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Fri, Jan. 24

Column: Tennis equipment, courts, spin and bounce - facts and myths

No matter which sport you play there is always some equipment involved that needs to work for you in a manner that hopefully enhances your skills.

But it takes an understanding of the physics involved in using that equipment that ultimately helps give you the results you're trying to achieve.

Tennis is no different, with the possible use of over 200 manufactured racquets, hundreds of different types of strings to put in the racquet you decide to purchase and many types of tennis balls available, getting the right equipment can be down right confusing.

Add in the type of court you're playing on (fast/slow or medium), altitude, humidity, and wind conditions and now you have many more elements to throw into the equation of having some real fun conquering the game of tennis.

Wouldn't it be terrific if there were a perfect racquet for each of us?

The choices are much better today than say 30 years ago, with a multitude of materials used for both racquets and strings, but also in frame stiffness/flexibility and weight choices .

Knowing what your equipment can and can't do for you makes a big difference in how you approach the game.

At the same time it's just as important to know what actually happens during the hit, flight and bounce of the ball and why it happens.

Some people could care less, but others are curious and looking for an extra understanding that gives their strokes and shots more meaning.

If you're that type of person, you just may want to read the book, "Technical Tennis", written by Rod Cross and Crawford Lindsey.

Crawford is the editor-in-chief of Racquet Sports Industry magazine and he's written extensively on the technology and science of tennis, while Rod Cross is an associate professor at the University of Sydney, Australia, and is one of the world's most prolific researchers in the field of tennis physics.a

This scientifically written book is a must for anyone who wants to choose a racquet and strings with some real wisdom.

What are the real expectations when striking the ball?

How spin is achieved, the bounce of the ball related to that spin, power - touch and how they all fit together toward the goal of better results.

Some of the following tidbits taken from their book break many myths that are stated daily and give insight that many tennis professionals and players could definitely benefit from knowing.

- All racquet performance technologies boil down to two things - altering the stiffness of the frame and stringbed and the amount and distribution of weight. These, in turn, determine the power, control, and feel of a racquet.

- A classic example of how racquet performance is as much psychology as reality is demonstrated by a blind experiment that showed very few players, satellite tour players included, could discern as much as 20 pounds difference in string tension between otherwise identical racquets.

- Many technologies affect stringbed performance, including headsize, string patterns, suspension systems, and string materials, gauge and construction, but ultimately they all come down to one thing - making the stringbed softer or stiffer.

- A ten pound change in string tension accounts for only one or two percent of the ball speed.

- Tests have shown that string tension (or gauge, or material) has virtually no effect on spin.

- In the blink of an eye a bouncing ball slows, changes its spin, slides across and bites into the court and strings, squashes and stretches, and rebounds. The very nature of the game depends on this 5-millisecond sequence of events.

- Spin is the same off any string, whether it's soft or stiff, sticky or rough, or thick or thin. Spin depends only on the speed of the racquet head in a direction parallel to the string plane.

It would be very easy to make a college class out of the things that these guys cover in this very interesting book but if you are of mind to really know the ins and outs of what is real and made up when it comes to the tough questions in tennis, you may want to read what they took so much time to research.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-445-1331 or

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