A longtime racquet technician says manufacturers should push recreational players to have their frames customized.
By Greg Raven
When you buy clubs from a typical golf pro shop, your salesman will encourage you to have those clubs customized for your game. When you buy a tennis racquet from a typical tennis pro shop, about the only customization you are certain to receive is your choice of string tension. A “pushy” salesman may try to sell you a more expensive set of strings, but that seems to be the limit.
This is an area where the tennis industry can learn from the golf industry, and we already have all the necessary tools available to us. Not only that, but a focus on racquet customization could benefit everyone.
What we have
For those doing racquet customization, just about every imaginable resource is already available. At the high end, you have the all-in-one Babolat Racquet Diagnostic Center (RDC). If you want to put together your own diagnostic station, you can take your pick of individual measuring devices, such as the Prince Precision Tuning Center (PTC), precision scales, flex testers and balance boards.
For those on a limited budget, with a scale, balance board and stopwatch, you can accurately measure many racquet characteristics. Lead tape and sticky-back lead weights are available in different widths and thicknesses from a variety of sources.
To do the necessary math, you can create your own spreadsheets using the formulas contained in books such as The Physics and Technology of Tennis. USRSA members can use the extensive on-line tools available at RacquetTECH.com.
In other words, there is no shortage of tools or information to help racquet technicians do the type of matching and customization needed by tennis players.
The problem is that most tennis players seem to be ambivalent toward the concept of customization.
What we need
The push for customization needs to come from the top, that is, from the racquet manufacturers. The two most obvious candidates for this are Babolat and Prince, as each sells a major piece of diagnostic equipment.
By pushing customization, these companies could leverage existing investments, and increase sales of high-tech, big-ticket equipment. Racquet manufacturers already print string and grip recommendations on the inside of the throat, why not recommend customization there, too? I’d like to see major ad campaigns along the lines of “We built this racquet for Rafael Nadal (or Bob and Mike Bryan). Let us build one for you.” Such a campaign would create the impression that the racquet must be fitted to the player, and the way to do that is through customization.
The best part is that everybody benefits. The average player has a racquet that is better suited to his game, and an appreciation of what can be done. The racquet technician benefits from increased business, and the manufacturer benefits from increased sales of diagnostic equipment. I think racquet sales would increase, too, as fans of high-profile players will more readily buy their idol’s racquet, knowing that differences in physique and playing style can be mitigated through customization. I see another beneficiary, too: the small pro shop. Small shops have some tough choices when it comes to buying stock, because there may be room in the budget only for one line. Signing with one major manufacturer means that players wanting equipment or clothing from another brand must go elsewhere. And small shops have a hard time competing with big chains and discount online retailers. The way the industry trend is going, this probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.
But even the tiniest pro shop is well-suited for one-on-one relationships, and that’s a perfect environment for racquet customization. Instead of stocking one brand of racquet, clothing, and shoes, small shops could stock balls, strings, and accessories, and focus on customization. This level of personalization would be difficult to match online, and shops would have no more worries about what to do with unsold merchandise. No player is going to send his racquet off in the mail to be restrung when a local shop can do it. Why not extend this local-service concept to customization?
Once the bandwagon starts rolling, expect more competition to develop and market diagnostic equipment. Better and more readily available diagnostic equipment will certainly help the move toward customization. New approaches will make customization even easier than it is today.
Sound unrealistic? We already have the foundation in place. All we have to do is build on it.
See all articles by Greg Raven
About the Author
Greg Raven is an associate editor for RSI magazine and technical writer. He is certified as a Master Racquet Technician by the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. He plays tennis five days a week, and is turning into an avid cyclist.