Tennis is a challenging and invigorating sport enjoyed all over the world. Aside from the thrill of friendly competition, tennis is a fantastic way to get a great cardio workout, increase agility and improve hand-eye coordination. Whether you’re considering picking up tennis for the first time or you’ve already enrolled in lessons, we’ll cover some of the basic knowledge you need before getting started, including how to select a racquet and what to wear when you hit the court.
Tennis racquets are available in pre-strung and un-strung models. Advanced tennis players and pros typically choose un-strung racquets, which they have strung to custom specifications by a string technician. In contrast, most recreational players will be more than satisfied with a pre-strung racquet. Tennis racquets can generally be divided into three categories: oversized, control and combination.
Oversized tennis racquets, sometimes called power racquets, feature large heads (typically between 107 square inches and 125 square inches), which provide a broader hitting area and larger "sweet spot." Power racquets are usually lightweight, stiff and geared toward players with shorter, slower swings and less precise technique. The combination of a larger head and light weight makes this style ideal for beginners.
Control-oriented tennis racquets, sometimes called traditional racquets, feature the smallest head size (usually 100 square inches or less) and typically have a heavier, more flexible frame. Designed for advanced and expert players, control racquets allow for more precise hits and finesse. This style is geared toward players with fast, powerful swings and serves.
Combination tennis racquets essentially fall in between the oversized and control styles, and are popular among recreational players. Combination racquets typically have a mid-sized head (100-106 square inches) and are usually light or medium weight. This style is geared toward intermediate and advanced players seeking a blend of control and power with a little more forgivingness. Beginners can use a combination racquet, although the learning curve may be slightly more challenging compared to an oversized racquet.
A tennis racquet is made up of two main components: the shaft, which also includes the grip, and the head, which contains the strings and hitting surface. There are several factors to consider when purchasing a racquet, including head size, length, weight, balance and stiffness.
Head Size: As we already mentioned, the size of a racquet’s head directly affects the power of the racquet, or its ability to propel the tennis ball faster and farther. Larger head size increases the size of the hitting surface and creates a larger, more forgiving sweet spot. However, smaller heads allow for more precise ball placement and finesse, which is appealing to advanced and expert players who don’t need the extra power.
Length: Modern tennis racquets range in length from 27" to 29" (the longest allowed in tournament play). Taller individuals may prefer more length, but racquet length mostly comes down to personal preference. Beginners will usually start out with a 27" or 27.5" racquet.
Weight: How much a racquet weighs will determine how much strength is required to swing it effectively and how it reacts to a ball strike, as well as other factors. Generally, advanced players tend to prefer a slightly heavier racquet, which offers increased stability and control. Most beginners will benefit from a lighter racquet, as they have not developed as much arm strength as more experienced players.
Balance: The balance of a racquet is a characteristic that affects the overall feel and handling. There are three types of balance: head-light, head-heavy and evenly balanced. Most advanced players prefer a racquet that is either evenly balanced or head-light, although some prefer head-heavy balance. As with most sports equipment, it all comes down to personal preference. Beginners may benefit from a racquet that is slightly head-heavy for a small boost in power.
Stiffness: Frame stiffness is another factor that affects energy transmission between the ball and racquet. Most advanced racquets have a heavier, slightly more flexible frame for improved control. Most beginner racquets feature a lighter, stiffer frame for greater power.
There is no set formula for weight, balance and stiffness that works for everyone, and personal preference always comes into play. What feels good for one player may not be ideal for another. Keep in mind, though, that most tennis brands have developed their own specifications and formulas for weight, frame stiffness, length and balance for each individual racquet model, and they have geared those models toward specific ability levels, gender and age (women-specific models and youth models, for example). If you’re just starting out, head size is generally the most important thing to consider when choosing a racquet.
Similar to other aerobic sports, what you wear on the tennis court should offer a combination of lightweight breathability, moisture-wicking fabrics and athletic fit.
Like most athletic apparel, tennis shirts from brands like Wilson and Fila are designed to provide good mobility and breathability in a lightweight package. Tennis tops range from classic polo shirts to minimal tank tops to basic T-shirts. You may also want to consider looking for a tennis shirt with built-in UPF sun protection.
Just like tennis tops, tennis shorts and pants offer a combination of lightweight, breathable fabrics and freedom of movement on the court. Women also have the option of choosing a tennis skirt or tennis skort. Most tennis skirts feature a built-in brief or built-in shorts for additional coverage.
Although socks made specifically for tennis are available, just about any pair of lightweight athletic socks will work, including fitness socks from brands like Icebreaker, SmartWool and Point6. Tennis socks are typically either quarter-crew or cut below the ankle. More importantly, they’re crafted of breathable, moisture-managing fibers like merino wool, nylon and polyester. It’s best to avoid cotton socks, which don’t wick moisture or keep feet as dry.
Another item many players will appreciate is a tennis hat, which shields the eyes from the sun and helps protect the scalp from UV exposure. Although any baseball cap will suffice, a hat designed specifically for athletic activities is best, since it will be more breathable. A tennis visor is also a good option for individuals with long hair.
For those playing tennis in hot, humid weather, sweatbands and headbands can be life savers. Headbands absorb perspiration and to prevent it from running into the eyes during a game. A wristband is another great item to have, which allows players to quickly wipe their brows mid-game without getting sweat on their hands.
The phrase "tennis shoes" has long been used to denote all-purpose athletic sneakers. However, there are shoes designed specifically for playing tennis, too! Tennis shoes from brands like New Balance, Asics and Wilson provide players with a solid mix of lightweight support, shock absorption, stability and traction on hardcourt, clay, grass and other court surfaces.
There are several tennis accessories for players that are worth checking out, especially if you play often.
Some racquets come with a bag, although many do not. Having a racquet bag is certainly not required, but is a good way to keep your equipment protected during transport and storage.
It’s always a good idea to bring along a small towel or facecloth to wipe away perspiration in between sets or after a game. A microfiber towel, such as those offered by McNett and Sammy, will absorb many times its weight in moisture, making it perfect for tennis or racquetball.
Some players prefer to wrap the handle of their racquet before each game for the best possible grip. Although this practice is more common among advanced and pro players, some recreational players also enjoy using tennis overgrip or grip wrap for an extra edge.
Applying head guard tape to your tennis racquet is a good way to protect it from abrasion and scrapes in the event that you accidentally contact the court with your racquet during a game.
If you’ve never played tennis before and you’re still on the fence about giving it a try, go for it! Unlike sports like soccer and lacrosse, tennis is fairly low-impact and has an easygoing learning curve, especially for recreational play. Many local tennis organizations and clubs offer group and individual lessons for a reasonable price. Enrolling in a group class is a good opportunity to meet new people and possibly join a local tennis club, which will provide the opportunity for regular play against individuals of similar ability levels.
One question some first-timers ask is whether they should try playing first or enroll in tennis lessons right away. The simple answer is, if you’re serious about learning, take lessons first. Enrolling in a group class or getting personal instruction will help you develop good habits from the beginning, including things like form and footwork, which are important fundamentals for becoming a well-rounded player. Of course, if you just plan to play at a very casual level with a spouse or friend, there’s nothing wrong with giving it a try first to see if you like it.
We hope this guide answered some of your questions about learning how to play tennis and getting started with the proper gear. Remember to keep your eye on the ball, and have fun out there!