There's been a lot of discussion lately over players switching rackets - Djokovic had his ups and
downs when he switched a while back. And now Sharapova has left Prince for Head.
What obstacles does a player face when switching rackets?
Players usually switch racquets for the following reasons:
a. More money.
b. Don't like the playability of their current racquet.
c. Just don't like the bureaucratic management of the company they are leaving.
Fred Stolle once told me that he advised the Aussie pros to play with the newly proposed racquet before signing any contract with a new company. Fred said that at one time he signed on with another company and never found a racquet that he could play with.
Jimmy Connors once told me that he liked my addition of one-half inch extension to his racquet, but he hated the management of his old company, so he switched. To this day, Jimmy plays with at least one-half inch longer racquet for increased depth on his shots.
It took some players a year to get used to their new frames. It is always a good idea to choose a company that has a good technical staff to accurately measure the racquet the player likes, so they can duplicate/improve it.
Ken Rosewall insisted that the distance from his hand to the sweetspot on his new aluminum frame would duplicate his old small-headed Aussie Slazenger racquet.
Rod Laver switched to a low end aluminum frame, and he had to step on the racquet in order to remove the spooning after each set. The racquet kept bending throughout the match.
Anders Jarryd told me his racquet kept hitting the ball a few inches too far. I gave him a more flexible racquet (40% fiberglass/60% graphite) and he proceeded to win three grandslam doubles championships with that racquet.
Brian Gotfried switched wood racquets and spent a very unhappy year or so until Warren Bosworth was called in to accurately diagnose the real problem with the racquet.
Some players develop arm and shoulder problems with certain frames, and are forced to switch racquets, and sometimes racquet companies when they find a racquet that doesn't hurt their arms/shoulders.
1. Most of the new polyester strings are not designed for easy volleying. If you play mostly doubles, with a lot of volleying, perhaps polyester strings are not good for you.
2. Many pro players who play the baseline and net (all-court game) use a "Hybrid" string combination. This means a polyester string for either the main strings or the cross strings, combined with a synthetic nylon or natural gut for the other strings. For instance, Roger Federer uses gut for the main strings, and a polyester string for the cross strings. Several pros use gut for the cross strings and poly for the main strings.
3. Today's racquets are very strong and the head is very strong and stiff. Therefore, the string tension is quite high after the stringing is complete. I recommend that you study the recommended string tension range for your racquet, and try to choose a tension closer to the lowest tension of the range. Sometimes the stringer will automatically string to the tightest tension of the range because customers feel that a looser tension is a poor string job.
4. String tension is a personal thing, but here are some guidelines to consider: a. Tighter tensions reduce power and depth of shot. b. Tighter tensions also reduce amount of spin that can be applied to the ball. c. Tighter tensions increase shock to the player's hand and arm. d. John McEnroe has used mainly low string tensions throughout his career. John strings his racquets with gut at @ 45 lbs. string tension. This allows the racquet to do more of the creation of power, giving him better volleys and spin on his serves. e. Pro players who hit much harder than John use string tensions more in the 60 lb. range. This allows a fast loop swing to have a greater depth control.
5. Racquets that are extremely lightweight are not good for most players. The lighter the weight of a racquet, the lower the overall power, especially on short strokes such as volleys and blocked service returns. There should usually be a balance between weight and maneuverability, in order to get the most from your racquet.
When Howard Head retired from a fantastic career creating the first aluminum laminated ski, and also successfully created a tennis company as well (Head Ski and Head Tennis), he attempted to learn tennis from a local tennis pro.
Howard quickly learned for sure that he had no real athletic talent for tennis and would need all the help he could get. This is when he created the large-head tennis racquets.
Howard knew that if the head was extra large, but the same weight as a normal racquet, he could obtain much more stability against movement. Now his pro could set up his stroke and Howard could carry out the stroke without the racquet moving off course.
This is based on the formula: inertia = mass x distance x distance. In this case, the distance of the head rim from the central axis, or twist point, could determine how stable the head of the racquet remained (I used the same theory to help my wife develop stable strokes, but don't tell her).
With all that being said, it can be pretty clear that a beginner tennis player can benefit greatly from using a large-head racquet. It can be lightweight and still be stable. Now strokes can be more easily learned without having the racquet constantly veering off course.
