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How to store a racket?

Rackets seem pretty straightforward in the shop. You think you buy a frame with some chord and you step on to court to give it a heavy swing. That’s it, right? Well, I can’t argue with you that you have the basics spot on. But the devil is, as always, in the details. Why is it that some old school rackets look brand new, for example? Why do some 2021 frames look like… well, 2012? It’s because in the differences of taking care of your racket and storing your racket is just a part of that.

The best way to store a racket is to put in your racket bag and put in a cool, spacious place. Before you put it away, make sure it’s cleaned out properly and the strings are put in place. If you broke a string and need to restring, you can decide to cut out the strings already, because this will prevent the frame from warping. This will also help with cleaning.

If you’re strings are fine, but it’s the end of the seasons you might want to cut out the strings too. I recommend restringing at the beginning of every seasons (regardless of playing frequency) because strings tend to dry out and lose tension while being put away. If you cut the strings diagonally in both directions, you’re fine.

But what’s the best way to store a racket when it’s high season? What if you are in the store and you want to buy a new frame? What’s the best way to protect it? You’ll find that a lot of tennis players will carry around large racket bags, with enough space to put away even 12 rackets. They probably like to walk around like professionals, but there is a bit more to it. They prefer the space, not for having 12 freshly strung rackets, but to store their accessories efficiently. Of course, you would want to store some tennis balls, but don’t forget stuff like water bottles, towells, caps, wrist bands, grips. Maybe you want to take normal shoes to court, because you don’t want the clay to mess up your car. Got some lunch with you too? You see, accessories might take more space than you thought, especially once you start to play more and more intense.

Now there are quite some racket bags out there and I’ll write another article on that, but for now I would just stick with the basic advice of only go for a single racket bag if you’re totally new to the game and you just want to test the water. If not and you’re a bit more advanced, try to find a racket bag where you can fit at least 6 to 9 rackets in. Again, not that you need that amount of rackets, but it’ll give you the space to put away your most important accessories.

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How to get used to a new racket?

Ok, so you have chosen your perfect new stick to play with! Congratulations! It can be somewhat of a journey to find that next frame and once you have found it, you just can’t wait to get to court and start play testing it, and rightly so. However, sometimes you get the feeling that playing with your new frame will set you back quite a bit, especially if your new purchase was more or less based on on impulsive decision. It takes a bit of time to accustom to your new weapon so in this article I’ll walk you through some tips you can try to get used to your new racket as quickly as possible.

I’ve found that the best way to get used to a new racket is to playtest it a couple of times per week, while sticking to a specific exercise. As a rule of thumb, you should be playing your frame at about 75 percent of your power and speed. Focus on building a rally. Maybe you’ve done this before, but it requires you and your sparring partner to focus on hitting the ball between the service line and baseline and also aiming with a margin of about 50 centimeters from the lines. You can use line markers or pions to set up. 

It is obvious that the first couple of try’s you’ll need to adjust or are hitting the ball with too much pace. The great thing about this exercise is that it forces you to speed up your groundstroke preparations. This means that you’ll lose a bit of your old habits, and start swinging away faster. It’ll compensate a bit for the slower pace of swinging, when adjusting to a more head heavy racket for example. While this may not be your typical rally because you might focus a bit more on keeping the points short while playing matches, it should force you to abandon your playing comfort zone and thus, give you a better overview of what type of play your new stick has to offer.

If you want to play points, you can, but you can start by playing ‘elevens’, skipping the overhead serve. Just bring the ball into play and from the second touch, the ball is free to score the point. However, if you play outside of your own, newly set up line markers, you’ll lose the point! Keep repeating this until one of you scores eleven points and then try again.

Another tip is to call around. Maybe you have a sparring partner you play with every week, but he or she also has a familiar type of play that you can probably dream by now. Not so great when adjusting to a new frame. It’s better to be forced into uncomfortable rallies that require you to adjust. So give a couple of other players at your local club a call or maybe you can even book a single lesson with your club trainer and ask if you can focus on playing a lot of rallies. It may costs you a bit more but you’ll definitely find a good sparring partner in a club trainer. In short, try to play as much with as much variation as possible.

A final tip is to try to switch things up in regard to your string set up. On of the most overlooked aspects of buying a new frame is that you’ll probably need a new string or at least might need to adjust your current string set up (and tension). If you switch to a midsize head, with a 18×20 pattern, you might to ditch the poly strings, high tensions or try a hybrid set up at first. In any case, it probably does not make sense to play with the same setup as before so be sure to get some advice from your favourite stringer and start to experiment with some variables.

