The difference between a cheap and an expensive tennis racket.
At first glance these two rackets are almost identical. Made by the same brand, same colouring, strings, sizing etc But delve a little deeper and you will discover that one retails at over £200/250 USD and the other £40/60USD approx. In this piece the Head Radical 27 and the Head Radical MP will be tested alongside each other and compared and contrasted. This article will look at the differences between these rackets and ask the question is it worth investing more money.
I am frequently asked by tennis players what is a good racket. Should I buy cheap or buy a more expensive racket? I suppose it is a valid question when you consider it is the implement we use to hit the ball. But given the huge amount of choice out there and the different playing styles it is hard to give a correct answer. Many beginning players tend to rummage around under the stairs for a racket that has been there for 20 years. It never surprises me to see players with pre-historic tennis rackets, even wooden rackets.
The correct tennis racket will make a difference and is worth investing time and energy in. I use the word invest and not buy as it is an investment in your game. I would always suggest spending a little money on a racket than scrimping and buying a cheaper model. As if everything in this world, buy cheap and you will likely buy twice. Players buy cheap when they first begin a sport but once the bug is caught they often purchase another racket.
Stiffness and Power.
My advice would be to purchase a one-piece racket. If you don’t know if your racket is one or two pieces, check the bridge, the bottom of the racket above the throat. In a cheaper two-piece racket you will see a plastic bridge insert holding the strings. A one-piece racket is one unit, it is able to transmit your power from your swing into the ball more effectively than a racket with two pieces. Two piece rackets are fine for juniors but adults will actually lose some of your racket head speed playing with a two-piece racket. The racket is more likely to twist in your hand when you hit a hard ball.
The very best rackets are made from high grade graphite or carbon fibre. These can be stiff to absorb the vibrations from the racket and transfer your swing to the tennis ball. Entry level rackets are usually made from aluminium or alloy. Alloy is light but it certainly does perform as good as the higher grade materials in the high end rackets. Even at mid price range you can purchase graphite composite frames which have the characteristics of a top end frame but without the price tag. Although alloy rackets can be restrung they would typically not be as strong as a carbon-based racket meaning after a broken string they may not last as long. So if you are a string breaker probably best to invest in a more expensive frame. Whilst playing with these rackets the model on the left felt ok but the Radical MP on the right was just much more solid. It seemed to be able to both hit the ball harder and absorb the power from big shots a lot better.
Those of us who are very particular when they play will often cut out the factory strings and restring with their chosen string and tension. But I know many players who play with these strings and have no issues. I have tried new rackets before with shocking strings that move about under every shot and a trampoline type tension. Although it may seem like a waste of the strings it is actually quite a good idea. Who knows how long the racket has been sitting in a warehouse or store? The strings begin to lose tension as soon as they tensioned. The chances are you could be playing with a racket strung at 20lbs. If you find your shots are a little pingy or move a little too much under pressure then it could be time for a new string job. In the cheaper racket the strings were a standard synthetic gut. The more expensive racket featured a polyester string which is more suited to performance players as it offered enhanced durability and spin.
As a rule the more expensive the racket the better the string job. Less expensive rackets will likely not have great strings however if your strings feel good and you can play with them then certainly do not cut them out. Remember strings are the only thing that make contact with the ball, they are worth investing in. Why do pro players have freshly strung rackets every day? It makes a huge difference. Now us mere mortals cannot afford to string our sticks every day but remember string your racket at least as many times as you play per week. Eg play 4 times a week, then string your racket at least 4 times a year.
Beginning players tend to gravitate towards lighter rackets. I suppose the myth is a light racket is easier to swing and to generate power with. It is certainly easier to swing with but that is where it stops. Cheaper rackets will tend to be lighter too around 250g. Whereas rackets can weigh anything between 250g and 350g there is no such thing as a racket being a good and bad weight. You can purchase top end rackets which are very light and manoeuvrable at 250g and ofcourse a heavy racket doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good stick either. A good racket will be perfect for that person. More skilled players tend to play with smaller sized heavier rackets. These players have perfected their own technique and are able to use the heavier weight and smaller headsize to play more precise accurate shots. However give the same racket to a beginning player then they will find the game extremely difficult. A beginning player should aim for a lighter racket around 250-275g which will be moveable and enable technique to be honed. It really is a personal choice.
Just as there is a tradeoff in weight there is also a tradeoff in headsize. I would always recommend playing with as big a head as you can get away with without compromising power. My first proper racket was a Head Liquidmetal Radical Oversize. It was 107 sq inch and as an intermediate player I found myself having a super sweet spot and plenty of power despite the size. A larger headsize makes it easier to hit the ball but the tradeoff is it may not move through the air as quickly as a smaller headed racket.
A smaller headed racket 90-97sq inch are best reserved for technically proficient players. The sweet spots on such rackets are quite small and therefore require an enormous amount of precision to hit the ball effectively. The most popular sizes at the moment are around 100sq inch, these rackets are ample size to provide a big enough sweet spot without being too unwieldy to manoeuvre in close combat situations. Like weight, headsize does not make a racket good or bad choice for you. It is a personal decision one fundamentally based on what is going to be good for your game.
So to summarize cheaper rackets aren’t necessarily bad and offer new players a step up into the game. The offer reasonable performance and very good value for money. The Head Radical 27 is a good racket especially if you want to have a modern racket on court. Its lightweight and easy to swing. The Head Radical MP is certainly worth the additional money. Overall it is a much better racket. Extremely hard to explain via the medium of a blog, its just better. Everything about it is superior to the Radical 27. You may wish to spend a little bit more money initially to ensure you aren’t buying twice in the future. Chosing the perfect racket for you is a different question and you can take a look at our guide here.