Still another advantage for the beginner is that a large-head racquet can create much more power than a smaller-head racquet simply because the longer strings are much more efficient at returning the ball efficiently, hopefully in the proper direction.
A beginner can also benefit from a graphite tennis racket, especially if it's a large head, simply because it is lightweight and very powerful. Cheaper aluminum racquets were decidedly heavier and more difficult to wield.
Personally, I think that the larger the racquet head, the better it is for a beginner. I would look for a racquet with a headsize of at least 110 square inches, ranging all the way up to 135 square inches, which is the largest legal headsize.
Now all the beginner needs is a teacher who can show him the proper racquet stroke preparation and follow-through.
P.S. I am assuming that the proper handle size has been found for each person. This can be easily found during the shopping at the pro shop.
Stay tuned for tips on racquet selection for intermediate and advanced players...
In the "old days," I used to see many Arthur Ashe Competition rackets by Head with the strings entirely pulled through the frame. This was because Head used Syntactic Foam to form the inner head area, and it would "melt" in high temperatures when the car was left in the sun (@ 170F or so).
Today's racquets are made of carbon fiber in an epoxy matrix. The bumper/grommets are made of nylon. There is nothing in today's racquet composition that should distort in the frame itself under this temperature.
However, strings usually will soften and loosen up under these conditions. Nylon usually melts at @ 400F, but it will loosen and go dead at exposure over room temperature.
I recommend not keeping your racquets in the trunk of your car. Even those thermos bags will not protect the racquets, strings, or balls when the temperature rises over 80F.
I also recommend the players use the external grip wraps, and change them often during the summer months. I see players all the time with grips that are too slippery and worn to allow players to hit proper shots.
It is pretty easy to take off the old grip wrap and rewrap the grip with a new one. (Pete Sampras, among others, would change the grip wraps during the changeovers between games).
Why is the clay court surface the best choice for your leg survival?
Is the soft surface the reason? Not really. Actually, other types of court surface are softer, such as rubber court mats, and even grass courts...
Grass courts can injure due to skidding because of the slippery nature of grass.
Rubber courts can injure due to the sticky nature which tends to make the player's feet stick.
Actually, the reason clay courts are the best surface for leg health (ankle, knee and hip) is the fact that clay has the least traction without sudden slips or grabs of the feet.
Yes, the most dangerous peril of tennis court surfaces is TRACTION...
Traction causes extreme forces to be exerted onto the player's ankles, knees and hips during play. When traction is high, a player's change of direction can multiply his body weight several times during the push-off. Traction can also cause an ankle to turn over, as well as a knee to buckle.
So what does this mean to American tennis?
It means that our American hard courts, most of which are packed with sand and other forms of grit (to aid traction), is a huge danger to junior, high school as well as college players' legs.
It is already obvious that pro players are constantly injuring their legs while playing on hard courts. Evidence includes the myriad of bandages to leg muscles, knees, ankle braces, as well as the thin straps wrapped around the leg just below the knee. A new technique includes a black adhesive strap bonded to the player's leg in various locations.
If we are beginning to ban aluminum baseball bats in high school and college play due to the increased injury factor, then why not consider a limit to the traction in a given court surface?
Now that the racquets are so powerful, and the speed of the game is far greater than in the past, then why not limit the traction of the court surface. Parents will also welcome the increased life of the expensive tennis shoes worn by their children.
I propose that tennis court traction should be measured and legislated by our governing bodies in tennis.
I am currently watching clay court tennis at the French Open (Roland Garros) in Paris. I have not noticed anyone with leg wraps as yet. I did notice one girl yesterday with a thin strap just below her knee. I would be willing to bet that that injury initially occurred on a hard court.
As you probably have noticed, there are many areas of modern tennis that could benefit from improved conditions. I don't understand where the difficulty in doing some of these things lies.
Did you know that the longer the ball stays on the stringbed the better the spin production? Here are some tips on how to get the most topspin:
Choose a racquet with more flex...this allows more time because the racquet backs up farther, and that takes more time, so the ball remains on the stringbed longer for more spin...
The lower the string tension the longer the dwell time of ball-on-stringbed...
The thinner the strings the better they grip the ball for more spin...
The wider the spacing of the strings the greater the spin...(greater grip on the ball)
The wider the racquet head the longer path for the ball to roll before leaving...easier to hit a good spin shot without striking the edge of the frame...
