April 27, 2010

A New Tennis Racquet: Part 5 - How To Demo A Tennis Racquet

If you've been following along, I have been searching for a new tennis racquet - the perfect racquet that will take my so-so, mediocre game to the next level (and hopefully that next level is the Champ level!).

I picked up 3 racquets to demo: 
  • a Babolat Drive Z 118 with a huge head size (118 square inches), very light (9.9 oz. strung) and head heavy,
  • a Volkl Power Bridge 3 - big head size (110 square inches), a little heavier but still light (10.3 oz. strung) and head light, and
  • a Prince EXO3 Red 105 - more of a tweener or hybrid head size (105 square inches), again heavier but still light (10.5 oz. strung) and again head light.
Here's a little warning about demos:  sure, they're nice, new racquets.  But they won't necessarily be in your grip size or strung to your preferred tension.  My demo racquets were all a 4 3/8 grip size and I play with a 4 1/4.  Also, these were all supposedly strung to the midpoint of their tension range which is just a little looser than where I have been stringing my racquet.  And because they are demos, they may have been used by a lot of people and not restrung for awhile so there's really no telling what tension they're at - most likely they're looser than where they started and perhaps much looser than what you would play with.   

Keeping these things in mind, here's how I demo-ed these racquets.

First, I called the pro that I take lessons with and told him I wanted to demo some racquets with him and I wanted him to help me pick out a racquet. He already knew I was looking for something new since he was the one who figured out I had cracked my racquet (yes, I cracked my racquet and it took someone else to find that out for me).

Now, just to be clear, I had cracked one of my two Babolat racquets. The other one just needed to be restrung. And I did get it restrung.  So I still had that one that was playable but I was committed to finding a new racquet.

Next, we had a lesson and I brought out my old racquet (the un-cracked one) and the three demo racquets. The point of this lesson was not so much to work on my strokes but to really try these different racquets out and see how they felt.

I hit with my old racquet to start with just to really get it in my brain how that felt. We began with baseline shots. I hit with my old Babolat for about 5 minutes and then I then switched to the huge new Babolat. Yuck. I did not like that feeling. I know that you have to give these new racquets a chance when you're demo-ing them but I was sure I would have to make too many adjustments to my technique to get this racquet under control.  And this racquet was WAY different than my old Babolat, probably more different than I needed.  So I nixed that one right away.

I then switched to the Prince, which was just a few steps away in size, weight, etc. from my old Babolat. I felt extremely comfortable with this racquet and I could tell that several of my mis-hits were magically clearing the net. These were shots that I knew, right when I hit them, would not have gone over with my old Babolat.

I then hit some volleys with the Prince.  Again, it felt great.  My volleys were much more solid than what I had come to expect with my old Babolat.  I volleyed with the Prince for a few minutes and then switched back to my old Babolat.  Huge difference.  I really had to put more on the volleys to get them to be as forceful as they'd been with the Prince.  I also had to be more careful when I went for angles.

Throughout this whole process, I asked a lot of questions and my pro commented on how he thought I was hitting with each racquet.  He claimed I was hitting much better with the Prince than with any of the demos or with my old racquet. I'll admit - I gave the Volkl about a two minute demo.  Frankly, I was so happy with the Prince that I didn't feel more was necessary. And I don't know anyone who plays with a Volkl. That's not very objective of me but that's the sort of thing that influences me - I don't want to be the only person I know playing with a Volkl.

So, I guess it's no big revelation to say I loved playing with this Prince demo. I used it to play in a match the next day and, after hitting some crazy shots the first few games that went way deeper than what I was used to, I got the racquet under control and had a great match.

As far as the next step, I believe what a serious and reasonable player in search of the right racquet would do is go back to the pro shop, trade in the new Babolat and the Volkl and pick up two more racquets comparable to the Prince in size, weight, etc., and try those out for a week. Myself? I was tired of this whole process and just bought the Prince.

So, what if you want to demo some racquets but don't have a pro to rely upon? If you belong to a club or at least know someone who's taking lessons, see if their pro would be willing to do a lesson for you specifically for the purpose of trying out demo racquets. If you're willing to pay for their expert advice, I think it's worth it. You might also get a friend to go out and hit with you, trying out ground strokes, volleys, serves and returns with each of your demo racquets. If you can't come up with a friend who was the time for that, go to drills or a clinic and try out your demos. Probably the least desirable and hardest thing to do would be to just demo the racquets by playing matches. Since you don't want to constantly switch racquets during a match and that is what you need to do when demo-ing, a real match situation will not be a good demo situation.

