo programs for racquets and paddles. You can order as many as three or four at a time, test play them and make a decision, or order more and continue to test others.
So let’s discuss what you need to know about which type of racquet/paddle is best for your specific game and playing style for both tennis and pickleball.
While tennis racquets can be of any head size ranging from 90 up to 135 square inches, pickleball paddles have a restriction to overall size of the paddle, and must be approved by the USAPA (the governing body for pickleball, like the USTA for tennis).
As earlier stated, racquets and paddles are constructed of a variety of modern materials and composites, which depending on what they are made of, will directly affect the performance of each individual racquet or paddle.
A difference between tennis and pickleball is that the type of string you put in the racquet and the tension at which you string it can affect the tennis racquet’s performance capability.
However, the common denominator of both is the weight of the racquet/paddle. Tennis racquets weigh between 7 to 13 ounces. Pickleball paddles weigh between 6 to 9 ounces. In general, the heavier a racquet/paddle, the more flexible it will be and the more muscle you will need in your swing to generate power on your shot. On the flipside of that, the lighter a racquet/paddle is, the more stiff it will be and the less muscle you will need in your swing to generate power on your shot.
Like in baseball, the old saying, “heavier hitters use heavier bats,” holds true in tennis and pickleball. As an instructor, I would not recommend the same racquet for a player in their 60s, as I would for one of my juniors, competing on a high school team. Just as a senior softball player here on Marco would not use the same type of bat as a Major League baseball player would hit with.
With that said, you need to decide which feel of racquet/paddle that you like. It is the same theory that applies when you are test-driving a car. Do you prefer the softer ride of a Buick, Lincoln or Cadillac, or do you like the stiffer, sportier feel of a BMW, Mercedes or a Porsche? They all make a variety of comparable vehicles, but each one drives, performs and feels different on the road.
The same is true with racquets and paddles. They are all comparable in general design, but each will feel and perform different on the court.
You also need to determine your natural style of play. Are you a big hitter or a touch player? A baseliner, or a serve and volleyer?
Either way, it never hurts to seek advice from a qualified teaching professional to assure you are making the right equipment choices, as well as executing proper fundamentals in your playing skills and your understanding and comprehension of strategies.
Professional golfers will utilize different loft clubs for a variety of course conditions to improve their ability to shoot a lower score. Professional tennis players, on a day-to-day, match-to-match, and even set-to-set, basis, change racquets and tension of the strings according to playing surfaces and conditions. Formula 1 racers make fine tunings to the cars’ aerodynamics and tires when they come in for a pit stop, because a fraction of a second can mean the difference between winning or losing!
Each of these athletes seeks out advice from coaches and technicians to provide them with the right equipment to allow them to perform at the top of their abilities.
I too often have players bring in tennis racquets that have not been restrung or re-gripped in several years. As with any equipment, deferred maintenance is a recipe for bad performance!
So whether you are new to the sports of tennis and pickleball, or you are a seasoned veteran, know what your equipment needs are. Make sure your equipment suits your game and that your racquet/paddle is in well-maintained working condition, to allow you to perform to the best of your abilities.