The strings with the least movement sideways produce the greater spin, (polyester)...
The lower the angle of ball-on-strings gives greater spin...(use low profile frames )
The more vertical the swing, the greater the spin due to lower angle of attack...
The faster the racquet head is travelling the greater the spin....(swing fast for topspin)
The livelier the string bed the greater the power and spin produced....(new strings, etc)
And a few things to watch out for when going for the heavy handed winner:
The softer the stringbed will create a ledge under the ball, allowing great spin but also too great a trajectory, so many topspin shots can carry too long...
The most important aspect of ball control (in my opinion) is the depth control of the shot...
That is why Bjorn Borg strung his racquets at 80+ pounds tension. Bjorn used so much topspin that he had to eliminate the pocket that surrounded the ball, so that it would be easy for him to control the depth of the shot. He was sacrificing some topspin in order to keep excellent depth control.
As you can see, there are many forces acting on the ball at the same time. (I may think of some other forces that I can't come up with right now). Nothing is really clear cut and simple when you play tennis. That's what makes it so fascinating...
The most important secret for good strokes is: Have your racquet back before the ball bounces. We are not used to running or walking with anything held anywhere but in front of us. This is why it is so difficult to move to the ball with the racquet going back to stroking position. This must be practiced until it is a habit. (A loop is developed later)...
Begin the stroke as the ball bounces...a good aid for this is the grunting of Monica Seles. She would grunt as the ball bounced and grunt a second time as she hit the ball...But only Monica really knew why she did this before it became a habit.
The backhand is hit farther in front of you than the forehand stroke..This aids power, control, etc., and helps fend off tennis elbow problems.
USE YOUR WRIST (AFTER YOU DEVELOP A STROKE)...In the old tennis textbooks the advice was to keep your wrist stiff. Now the power and spin comes from using your wrist. Just ask Rod Laver, the leader in wrist development. Thanks, Rod...
Smaller grips aid in wrist movements. It is more difficult to use your wrist when the grip is too big. This is why Rafa Nadal uses a 4-1/4-inch grip. He really whips the racquet when he hits the ball.
How are racquets speeding up the game and in turn leading to more injuries? What can I recommend for a player concerned about longevity and injury avoidance?
Today's racquets are made using carbon fiber saturated in epoxy. This creates a very stiff racquet which is also very lightweight.
The racquet bends backwards when a ball is hit. The stiffer the frame the less back-bend is created. So far, the ball leaves the strings while the racquet is still backing up. The racquet that backs up the least usually is the most powerful, i.e., less energy is wasted on the backing up of the frame.
The problem is that the things that tend to injure a player's hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders are: stiffness (no shock absorbancy) and lightweight (more shock reaching the player).
Beyond this, the fact that your opponent is also using graphite frames means that the ball you hit is going much faster than they used to with wood racquets or aluminum or fiberglass.
Today's pro tennis is based on how fast a player can hit the ball. For example, the usual serve used to be about 100 m.p.h. with wood, (fastest may have been around 125 m.p.h., but this was not the norm).
Today's racquets hit the serve from 125 m.p.h. to 150 m.p.h. on a regular basis. Del Potro hits his forehands at 110 m.p.h. (try volleying that for a while and you will require a wrist operation sooner rather than later).
I recommend that a player who wants to save his/her arm and body parts (and is not a pro player) should keep some mass in the racquet. Secondly, they should think about a racquet that contains some fiberglass to allow more bending on ball impact. This can add spin and decrease shock levels reaching the player's arm.
I made racquets for Anders Jarryd. Anders used these frames to win at least three of the four Grand Slam doubles tournaments (he was one of the best doubles players in history).
Anders played with a racquet that was 60 percent fiberglass and only 40 percent graphite. Also, this frame had to be 14 ounces unstrung.
He obtained power from the weight increase and obtained spin control due to the pronounced bending of the frame. This added bend caused the balls to remain on the strings for increased time, which allowed the ball to roll more over the stringbed and come off the strings with more spin.
I feel that by imitating the pros with a super-lightweight frame that is also super-stiff, the average younger player or club player is asking for trouble.
The pros have already felt this "trouble" more often than not...
