Ideally, it will feel comfortable in your hands. It will prove solid when you want, flexible as desired. Even should you unravel, it will hold steady, a source of joy and engagement. But the sober truth is that finding the right fit is not easy. You know there is one out there for you, one that will prove the perfect match for your style. But the trial-and-error you’ll have to go through to find the one for you can be a slow and frustrating process. Or, as happens in some lucky cases, the chemistry might be there instantly.
Is the topic at hand the search for romance? It sure sounds that way.
We’re talking about another love pursuit: finding a new tennis racquet. New technologies emerge all the time that promise to enhance the quality of our tennis experience – materials that make the swing go faster, gigantic head sizes that offer bigger sweet spots, heavier frames that can generate more power, lighter frames that make swinging easier; heavy in the head, light in the head, balanced. Then there are the seemingly infinite string options that now exist – especially the many hybrids that combine polyester and gut, be it in the cross or the main strings. There are even new approaches to grip sizes. Many players I know who once held a grip at least 4 5/8’ – all the better to powerfully curtail twisting – have shrunk down considerably, in many cases as low as 4 ¼’ – all the better to torque the ball and generate tremendous spin and whip.
The valuable counsel here was once the independent tennis retailer. Behind the counter stood a wise stringer, attuned to everything from his customers’ playing styles to the inside scoop on which new frames were a reasonable and familiar upgrade. Those stores have rapidly vanished, first bludgeoned by chain store sporting goods shops, more recently squeezed out by the Internet. Fortunately, places like Tennis Warehouse offer counsel on racquets and make it easy for demo frames – complete with return boxes and labels – to be sent right to your house.
Even then, once a few candidates are found, the process is tricky. First comes hitting just one ball. That can sometimes instantly rule out a racquet. Then, a reasonable 20 minutes hitting with a player who strikes a reasonably user-friendly ball. Then, bona fide play: a set against the user-friendly opponent, followed by one against that annoying player who varies paces and spins. And for good measure, a hit with someone considerably worse than you to see how your technique is in sync with he racquet on a slower ball. It adds up to 4-6 hours per demo stage. Mix in this around work and other obligations and suddenly the racquet quest can last months. Of course a caveat here is the belief that if you randomly issued different frames to people (sort of like arranged marriages), in time they’d all play the same anyway.
Then there are two other solutions: What I call “the demo syndrome.” Ask a friend why he likes his racquet. If something he says clicks for you – “It gives me more power with my serve” – try the racquet. Given your mindset at the time – you’re with a friend, your mind is engaged on one shot, you are concentrating more than usual -- you will be disposed to like the racquet. Call this a referral instead of a blind date, a referral that’s likely to trigger even more impulse purchases when it comes from a player you respect. A friend of mine has gleefully partaken in “the demo syndrome” several times and within days showed up with four brand new versions of the frame he’d sampled just once. Alas, like the movie, “The China Syndrome,” this scenario also has a strong possibility of a meltdown. Once the circus has left town, the locals must sweep up the peanuts.
An even simpler approach: A friend I’ll call John merely always buys whichever racquet Roger Federer is using. If it’s good enough for Federer, goes John’s logic, it’s good enough for him. Well, at least that’s how John explains it in his head. What’s really going on here is happening in John’s heart. He loves Federer, worships him unconditionally the way a 12-year-old boy treats his favorite athletes as super-heroes. Of course there might well be more fitting frames for John, frames that match his swing shape, body type and so on. But that’s irrelevant for John. The picture in his head is that of the elegant man from Switzerland. Let that picture determine the shape of John’s desired swing, as useful an illusion as a Superman cape or a Michael Jordan jersey. On the other hand, given how randomly we all go about seeking new frames – who really takes the time to demo as few as five different sticks? – perhaps John’s illusion’s as useful as any.