Now let’s hope you have found your rythm and you can see your game improving by buying this new frame. Of course it could be that you have actually found that after all this play testing you can’t really seem to get the hang of it. That’s a pity, but also a part of tennis and racket sports. It’s just part of the game. Don’t be too hard on your self and just try to sell the racket on Ebay or another marketplace and switch back to your old racket temporarily (if you still have them). You just have to realise that if you don’t play test in the first place, you never have the chance to improve your gear at all!

What about you? What are your experiences with play testing new frames? And did you have any bad buys? Be honest, we’ve all been there! Just write down your thoughts in the comment section down below.

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How to protect and maintain your racket

As avid racket sports players, we’ve all experienced this before: you just bought a completely fresh frame and can’t hide your enthusiasm to take it out to court for a first official test drive. But… of course you don’t want your shiny new weapon to come back with you after training, all banged and scratched up. That’s where you enter a crossroads: do you take the time to protect your new frame or do you consider it a waste of time? While there are things to be said of being in one of those classic racket care groups, in this article I’ll walk you through the best options to protect and maintain your new racket from the start.

In short, for the best way to protect and maintain a good condition of your racket, I would advise you to play with bumper guard tape (as the name suggests, placed on top of your racket bumper guard on top of your frame) and buy a couple of sets of replacement grommets right from the start if your tennis frame is worth more than 100 euro’s or if your squash or badminton frame is worth more 60 euro’s. This is a rule of thumb that ‘guesstimates’ whether it is worth your time maintaining your frame in good condition.

Now I’ve seen quite a few rackets pass through my shop and the conception of two groups actually seems to fit pretty good: there are rackets that are being taking care for really good and there are rackets that are being mistreated but there are little to no rackets that have done just the basics. It seems to be an all or nothing approach. And that’s a shame because with just a bit amount of time, you can actually make the life span of your racket really last.

So first things first and let’s take a closer look at racket tape or bumper guard tape. It’ll cost you just a couple of dollars but it can be a real life saver. The reason you’ll want to stick it to the top of your frame is to protect the bumper guard itself from heavy scratching, but also prevent clay from getting in to your top strings. I’ve actually seen frame with so much clay on the upper strings and grommets that it will surely cause string breakage. It will not only damage your string itself (probably more on natural or synthetic guts than poly) but also dry out your bumper guard and grommet system very fast, which will then deteriorate rather fast, break off and cause more string breakage from the get-go, because you’ll stringer has to apply tension to the strings, while being directly forced onto the scratched and dented frame. Not good…

My second tip includes buying a set of replacement grommets of your preferred frame right from the start. The reason why you might want to follow this approach is because of the availability of these grommets. A couple of years down the road and when you might actually need to replace them, chances are you won’t be able to find them on the market anymore or with a lot more trouble of finding them. So why not just buy with your new frame in the first place there and then? Now not every shop or retailer might be able to sell those parts with the frame, but if you do a quick Google Search for [racket brand and type + “grommets bumper guard”] you’ll quickly come across some online retailers with a lot of inventory.

Let’s move on. The next advise has to do with replacement grips, which you can apply yourself or maybe is done in your favourite, local shop. As your frame ages and you have replaced more and more grips, the adhesive tape residue will tend to grow and cause trouble when you apply a new grip. If it is a lot of messy gunk, you’ll find you cannot get a good flat replacement grip on there. So, there’s no way around it: just take your time to remove everything up until the (yellow) polyurethane handle so you can start building up your grip again. Remember that stringers in your shop usually don’t take the time or the effort to clean this up for you, so they just stick on another grip as best as they can. A shame if you consider the little time required just to keep it clean. It’ll also prevent your frame from looking nasty because of adhesive tape residue. I’ve actually have had customers who expect me to clean their messy, sticky black replacement grips that already are falling apart and then want a nice, shiny white(!) replacement grip on top of there. Not the smartest combination but if you still insist: just take the time to clean it properly. You can use some sticker remover for this but only little as it can damage the polyurethane.