Although string offerings are becoming more complex every day, there is a simple plan to follow for a 3.0-3.5 player.
Basically, the new polyurethane strings are producing a lot more topspin if the player is swinging fast. The bad side of this string is that it is very difficult to volley using this string.
Also, this type of string enhances shock. The reason that it develops so much spin is that it does not move around when the ball is struck on the angle used to produce spin.
Even the pros don't use this poly-type string for both mains and crosses. They combine it with a string that is more elastic and shock absorbant. This aids volley strokes, while retaining a lot of topspin when desired.
Federer uses gut for mains, and poly for the crosses. Many others use the poly for the mains. The mains usually wear out first. They also are the load-bearing string, and will display the brunt of playability of the string chosen as the main string.
For 3.0 - 3.5 players, I would recommend a more elastic string, such as the Technifiber brand or the non-polysynthetic gut sold by Wilson, Prince and Gamma. If you use a small midsize (95 square inches) and have a lot of money, natural gut strings are best.
As the head size increases, it is best to use synthetic gut. If you don't wear strings out too quickly, a thin gauge is best.
But be careful to lower the string tension when going to a 17 gauge string. Generally, the thinner the string you should lower the tension.
Also, I feel that most string tensions recommended on the racquet you use are too high. The stringers will string the racquet at it's tightest recommended tension, fearing that the player will feel "cheated" if he strings at a lower tension.
Today's racquets, however, are pretty stiff and the hoop stiffness is higher than in the early days. This leads to a very inelastic and unyielding stringbed when strung too tightly.
For a 3.0-3.5 player, I might recommend a string tension of no more than 55 lbs. for 16 gauge and no more than 52 lbs. for 17 gauge.
Remember, the lower the tension, the greater the power, less shock and the greater spin production, all at the same time!
Do you remember the "Rally Ball" that Wilson foisted on the tennis playing public many years ago (@ 1984). I remember because it was too big, and did not feel or perform like any tennis ball I ever played with. I was one of the original playtesters when this ball was developed.
I advised strongly against it. It was too big, and would not take any spin at all, and felt very shocking when it was hit. History relates that it was a bigger failure than the Edsel.
In more recent times the ITF (in its infinite wisdom) convinced the ball manufacturers to make a ball that was @ 10% oversize (same size as the Rally Ball). I advised against this ball once again, but no one appeared to be a history buff.
This ball also flopped, at about the same rate as the original Rally Ball.
History also tells of other attempts to change the ball, where noticable differences are readily rejected. (Apparently players don't like noticable changes to the smell, sound, or feel of their beloved tennis ball).
What To Do:
I suggest that although marketing-types always want big changes, the ball should experience a few rather small changes...
a. Lower the weight @ 3 grams...no one will notice
b. Make the rubber slightly softer...no one will notice
c. Make the ball flex completely uniform...no one will notice
How do we do all this?
1. Use a softer rubber compound, which will increase the forward and reverse deformation of the ball as it is hit...no one will notice
2. Use a needled felt instead of a woven felt...we are using this felt today in half of all balls made.
Needled felt is longer wearing (2 times as durable), and lighter in weight.
3. Use no backing (scrim) on the needled felt. (Alternative is to use a very stretchy scrim). The lack of a stiff scrim backing allows the rubber core to deform equally in all directions. (Try bouncing a normal ball on a flat floor, and watch all the different directions that the ball bounces, and you will see how uneven the current ball really is).
4. Eliminate seam cement. Seam cement is actually the same rubber cement that is used on the rubber ball and the felt. If there is no scrim, and no woven cotton backing on our felt, we will be able to adhere the felt without the expense or uneven bounce of a seam. The visibility of the ball is also increased by @ 8%.
The truth is that we cannot see the actual seam spin during play. All we see is a dark gray cloud covering the optic yellow felt, partially obscuring the ball from our sight. (I have playtested seamless balls vs. seamed balls, and the visibility is great)
If we actually live to see this ball on the market, numerous injuries will be greatly reduced, ranging from tennis elbow, to wrist, knee and hip injuries, etc.
Federer looked excellent, and clearly showed that he is physically well, since he played better than he has played in the last 4 years or more.
Murray initially looked well, but as the tennis proceeded it was obvious that Andy was not 100% well, and he actually began to limp in the third set. It was obvious that he could not hope to compete through two additional sets if he won the third set. Perhaps this is why he failed to produce during the more important points.
