Equipment: Getting a Grip!
Having the right grips and overgrips are crucial not only to good performance, but also to the player’s health.
For as long as the game has been around, the grip has played an important role. After all, if the player can’t hold onto the racquet, it is hard to make a good stroke at the ball, let alone control the shot.
In the early tennis racquets, all manner of grip shapes and sizes were tried, from bulbous ends to flared shapes and cork inlays. Sometime in the 1930s, the leather wrap was introduced, and by the end of that decade all racquets included a leather grip of some sort.
It is hard to imagine playing the game without a decent grip on the racquet these days. But if you speak to any racquet technician, they will tell you it is still a very neglected item on most players’ racquets. Walk into any pro shop and take a look at the grips on the racquets that are waiting to be strung and you will likely find a sordid mess — everything from grips as slick as glass to those in such a state of decay that you would not want to touch it. We all know that most players go too long between restringing, but why are the grips so totally neglected?
This neglect has always been an enigma to me, especially since on the pro circuit the grip is so important to most players. It has to be carefully wrapped in a certain way, starting at the exact same place and with the exact same overlap. Many pros even pay big bucks to have the handle itself custom-molded so there are no discrepancies in the way the handle of each racquet feels in their hand. This makes a lot of sense since that grip is the only connection between the player and the racquet.
Whether a pro player or a recreational player, having a grip that is the correct size and with sufficient tack is crucial to not only good performance, but also to the player’s health. A grip that is too small or too large requires the player to squeeze tighter and puts a lot more stress on the wrist, forearm and elbow. The same is true if the grip material is worn and slippery.
Most recreational players can appreciate and feel the difference when their ragged grip is replaced with a fresh one. But as with most things involved with racquet service for recreational players, it is up to the racquet technician to educate players on the importance of a good grip. (For more on how to replace a grip, see Racquet Tech in this issue).
For most players today, the grip is actually two grips: A replacement grip and an overgrip.
As the name implies, this grip is the base and replaces the grip that came installed from the factory. Most grips today are made of a synthetic material, although some players prefer the old-school feel of a leather grip, which are still readily available.
Since many players use an overgrip, the replacement grip may be considered as a base material. If the player is using an overgrip, the hand won’t be in direct contact with the grip surface, so it will likely last much longer than if the player used no overgrip. Generally, the sweat and oil from our hands are the main detriment to the grip, causing the grip to lose its tack and therefore its utility, necessitating replacement.
Most synthetic grips offer various levels of cushioning. As the player grips the racquet, this cushioning compresses and will eventually lose its usefulness and need to be replaced. This is one reason many pros opt for leather grips — so that the base grip stays more uniform and stable, although it may not be very cushioning.
There are hundreds of variations on grips, from smooth to perforated to those with raised ribs. There will also be variations in the amount of cushioning, as well as the tackiness of the material. It is really a personal preference as to which grip type works best for a certain player. You should offer a good variety of grip types to satisfy various preferences.
As the name implies, this is a thin material that is applied over the base grip to provide a clean, fresh surface without having to replace the base grip. These are almost a necessity in humid or warm climates. Pro players put on a fresh grip every time they play; recreational players won’t. But this is what overgrips were designed for: They offer an easy alternative to having to replace the grip so often.
Most overgrips come in a three-pack and are a fraction of the cost of a replacement grip. This is a perfect selling point to get players to take advantage of using overgrips and the importance of changing them frequently. Larger packs of 10 to 30 overgrips bring the per-unit cost down even further.
As with base grips, overgrips have a wide variety of choices to suit every need, from dry absorbent material to a tacky surface. There are also choices of texture, perforations and, of course, colors.
A great way to get your customers to appreciate the feel of a fresh grip surface is to include a free overgrip with every string job. Know their preference and install a fresh wrap each time you string. You should also be willing to provide a quick tutorial on how to install an overgrip properly to encourage them to install a new one frequently. If they aren’t interested in learning or can’t quite get the hang of it, offer to install it for them at no charge. This will increase their visits to your shop and play a large role in overall customer satisfaction.
WITHSTANDING THE TEST OF TIME
Let’s face it, products in our industry are on the fast track and few hang around for more than a year or two before being replaced with something new and improved. But two products in the grip category have defied the odds and have been around for decades.
Tourna Grip Overgrip
A product that was developed through extensive materials research and playtesting in the grueling humid conditions of Atlanta, Ga., in the early 1970s, when racquets were transitioning from wood to metal and composites, is still one of the most popular overgrips today on the pro tours, as well as at your local courts. Tourna Grip is known as a dry grip that absorbs moisture and provides reliable traction when players need it most.
With a tagline “the light blue grip that does not slip,” Tourna Grip’s distinguished, trademarked color can be seen on the racquets of many of the pros, both past and present. Although the company has introduced new grips over the years to meet the needs of those who prefer a more tacky feel, the original Tourna Grip has stood the test of time.
Gamma Hi-Tech Replacement Grip
This replacement grip has also been around for decades and was the first synthetic grip I remember showing up on the handles of the pros. While Gamma has introduced a wide variety of grips since the Hi-Tech, including variations of the Hi-Tech itself, the original is still the company’s bestseller.
Its firm feel and tacky surface make it a favorite, and the old-school skiving, or cutting, allows the grip to be installed in various ways, much like a leather grip. If the skiving is overlapped in alignment, the grip surface comes out very smooth and uniform. If the overlap is decreased, the results will be a bit of a groove that allows the fingers to settle in as the player grips the handle. The fact that it has been around so long and is still the most popular grip in the Gamma line is a testimony to quality and great design.
See all articles by Bob Patterson
About the Author
Bob Patterson , the founder of the RacquetMAXX customization service, is a Master Racquet Technician with more than 20 years of experience. He was RSI's Stringer of the Year in 2005. He is Executive Director for the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association.
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