While it appears that my search for a new racquet is over as I've settled on the Prince, its not quite over. I have to purchase the racquet and then get it strung. So stick with me a little longer as I get this new racquet thing taken care of and hopefully your own racquet search will one day be a breeze!


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

April 26, 2010

Which One Is Bob?

I really love the Bryan brothers. They've won all 4 Grand Slams, play Davis Cup every year and just released their first CD which included a rap song featuring Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Can't tell the difference between the Bryan brothers? You'll finally be able to after watching this video from CNN International with Pat Cash interviewing Bob and Mike and, unsuccessfully, trying to return one of Bob's lefty serves past Mike.

© Kim Selzman 2010 All Rights Reserved

April 24, 2010

A New Tennis Racquet: Part 4 - Acquiring Demo Racquets

We've been talking about finding a new tennis racquet in the last few posts and now, at last, I have to get some demo racquets.  So once you've picked out a few racquets that you think might help your game, how do you actually get your hands on those racquets and try them out?

Well, in my case, I happen to be lucky enough to live about 12 minutes from a fabulous tennis shop - Tennis Express. You've probably heard of them since it seems they have been advertising out the be-jesus during the last few Slams. So I drove myself right over to Tennis Express and talked to their resident racquet expert.

He asked me a few questions and I told him how often I play (3 to 4 times a week), what my style of play is (mostly doubles, like to volley and be up at the net), and how I like to hit the ball (ground strokes with top spin).  I also told him what racquet I was currently playing with and why I thought I needed to move onto a pretty different kind of racquet.  And I told him what I thought I was looking for in a new racquet.

He then suggested 3 different racquets for me to try out.  They ranged in head size from 105 to 118 and were from 3 different manufacturers.  I asked a few more questions but ultimately went with his recommendations.  It cost me $30 to take these 3 racquets out for a week (and I can recoup a portion of that $30 if I buy a racquet from them).

Now, if you're not so conveniently located near a full-service tennis shop that has all of the current racquets available for you to demo, don't despair.  Most of the large on-line retail outlets have demo programs where you can have racquets shipped to you to try out.  See, for example, Tennis Express and Tennis Warehouse.  These demo programs can be pretty cheap.  For example, had I done the on-line demo program with Tennis Express, I could have had up to 4 racquets for a week for only a $14.95 FedEx shipping fee (Tennis Warehouse charges a $10 to $20 shipping fee depending on how many racquets you decide to demo).  The only drawback to demo-ing through an on-line program may be that you have to pick out which racquets you want to demo all by yourself.  But I'm sure you can give these on-line retailers a toll-free call and have this discussion if you want.  And, if you've read up on your racquets as previously discussed (see the previous Doing Some Research post and the Picking Out Some Racquets post), you probably have a good idea of what you'd like to try out anyway.


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Happy 40th Anniversary of Earth Day!  Last year, I listed some great ways to recycle tennis balls.  Nothing new has been invented to do with used tennis balls that I am aware of.  But I am a big believer in going green so here are a few easy Earth Day suggestions for you to try out:
  1. Reuse or recycle as many of your empty health and beauty product containers as you can. If you can't reuse them or recycle them with your regular recycling, some retail stores, like Origins and MAC, will take back cosmetic tubes, bottles and jars from any brand.
  2. Find out how to recycle items that you can't include in your home recycling, like batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and plastic bags. Not sure? Visit earth911.org for more information.
  3. Recycle plastic packing peanuts by saving them for the next time you send a package. You can also donate them to any UPS Store location where they will be happy to re-use them for you.
  4. Don't bother rinsing your dishes before you load them in the dishwasher. Just scrape and load. Tests by Consumer Reports showed that rinsing isn't necessary most of the time and skipping it can save you up to 20 gallons per load.
  5. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water every day. Find out if your toilet is leaking by placing a drop of food coloring in the tank. If the color shows up in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, you have a leak. (Then, of course, repair the leak.)
  6. Unplug! According to the US Department of Energy, 75% of the electricity used to power electronics and appliances in the average home is consumed while the products are turned off. Plug products into power strips and turn off the strip when appliances aren't in use.
  7. Replace at least a few of your conventional light bulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescents. Compact fluorescent bulbs can last up to 10 times longer and use 75 percent less energy than standard bulbs.
  8. Make sure your gift bags can be re-used by purchasing them with generic patterns or in solid colors. Gift bags themed for specific occasions, like baby showers or Christmas, have limited re-use.
Finally, get outside and enjoy the Earth today!  Happy Earth Day!


