How to buy (or upgrade) your tennis racket

Consider these tips before making your purchase.

A new tennis racket can improve your game and there are several factors to consider when purchasing a new one. The first step is to decide how often you'll play. “If you’re new to tennis and simply want a racket to hit some balls around once in a while, buying online is totally fine,” says New York City-based tennis coach Joe Salih. (Beginner rackets come pre-strung and are usually under $80.) If you’re a beginner or intermediate player looking to get better, you should venture into a store. Here's how to do it:

Tennis shops in almost every city have programs where you can test rackets at home. When you're trying a string of brands and models, it’s important to keep as many constants as possible. “Makes sure they all have the same grip size, the rackets are strung with the same string and tension and all the rackets have a similar weight,” says Kevin Anderson, South African tennis player and founder of the website Real Life Tennis. If there are too many variables you won’t be able to accurately decide which is best for you. And remember to practice all of your shots. “I’ve tried rackets that felt very good on my groundstrokes, but not so good on my serve,” he says.

There are three different racket head sizes to choose from: mid, mid-plus and oversized. Smaller heads typically mean a smaller sweet spot, but will allow the player to have more control. Larger heads provide a larger sweet spot, making recovery shots easier, but provide less control. While an oversized head is recommended for novice players, Anderson says one that's too large can be a disadvantage because of its weight. “If the racket is too heavy, it will cause your body to make adjustments, affecting your technique.”

Too big or small a grip could hurt your forearm and affect your game. To find your grip size, you’ll need a ruler and your dominant playing hand. Open your hand while having your fingers fully extended and close together. Take the ruler and align it until it’s parallel with your ring finger with one end of the ruler in line with the bottom of the palm’s middle crease. Your tennis racquet grip size is the length between the tip of your ring finger and the bottom lateral palm crease.

Intermediate players and up should buy unstrung rackets and find the right stringing for them. Strings are strung either open or dense (open strings are great for spin, while closed strings are good for hard hitting and control). Go to a reputable tennis shop and the pro on hand will help you figure out the tension that's right for you.

While the superstitions of athletes sometimes keep players from investing in new rackets for years on end, plateauing is a definite reason for seasoned players to start their search. "If all constants stay the same—your physical health, your footwork, your form—but you're not having that breakthrough moment, demoing rackets at a higher level is probably a good idea,” says Salih.

Smart rackets have also hit the market to provide players data on their strokes. Playing with a smart racket for a week or weekend can help experienced players refocus to improve their overall game. But smart rackets aside, seasoned players should always take note of the updates on their existing model. Salih says that many people have been playing with the same rackets for years, but the racket material actually changes every two to three years—going from aluminum to liquid metal to grapheme and on to another upgrade. Generally, the updates are for the better so it’s key to pay attention, because it could hold back your game.