Once your grommets start to go back in quality, due to the frequency of stringing you have a couple of options. First, you can just let the process unfold and then replace your grommets entirely after, let’s say, a year or two. Second, you have the option of replacing grommets individually if you notice one has completely broken off, so that restringing would cause the string to touch the frame directly. You can find replacement grommets that have a good chance of fitting your frame on sites like Alibaba Express or the more experienced shops, but a cost effective way of maintaining your grommets is to buy this set at Racket Depot UK, which is you can cut to your own liking. It may seem a bit complicated, but just measure quickly how much you would need for protecting the string on the inside of the frame, cut it, place it in the drill hole and you’re there.

If you want think it’s time to replace your complete grommet set and bumper guard, start with taking everything out and giving it a good clean. It’ll make the process of placing your new grommet set a lot easier. When cleaning your frame, you might want to try to blow out any left-over clay with some an air compressor, if you can. I do this regularly for my customers in the shop, but especially when I replace grommet sets. The grommets can stick out if you leave anything there or they just won’t fit at all. Now, if this is your first time of applying the grommets, take your time and be prepared for a bit of a hassle. You’ll find that it can be quite tricky to get the grommets stick through the holes, with the pressure of the plastic guard squeezing it out every time, on both sides. There a couple of tips here to make life easier. First, try to use an awl, helping you guide them trough the drill holes. The second tip would be to have a couple of tie wraps nearby, as they can function as an extra pair of hands, while you get going on the next section of the bumper guard.

 

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These are the best places to buy racket stringing machine parts

Ok, so you’ve saved up some precious money and did manage to buy your (first) racket stringing machine. Congratulations! This makes you part of the club and now you can start building your skillset. However, one skill you’ll have to master is one that has not much to do with tennis, badminton or squash but rather with mechanics and machine parts. It is an inevitable part of stringing: stringing machine maintenance. In this article I’ll walk you through some options to source the best replacement parts for your machine.

There is no way around it, we’ll start our way with the somewhat unpleasant user interface design of Amazon. Gamma actually has quite some machines on there, just like Tourna and Klipper. They also got some basic accessories like a tension meter and dust cover from Gamma. There are also some flying clamps that should work on a lot of table top machines (like Pro’s Pro). Another part that has to be replaced often is the L-shaped cantilever, which you can also find there. There is also a nice floor stand from Gamma, which I’ll do a review on soon. One thing you don’t want to neglect is getting a pair of badminton racket load adapters, which spread the tension across a badminton frame. If you don’t use it, chances are you’ll probably crack a frame. Not the end of the world if is it your own, but you’ll really want to avoid that when working with client frames.

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Things to consider before buying tennis shoes

Great things get build on solid foundations. It’s just the way it is. In racket sports, having solid legs and footwork is a major part of the game. You can have the best forehand, but what if you can’t reach it?

I consider myself to be definitely part of that group of players who still need to do a lot of work on footwork. But, knowing this, what has always surprised in my retail and club experience, is how much the feet, truly the basis of any footwork, get neglected. Seriously, it seems that we have adopted the theory that we all should be able to play on just about any shoe because… well, how much could there be to a shoe, right?

Well, enter my new article. In this article I want to dive deeper in the science behind the shoe. Not to just point you towards more expensive shoes, but to demystify marketing terms and just get an honest check list that you, unfortunately, can’t deny.

What is considered a tennis shoe?

So, let’s start with the anatomy of a tennis shoe. What makes a tennis shoe even different from any other shoe?

Well, to understand the tennis shoe is to understand the game of tennis. Tennis is a very dynamic game that demands a lot from players. Tennis players make a lot of very quick movements, not only from left to right, but also to the front and back, even diagonally. It are those exact moments that demand a lot from our stamina and endurance, but also from our feet. Tennis shoes, logically, are designed to support you as good as possible during those repetitive movements. The difficulty however, is that tennis is being played at so many different levels of intensity, that there are so many ways to design a tennis shoe and price them accordingly. So, basically, you are always looking to match a tennis shoe to your level of play and intensity.

What is special about tennis shoes and what is the difference between tennis shoes and regular sneakers?

Regular sneakers become more and more athletic or are at least designed through the lens of athletes, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean sneakers can be used to practice a lot of different athletic activities. Furthermore, it can even be harmful to your feet to exercise a longer period of time on regular sneakers. The main reason for this danger, is the lack of good foot arch support. Ever noticed that modern day sneakers look very flat? Well, that’s because they are. That means that a regular sneaker will not support your feet in any way when playing tennis for example, probably causing a lot of strain and pain during a regular training session. Tennis shoes are specifically designed to support your feet at your arch, heel and upper sides to help you withstand the forces of sprinting and sliding.

