If you have watched some professional tennis, then you must have seen it: although small and stretched out, these shiny strips are common items among the gear that professional tennis players use every day. You think it might look cool, but not have thought much about it. Strangely enough, these tiny lead adhesives are actually ‘the magical tape’ of tennis and in this article, I’ll explain you why.
Basically, lead tapes allows you to alter the factory settings of your racket by applying weight in ‘strategic’ places on your frame, which then influence the total weight, balance point, swing weight and sweet spot of your racket.
Pretty straight forward
Tennis is actually a pretty straight forward game in terms of scoring system and tactic principles. I’ll assume here you got the scoring system figured out and as for a summary of the the main tactics: you’ll win a tennis match by A) hit the ball with your racket, B) higher than the net and C) within the main court lines and D) far away from your opponent. That’s it! I am exaggerating here of course just to make my point and that is: basically, tennis is not a complicated game.
Tennis and physics
But you’d be wrong. That is, once you decide to read more about tennis. Tennis is a great deal of physics. I actually think tennis is so much about physics, that it leaves us with a great mystery of why Albert Einstein wasn’t a great tennis champion. Now, physics is a great field of study but it comes of course with it’s own set of rules and one that has to be studied for quite some years to be called an expert in. Let’s just make clear: I’m not. I actually liked Physics as subject during high school, but the truth of the matter is that I really wasn’t that good at it. I did take some extra lessons to be honest, just to get through it.
Ready for a challenge?
But let’s not put us of by the rules of physics just yet. I tried to look reading about tennis and physics as a challenge. A challenge that at least might clarify some things we can just take as a practical tip with us on court. In the end, I did find quite a few. One of the prominent features of tennis racket frames is swing weight and it’s best described, in my experience, as the feeling you have of swinging away a racket. In that regard, a heavier frame will cause you more trouble than a lighter frame. A lighter frame of course will be easier to swing. However, swinging is just one part of that basic principle of tennis that we spoke of earlier. Another part is getting that ball to move away from your opponent and a way of doing that better is with a heavier racket. Why? Because more mass behind the ball actually means that it will require less muscle mass to move that ball at the same speed. That’s why one of the most basic rules I actually give to customers in my shop: always choose the heaviest racket frame you can still play relatively easy with.
Playtesting different frames
Ok, so that leaves you with the somewhat cryptic challenge to start finding that sweet spot of having a heavy frame that you can swing around for, potentially, three sets long. How can you even do this, you might ask, if you don’t want to be switching racket frames for the coming six months? Or spend a grant each month? Well, one thing I recommend in any case, try to find a place, being a retailer or a club trainer, who would be willing you to test rackets. And not to test two frames. No, you want to play test dozens of them. Here in Holland, we have a couple of different places where you can go to play test frames. Some are complete free of charge (but might require you to wait a couple of rounds before you can get your hands on a frame) and other parties might charge you with the shipping or restringing costs. Please keep in mind though, you’re not finding your ideal racket right away. That’s not the point of this exercise, but it is to give you more insight in to what swing weight does to your game. So my advice would be to not even take a look at the swing weight of your new stick, but to play with it first, write down your findings in an Excel sheet or something similar and then afterwards take a look at the numbers and probably, you’ll be surprised by the results.
Finding that perfect frame… or not?
Of course, you could find your perfect, preferred frame of choice between those test models. If you pick that one to be your next tennis racket and go play with it right away, who am I to tell you shouldn’t. However, chances are that you play tested quite a couple of models that you did like, but just wasn’t to sure about them. No worries.
Why to add lead tape
Racket technology, as I mentioned in other articles too, comes down to a couple of factors that combine to your preferred feeling or setup. But here’s the deal: with lead tape and some basic calculating you can mimic almost every racket out there on the market. Say what? Yes, you perfectly can! Now this is of course something manufacturers and retailers aren’t too happy to share with you, but it’s the truth. Applying lead tape at certain points in your frame will change the total weight, the balance point and your swing weight. That’s almost every aspect of racket handling! One thing to keep in mind though is that one aspect lead tape can’t really alter is frame stiffness. This frame stiffness is really an aspect of the frame material (being measured in RA values) and varies of course as frame materials and fiber setups vary among different rackets.
How to apply lead tape
So, how do you work with lead tape anyway? There’s really nothing much too it actually. Basically, you apply small strips of about an inch or 1.5 centimeter on both sides of your stringbed and on left and right at preferred positions (on the inside) of your racket head. The most common positions are 3 and 9 ‘o clock and 2 and 10 ‘o clock. Just keep in mind that moving the lead tape up, towards the top position of your racket head, will make your racket more head heavy each time. No problem if you want to increase your balance point and swing weight, but if you want to just upgrade the total weight of the racket while keeping the balance point in place, you have to add the similar weight to the handle, being lead tape underneath the replacement grip or in the but cap. Most racket tuners however, use a method of applying silicon kit in the handle, because this is a neat and clean way of hiding the added weight.
Still a bit unclear about what lead tape can do for you? Take a cup of coffee and watch the following video from Harry Tong and Tennis Spin. It really covers a lot. I just recently stumbled upon his video’s on YouTube but I really like his explanation.
One thing I don’t perfectly agree on with Harry though is his tip for starting out by adding the least amount of weight. His recommendation is to put it at the top (12 ‘o clock), like Federer and Nadal do. Yes, this will for sure add the top weight but you want stability too (especially recreational players). So my personal recommendation is to start by putting at it at 2 and 10 because it will give you both the benefit of heaving a higher sweat spot with added stability, while also having a head heavier racket. Harry explains this as doing a ‘Tennys Sandgren’.
Go out and try
One thing I definitely agree on with Harry is: go and try it for yourself. That’s basically the beauty of applying head tape to your racket. There is no right and wrong and you can start over anytime. My final tip is just to take some time to test all of your options before moving on to the next one. As with testing anything with regard to your gear, it’s easy to get excited and start testing all day. That’s only good news if you can evaluate the results: how does this really effect my game? If you just hit some basic rallies, try out some games. Like your first play test? Move on and try to play a full set. Next, move on again and try to play a full three set match. I actually missed that last step a couple of times only to find that during the last phase of the match, I couldn’t really swing away as easy because the frame was loaded up to heavy and missing on that basic rule: play with the heaviest racket you can still play with quite easy.
What about you?
So, what about you? What are your experiences with applying lead tape to your racket? Did you like some methods better than others? Please let me know by sharing your experience in the comments down below and help some other players with your knowledge. Also, if you have any questions, please put them down below and I’m happy to do my best answering them.