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

April 19, 2010

A New Tennis Racquet: Part 3 - Picking Out Some Racquets

After doing a little on-line research into tennis racquets, I think I've figured out what I'm looking for. To start with, I'm currently using a Babolat AeroPro Drive+ that I bought a few years ago. I went with this racquet because, honestly, it was what my husband was already playing with and I didn't know enough about racquets to find something more appropriate for myself. I knew his Babolat was a decent racquet and I was using it while demo-ing other racquets so I just stuck with it. And that way I had two Babolat racquets - his and the one I bought!

I have liked this Babolat but now I think its probably too advanced for me (this is, after all, the "Rafael Nadal racquet"). I'm sure there are plenty of racquet innovations that could help me that I'm not taking advantage of. So, to figure out what kind of racquets I might now be interested in, I first looked up my current racquet's specifications (I just Googled "babolat aeropro drive specifications" and found them easily). Here's what I'm thinking:

Head-Size - My current racquet has a 100 square inch head. Racquets now go up to as much as 118 square inches. Head size is important because the power you can achieve with a racquet is directly related to head size - a larger head provides more power than a smaller head. It also gives you a larger hitting area and a much larger sweetspot. While I don't think I want to go all the way up to 118 inches, which might be a little unwieldy for me, I definitely want to take advantage of what a larger head-size can do for my game and go up several inches.

Length - My racquet is 27 1/2 inches long. Racquets usually range in length from 27 to 29 inches (the legal limit). A longer racquet means a longer reach so I definitely don't want to go down in length.

Weight and Balance - My racquet weighs 11.3 ounces and is considered "head light," meaning the weight is balanced more toward the mid-point or handle of the racquet. Here is what the Tennis Warehouse website has to say about this type of racquet:
Heavier, head-light racquets- preferred by most professional players, these racquets are often referred to as being “traditionally weighted and balanced” racquets. They typically weigh 11-13 ounces and are balanced 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches head light in order to retain maneuverability. In most cases, these racquets are also referred to as “player’s” racquets because they are generally more control-oriented and designed for players who provide their own power.
Yikes! This is definitely not me! I think what would be more appropriate for me is a lighter racquet, more head heavy, which will supposedly give me increased maneuverability.

Frame Stiffness - I know this is an important factor, especially as it has to do with how much power the frame helps transfer to the ball and how much vibration it can send up your arm. But honestly, I'm overwhelmed with what I'm looking at so far so I'm not going to worry about frame stiffness too much yet.  (But you can if you want to and look on-line at the resources given in my previous post - A New Tennis Racquet: Doing Some Research.)

String Pattern - Ack! I'm not even going to think about this one!  (But you can read up on this on-line if you care to by, again, going to my previous post.)

Cost - This is not a factor that anyone ever lists as an important consideration when deciding on a new racquet.  I guess that's because they would probably have to recommend you buy the most expensive racquet possible.  But it is something to consider, especially if you plan on buying two racquets to carry around so you always have a back-up ready in case of emergency.  My opinion is that my racquet is my most important piece of equipment, even more important than a cute tennis bag (!), so I'm willing to spend the money to get what I want.  Just know that there are great racquets available in all price ranges so don't be deterred in your search by the expense.
Where does all of this leave me? Well, I've looked on-line now for some racquets by manufacturers I like. But I plan to talk to the racquet guy at the pro shop when I go to pick out some demos to get some specific recommendations. The good news is - at least I'll know what to ask about and won't sound like a moron. I hope. So my next step is now here - getting some demo racquets.


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

April 13, 2010

A New Tennis Racquet: Part 2 - Doing Some Research

OK.  Time to start doing some research on tennis racquets.  In my previous post, I talked about asking friends, opponents, etc. about their racquets and what they liked.  This was a great place to start as I heard a lot of interesting stuff about a lot of different racquets.  It also made me realize that no one else is playing with the right racquet for me.  I'm going to have to find it for myself.

So what should I be looking for in a new tennis racquet? Because I want some pretty basic information but I want it to be up-to-date, quick and easy to get to, and free of course, I'm pretty much confining myself to on-line resources. Racquet technology is constantly changing so I don't want to read a book or anything else that might be too out of date. And, while I happen to know that the April issue of Tennis magazine is always a gear guide and probably has some useful info in it, I can't find my April issue. So I'm just looking on-line right now.

To start with, I found some great information in this article: Buying a Tennis Racquet for a Beginner in the Tennis section of the about.com site. I like this article because its not written by a racquet manufacturer or retailer and it assumes you don't know anything at all about racquets. The author talks about the main factors determining how a racquet plays - head size, frame flexibility, length, weight and balance. After reading this, I had a pretty good idea of just what these terms mean and how they can impact the way a racquet feels or performs.