What is the difference between tennis shoes and running shoes?

I’m being asked this question a lot in the store and I think I know where it is coming from. Of course, a lot of people try to run regularly in addition to the exercise of their main sport or maybe running is their main sport. Many people use running as a form of training to increase aerobic endurance, which can benefit them while playing other sports. Running shoes tend to be comfortable, lightweight and grippy. This combination however, makes one of the worst choices for playing tennis. Tennisshoes are supposed to be comfortable enough, but not have so much cushoning that they will suffocate your feet. They need to be relatively lightweight too, but not so much that they don’t provide enough support (which will make it heavier of course). Grippy soles will benefit any (clay court) tennis player, but having the grip of a running shoe could potentially seriously injure your leg.

As you can see, while the question above is understandable, the differences between tennis and running shoes are just to big. My advice is to keep running, just leave your running shoes at home while playing tennis.

What are the best shoes for tennis players?

Like I said before, the best shoes for a tennis player are those shoes that match your level of play and intensity. Of course, these will develop during your tennis career. But there are definitely things to consider before buying your next pair of shoes. I will briefly discuss them here.

Playing surface

More and more do sport shops get stocked with all court tennis shoes. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it does bring up the following question: does everybody benefit from playing with an all court tennis shoe? No, of course not! Especially not so if you are playing on one specific surface, clay for example. Of course, more and more courts are being converted to artificial clay (at least here in the Netherlands) and there is even a greater choice of courts to choose from, but in my experience it comes down to just one basic question: what’s the surface you most often play on? For me, that’s clay, for sure. So I definitely want the best sole for getting as much grip as I can on gravel. During my work for a big international retailer I got the chance to do intensive product testing on different courts (and surfaces) in Madrid, Spain and I was surprised by the results of testing. Having a dedicated sole for clay does actually matter (depending on your level of course). You’ll notice it especially with starting and stopping and this will result in making it to get a ball at the net or not for example. 

Feet shape

The second thing you want to pay attention to is the shape of your feet. Do you happen to have wider or narrower foot beds? Different brands and models are known for being better suited to one or the other group. So, for example, traditionally, Nike and Asics are more suitable for people with narrower feet and Adidas and K-Swiss more suitable for people with wider feet. Then, of course, there are some brands who fall in between: Lotto, Babolat, Wilson, Head, Diadora, Artengo to name a few.

You’ll also find that this might even vary among shoe types themselves. So one type of shoe from Nike might suit wider feet better than another type from Nike. This really develops continuously as brands push new products to the market. 

Long story short, my advice would be just to take the time to put those shoes on your feet and start testing. The general rule is that you start with taking you normal shoe size and then plus it with one size extra. This will give you room enough to wear good tennis socks and leave enough room for ventilating and also a bit of movement in your shoe, but not so much that you will start to slide and slip in your shoe (and possibly start to collect some blue toe nails).

Exterior durability 

One thing that gets the least amount of attention might be the durability of the shoe exterior. Understandably so, because at the glance of it, all tennis shoes look more or less the same. But if you take a closer look, you’ll notice some significant differences. Tennis shoes at cheaper prices points might even be perfect tennis shoes to play with, in regard to fitting form and arch support. And while not everybody might need to most durable tennis shoe out there on the market, what purpose does a tennis shoe serve you when it provides great support on your ankle but does so with the sides torn open? 

I actually did a play test on the Decathlon Artengo TS 500, which I really liked starting out. They’re classy, comfortable shoes with good enough grip and reasonably priced too. I played my majority of training sessions and matches on clay but during a summer tournament my match was moved towards a smash court. I could not believe my eyes to find that just after one match of play the shoe was ripped on the side by the impact of the smash court. Now this of course relates to play intensity, but although I am a fierce runner on court, my level of play is nowhere out of the ordinary. Luckily, Decathlon has a proper return policy and I switched them for a level up and bought the Artengo TS 990 in all black and found they had similar foot support but way better durability on the sides. 

So take that durability factor into account when buying shoes. When in doubt, my advice is always to go for a more durable shoe exterior, even if that might mean spending a bit more on your next tennis shoe.

So what’s your experience with buying tennis shoes? Do you have any tips for other readers? Please let us know and share your thoughts and comments down below.