What does this mean?
I believe that I have not seen this many injuries in all my years of watching pro tennis. It is obvious that there are several reasons for all these injuries...
A. The game is too fast paced. The racquets have been made to propel the ball much faster than ever before, but the ball has remained unchanged. (The ball must be changed)
B. The hard courts are too gritty. The traction created is too much force imposed on player's ankles knees and hips. (The hard courts must be changed)
C. The 5-set matches only add to the torture. Remember how Rafa said "I decided not to play through the pain this time, in order to stop the damage..."
a. More pro players will not play the hard courts as time goes on.
b. There will be more poor matches at the Slams due to injury.
c. There will be more injuries in lesser levels of tennis competition as well.
Not only was Serena wrapped up like a revolutionary war enacter, but Justine also had a black tape or two attached to her inner thigh.
I couldn't believe how many women pros had wraps and bandages all over their bodies. Not to mention the failure of Maria Sharapova to overcome her injuries. These injuries are not because of any 5-set matches, but the gritty court surfaces could be guilty. Perhaps there are too many tournaments that they are forced to compete in as well.
I have never seen so many matches decided only because of injury. I hope somebody picks up and notices.
Unfortunately, my fears are all coming true...Rafa had to retire from his match against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open because of an injury to his right knee. I don't think that he was yet recovered totally from his prior knee injuries.
No one can tell me that Andy Roddick was not affected by his knee injury as well. Now since they were an important group of matches in the Australian Open, we can say that the loss of these players was an important loss.
Actually, Rafa never returned to his former tennis level after he had spent a year out of action with those knee injuries. If I was "Uncle Tony" I would have Rafa play only on clay and grass after he recovers somewhat. Hard courts should be taboo.
No one can say for sure that all those extra sets (3 out of 5) were the deciding factor for Andy.
We may never see Andy play Davis Cup again. Andy was definitely playing the best tennis of his life, but the knee injury will always show up in the heat of battle.
So why does the hard court have to be so gritty? For better viewing of great shotmaking?
I know that the degree of stress on the player's knees is multiplied many times over compared to the stress of play on clay or grass. I personally had my knees swell so much when I played on a rubber court surface that I could not bend them the next day.
Without any slippage the players are able to push off with extreme force while changing direction. No sliding into a shot here.
I predict that pro tennis will not be played on gritty hard courts in the (hopefully) near future. I don't care if there are not so many great rallys, I want to watch players who aren't limping and don't have their legs all wrapped up in bandages.
Why is it that the Slams use 3 of 5 sets for men's singles, yet only 2 of 3 sets for men's doubles?
It appears that they feel that due to money and "attendance draw," it is wise to submit the men to longer and more grueling matches than women and also men's doubles.
The lifespan of the average NFL player is only 3 years. The lifespan of the average ATP player is also only 3 years. Both can play longer, but not with 100% healthy bodies.
What men players have played on even though they were injured and never returned to 100% fitness?
Michael Chang....hip and knee
Safin.....knee and wrist
Gustavo Kuertin......hip, etc...
Tommy Haas.......too numerous to mention
Andre Agassi.......back, etc., wrist (out a year w. operation)
John McEnroe......ankles and arm
Jimmy Connors......wrist (out a year w. operation)....
Roger Federer.....back injury at Wimbledon 2009.....
Davydenko......Leg and arm injuries
These injuries don't really mention all the strains and sprains that they have to live with. These injuries are caused by the fast pace of today's tennis coupled with 5-set matches, as well as the hard courts containing grit which gives too much traction, thus causing leg injuries in virtually all ATP players, not to mention the women.
I think back to the tale of the goose who laid the golden eggs. The king felt that if he could cut the goose open, he could reach the gold mine. (Is this different from what the governing bodies (including the ATP themselves) are sweeping under the rug in order to gain as much money as possible?).
Possible future of tennis:
Pros refuse to play on hard courts any more.
Pros like Federer and Nadal are permanently injured, and retire from tennis.
Rich Janes holds over 31 U.S. patents for tennis racket and stringing machine designs, and has worked with Prince, Wilson, Babolat and Penn on research and development of new racket technologies. When it comes to string theory, Rich knows his stuff.