Another good place with some basic, beginner-level racquet discussion can be found at tennis.com, the website for Tennis magazine.  Their article Gear 101: FAQs About Tennis Gear From Beginners provides quick and easy answers to the most basic racquet questions.  Here's a great example:  I’m a beginner. Why should I care about high-tech racquets?  Because most new technologies are designed to help players get better sooner.   (I guess that's not too obvious.)

Tennis.com also has an update on the latest racquets and what technologies the manufacturers are pushing: 2010 Racquet Guide: The Hybrid Revolution.

All of the big on-line retailers, have great guides to purchasing a racquet. I really like the one at Tennis Warehouse:  Selecting the Right Racquet.  The nice thing about this guide is it not only explains the various elements that go into a racquet, it offers suggestions of specific racquets within each of the categories it sets out.  The categories are Power or Game Improvement Racquets, 'Tweener Racquets and Control or Player's Racquets.  So you get a quick idea of just what racquets you might be interested in and about what they cost.

Another good guide can be found on the Tennis Express site: Choosing a Tennis Racquet.  This guide also gets into some of the numbers to help you pick a few racquets that might be right for you.  

Should you wish to read an in-depth analysis of the physics of tennis racquets, try How to Choose the Best Tennis Racquet for Control and Power back in about.com's Tennis section.  A typical sentence from this article:  "On off-long-axis hits, with all other factors being equal, less weight (or less widely placed weight) in the racquet head allows more rotation around the racquet's long axis (torsion), because the racquet head has less mass on either side of the long axis to provide rotational inertia."  It continues like this for a few pages but by the end, you have a better, although probably unnecessary, understanding of exactly what forces are at work when you hit a ball with your racquet.

So where does all of this leave me? I'm now looking for a game improvement or 'tweener or hybrid racquet. This means something a little lighter than what I've been playing with and something with a larger head size and thus a larger sweet spot. So the next step is putting all of my newly acquired tennis racquet knowledge together and picking out some racquets!


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

April 11, 2010

Keeping A Personal Cheat Sheet

In a previous post, I explained how to keep a "Players Cheat Sheet" - basically just some notes on the playing style of opponents you come up against often.   Please note that, when my husband read this particular post and questioned whether I REALLY kept a Players Cheat Sheet, I was forced to pull out my Blackberry, show it to him, and thus prove my seriousness about the game of tennis.  I think in his opinion I was just proving my whackiness.

Anyway, in this post, I'm going to reveal one of my bigger, nerdier secrets - my "Personal Cheat Sheet." Yes, I actually have a 3" x 5" card in my tennis bag that has all of the little tips I'm supposed to remember when I play a match.

One side has "Tips" on it. These are tips just for me. For example, Tip No. 1, in all caps, bold and with an exclamation mark, is "CALM DOWN!" That is something I have to keep telling myself over and over throughout every match I play so that is how my Cheat Sheet starts out. I then have a list of tips broken down by Serve (5 tips, like "Keep tossing arm extended up longer"), Return (3 tips, including "Draw them off court with wide return"), Forehand (2 tips), Backhand (4 tips, including "TOPSPIN!" in all caps), Volley (2 tips), Overhead (2 tips), One-handed Backhand Slice (2 tips), and When To Move In (4 tips, like "Lob over their heads").

The other side of the card is titled "Doubles Cheat Sheet" and has important tips and strategies for doubles. The sections are Evaluate Opponents, reminding me what to look for during warm-up and throughout the match; Serve & Return, with some tips like "Serve up the middle, set partner up for poach"; and Strategies, with reminders like "Team that controls the net controls the match."

None of these tips, strategies or reminders is a stunning insight. And sure, they're all written in 8 point font so they fit on a 3" x 5" card. But I can still read this card without reading glasses and doing so helps me calm down (see Tip No. 1 above) and focus on my match. I keep this on a card instead of on my Blackberry so I can pull it out at any time, anywhere, even during a match if I want.

While I'm happy to reveal everything that's on my cheat sheet (all of my most intimate tennis secrets!), you probably know what you need help with and what you need to be reminded of and your cheat sheet would be different from mine. So I highly recommend that you put together your own Personal Cheat Sheet. And if you can get it all on a small card in something larger than 8 point font, you're a better person than me!


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

April 9, 2010

A New Tennis Racquet: Part 1 - How Do You Start?

Its time for me to choose a new tennis racquet because I've somehow managed to crack the two I've been playing with for a while. Where to begin?

One of the best ways to start this process is to talk to your partner(s), opponents, and tennis-playing friends to find out what they're playing with and why. This accomplishes several things quickly.

