Take care of your equipment, and it will take care of you
For most tennis players, learning the game and getting better is the main goal. Throw in the aspect of what equipment they should use and it can get complex enough to scare even the seasoned player.
Tennis balls are one of the easier items to purchase. Surprisingly the price of a can of balls hasn't changed much in the past 20 years.
What you need to know is that the can you are purchasing says it's USTA approved, which means it meets or exceeds certain specifications for normal tennis play. If you're playing above 3,500 feet and the temperature is 60 degrees or hotter, you'll want to play with high altitude balls, and that will also be listed on the can.
Simple so far, but on the shelf the balls are labeled, "Pro," "Championship," "Recreational," "Practice," "Extra Duty, " "Regular Duty," "Pressureless," or "High Altitude," not to mention the many logos and manufacturing names.
Regular duty balls are designed for surfaces such as grass, carpet and clay. Extra duty balls are best for hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete.
Getting fitted for a racquet is a bit more complex and living in Prescott doesn't make it very easy to grab a handful of different demos to try out. But, it's really important to hit with different sticks to see what appeals to your game and style.
Make sure the grip is right for the size of your hand. Measure from the middle of your palm to the end of your ring finger and that should tell your what you need (4 1/8-4 3/8-4 ½ etc.).
Next, the stiffness index of the racquet. Each racquet has different specs ranging from very stiff to fairly flexible. Each player has a thumbprint swing, which creates more or less power. If you create a lot of power on your swing, you might want a more flexible racquet for better control. And if you have a smaller-compact swing, you'll probably feel better hitting with a stiffer model.
Currently the trend with racquet manufacturers is to create racquets that help players swing faster. If you swing faster, you'll generate more power and spin, the extra action on the ball then gives you more control. Thus, lighter-weight racquets built with more aerodynamics is what's currently hot.
To demo racquets, look in the back of TENNIS magazine and you'll find places like Midwest, Holabird and Tennis Warehouse with 800 numbers offering demo racquets you might like to try. If you purchase a racquet, the rental price paid is applied to your order.
Some racquets arrive strung, while most of the higher line racquets do not. Getting a racquet professionally strung is for the avid tennis player. With more than 478 different types of string to choose from, you'll probably be somewhat dependant on your local racquet stringer for suggestions as well as the strings they stock.
Strings are graded on playability, durability, comfort and certainly price. They come in different gauges 15 (thick), 16 (normal), 17 (thinner), 18 (very thin). Most players get a 16 gauge or blend of two different types of string in their racquet.
Each racquet has a recommended range of tension, and having your racquet strung is similar to fine-tuning a piano. (Tighter for a little more control, on the lesser range for a bit more power.)
If you're a string breaker you need durability, but if you never break a string then playability and comfort are more important.
When getting your used racquet strung, don't forget to check if the bumper-guard and/or grip needs replacing in order to protect your racquet's frame, and to give you a solid grip for your shots.
Hopefully these tips will help clear your mind on equipment questions and let you worry more about how to defeat your next opponent.
(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 30 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)