Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tips for Buying a Tennis Racquet on a Budget

Racquets can be unnecessarily expensive necessities for the game if you do not know what you are looking for. Any sports fan and participant is susceptible to savvy marketing schemes. It is hard to play any sport without becoming label conscious. Even if you do not buy into the complex marketing schemes, you are very much aware of these labels or brands.

The most risky and controversial marketing campaign in tennis, considering it is a family sport, pitched on a grandstand, was the Hugo Boss sponsored “model ball-girls” clad in low-cut tops. It is a cat and mouse game designed to break the consumer: create a complex then offer you the solution, but for a donation, of course! Tennis racquets, in their candy paint colorways, are no exception.
Here are some tips on how to save some money before buying your next racquet.

By 10 years of age, I was familiar with racquets, or should I say brands. I grew up in a junior tennis program now known as MANTAS Tennis Academy in Zimbabwe, which received various donated racquets. Among these was my now-discontinued ATP FOX “Bosworth Series” Graphite 210.

Fact: I saw it selling on Ebay as a collector item for US $400. Bosworth is a pioneer in frame customization for pros.
Really, all I knew about that stick was that my stick was “inferior”, no top pro was using it, and my friends were using something similar to what the pros had. One occasion during practice when my “Fox” was being strung, I used a friend’s. Halfway through the set, my stick was ready, I switched, and immediately appreciated the familiarity of my racquet like never before. Because I had spent time using the racquet, I immediately felt as though I was hitting better.

7 Reasons You Should Never Let the Pros Influence Your Decision

1. Pros are paid to use whatever racquet they are holding. Simply put, the best racquet is manufactured by the highest bidder! (This alone is reason enough, but I will go on.)

2. Pros almost always use customized frames, whereas stock frames are mass-produced. If a stick is popular enough, a company might sell the “Pro Version”, but even then, like clothing, the sticks are “fitted” for that particular player.

3. Just because you are driving a Mercedes/Chevy does not guarantee you will drive like Michael Schumacher/Jeff Gordon.

4. Pros “change” sticks every couple of years, meaning if you have to keep up, you have to fork out $190 x 2 or 3 sticks, depending on your level. In reality, pros use “paint jobs”, and these are actually pre-manufactured racquets they hold in stash painted to mimic the latest release. Boris Becker had 250 made for himself.

5. Actual pro versions have a “dead” aka “muted” aka “wooden bat” feel, which pros describe as “control”. These are significantly heavier, better suiting their gym-conditioned bodies. But to anybody else, using these frames is gradual injury in the making every time you dumbbell curl and overhead press the beast.

6. They are paid (contractually obliged) to tell you that the racquet they are using is the best thing since sliced bread.

7. Like every normal person, pros are creatures of habit/routine/superstition. They are not willing to change a racquet they have invested countless hours of practice in with a particular racquet just for advertising purposes, especially if they are winning and doing well. Hence, the marketing geniuses solution of the paint job frames. Players rumored or confirmed to have used paint jobs or even completely different brands painted to mimic the sponsors’ actual product are Safin, Hewitt, Agassi, and Gonzalez, among others.

6 Ways to Save Big on a Good Racket

1. Buy “Last Year’s Model”. These racquets drop 30-50% in price. Lucky for us, racquets do not have an expiration date. Fact: A semi-pro (college+) who does not abuse rackets can get about 3 years’ worth of good use with 2-3 rackets playing 3+ hours daily before a frame “dies”.

2. For most club players buying a new racket—beginners, intermediate, advanced, at club level—spend US $60-$100 on a frame and consider that a 10-year investment. $10/yr for a good stick is a great deal.

3. Consider adopting a used frame, through avenues like www.playitagainsports.com, www.ebay.com, The Salvation Army, and my personal favorite, Craigslist. They always carry great used sticks looking for a new home. For advanced players whose sticks have been discontinued, this is a great way to find them. If you are buying a used frame, make sure the grommets (bumper guard) are not worn. If they are, do not buy the racquet.

4. Most club pros and pro shops are racquet dealers and get good deals for racquets. Talk to them. They tend to put their demos on sale annually as well.

5. Unless you are playing competitive tennis, pro versions with their cheeky price tags are unnecessary. Fact: The modern game actually favors lite versions which are easier to maneuver and afford massive racket head speed with less effort.

6. As with any investment, protect your racquets from the weather. Advanced players, if you have stocked up on your favorite frame in fear of discontinuations (imminent, by the way), buy replacement grommets. Ten sets for 6 frames is reasonable, but you can buy more if you like, and the reason is simple: US $5/grommet vs. $190/stick. Do not wait until the grommets are completely gone to replace them. Manufacturers now brand racquets on grommets, and this weakens the integrity—more reason to stock up.

In summation, all you racquet smashers, remember—pros do not pay for their frames, so make a decision about which racquet is best for you completely independent of what the pros are using.

Happy saving!!