First, it gives you an idea of what is going on in the wide world of new tennis racquets. If, like me, you've been playing with the same racquets for several years, you'll be shocked and overwhelmed to hear all of the innovations that other players at your level are taking advantage of. Are you familiar with any of these terms: oversize head, ergonomic grip, arm friendliness, spin friendliness, super-size sweet spot? No? Me either. But some of the people with whom I've been talking, real players just like me, are throwing these phrases around like this is everyday conversation. They're playing with newer racquets and really believe in the new technology.

Second, I promise you - you are going to come across someone who has done a lot of the research for you. Take advantage of that. If that person happens to have a game similar to yours and is feeling good about their racquet, maybe your search for a new racquet will come to a quick and satisfying end. Even if they are not playing with your dream racquet, however, they can probably give you some tips on what to look for, where to shop and how to go through a few demo racquets.

Finally, find someone with a game like yours and chat them up about their racquet. What do they like about it? How long have they been playing with it? Why did they buy that brand? Did they try other racquets? Again, some of this information may help you shortcut your own search for a new racquet.

Now, be forewarned. Some people are playing very well with racquets that probably aren't the racquet that a pro or a tennis shop would put them with. I talked to a lady yesterday whose only reason for playing with the racquet she had was "I've just always played with Wilsons." To me, that's as good a reason as any. My own cracked racquets started out as my husband's and I just took them over.  So talking about racquets with other players is a beginning but, at least in my mind, is not the end of the quest. If I'm spending up to $200 on a new racquet, I'm going to do more than just talk to others.  I'm going to put a little bit of time and effort into figuring out what is right for me.

And that's the next step - doing some "real" research.


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

April 7, 2010

The Match In Which I Am Robbed

Oh my goodness. Today I was robbed. And I'm not talking about being robbed of a win in a tennis match.

Maybe I was burglarized. I'm not sure. All I know is that, sometime after narrowly losing the first set in a tiebreaker, a woman from the other team said, "Hey, does anyone have a black Suburban in the parking lot? Because it was broken into." My first thought was that while I have a black Suburban, doesn't everyone have a black Suburban? So there's no way it was my car that was broken into.

Boo hoo. Mine was the only black Suburban in the parking lot and someone had smashed in one of the side windows and stolen my purse. I blame myself. Who leaves their purse in the cars these days? Well, I used to as of this morning. As of 11:34 a.m. today, I no longer do.

At about the same time I was staring at my smashed-in window, my husband called. Someone actually found my purse and it was waiting for me at a nearby church! My partner and I forfeited our match (Drats!) and I drove over to pick up my purse which was missing absolutely nothing except the cash. I guess the robber was so happy to get some cash that he just threw my purse away.

I am so lucky - they didn't take my credit cards, my checks, my drivers license, my digital camera (why am I carrying that around?), my Lacoste sunglasses or my $400 Coach purse. I called my credit card companies and they didn't even think I should cancel my cards. I just need to monitor them on-line for "unusual activity."

And, here it is about 4 hours later, and I already have a new window in my car thanks to one of those mobile auto glass replacement companies.

Moral to this story - DON'T LEAVE YOUR PURSE IN THE CAR! You probably don't. But don't be like me and think it can never happen to you.

Second moral - Use those mobile auto glass replacement companies. They're quick, cheap and the guy even vacuumed the broken glass out of my car!


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

Time For A New Racquet?

I think its time for a new racquet.

I noticed my racquet was playing kind of "dead" so I sent it for restringing. Guess what? My racquet turned out to be cracked. I have no idea how this happened but its an older racquet and I have on occasion lightly tapped it on the court when one of my shots was less than successful.

So, that's the end of that racquet.

I took out my back-up racquet to play yesterday, and guess what? It feels kind of dead and is making a weird sound when I hit. Can I really have two cracked racquets? Maybe those taps on the court were a little more violent than I realized.

Now that I have this in my head, its inevitable. I have to buy a new racquet. Or two. So today's the day I go try to pick up a demo racquet and I start researching what I need to be playing with. (I need a demo because I honestly don't have a racquet to play with!) As much as I've liked my old racquet, I really started playing with it because it was my husband's and I was just too lazy to move onto something else. Plus its the same racquet Andy Roddick uses. But now I think I'm going to have to find the racquet that's right for me. Stayed tuned . . .


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved

April 1, 2010

Quick Tennis Fix: Drink For Energy

Need a quick pick-me-up during your match? Try a drink of water. Water is a natural energy booster that you have easy access to on court. Take a quick drink and you'll suddenly have more energy and a clearer mind to focus on winning that next point!


© Kim Selzman 2010
All Rights Reserved