Tennis gear; there’s an absolute ton of it, and it can get confusing at times.
This guide is designed to help you navigate through it all with ease.
We’re going to simply explain the basic pieces of your tennis equipment and how each of them affects your game.
You have the skill, but that’s not enough to win a game.
You have to understand that some pieces of equipment simply add a competitive boost to your game and that there’s more hype to some components than people let on.
Whether you just want to play backyard grass-court tennis or try to make it pro one day, this is everything you need to know about tennis gear and how to use it properly, as well as define its value and worth.
If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the tennis gear, we got you covered:
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- 1 What do You Need for a Match of Tennis?
- 2 Rackets (or Racquets): What is the Difference?
- 3 Types of Rackets
- 4 Racket Overgrips
- 5 Racket Strings
- 6 Types of Racket Strings
- 7 Dampeners
- 8 Why do You Need a Spare Racket?
- 9 Racket Stringing Machines
- 10 Tennis Shoes
- 11 Do You Need a Different Type of Shoe for Grass, Hard, Indoor, and Clay?
- 12 Tennis Clothing
- 13 Tennis Bags
- 14 Practice Gear
- 15 Tennis Balls
- 16 Tennis Ball Machines
- 17 Cones
- 18 You’re Ready to Rule the Court
What do You Need for a Match of Tennis?
To put it quite simply, there’s a minimum list of items that you just can’t play tennis without. These include:
- Tennis Racket
- Tennis Shoes
- Pressurized Tennis Balls
Then there are some that you can play without, but your game will be greatly improved if you’re able to include them.
- Tennis Ball Machines
- Stringing Machines
- Replacement Strings
Whether you’re playing casual or to make it to the big leagues one day, you should be wary of every piece of tennis equipment so you can better understand how the game is played, and diversify your arsenal of tennis gear.
Rackets (or Racquets): What is the Difference?
The name has two different spellings, but there’s no difference between them.
If you spell is racket or racquet, everybody is going to understand what you’re talking about.
A quality racket is going to take your game to the next level by including different string types, higher tension ratings, various materials used in construction, and a ton of minor tweaks that standard rackets just don’t have.
Nobody is out here buying custom rackets; you get the newer year models of your favorite brands and move forward like that.
Quality rackets usually have a much wider selection of grip lengths and sizes, as well as various materials for the grip.
The more expensive your racket, the more likely it is to be fine-tuned to a specific preset that vibes well with the brand’s main clientele.
It’s why there are 6-12 new racket models every year for each brand.
Types of Rackets
There are three main types of rackets that will apply to your specific playstyle, physical strength, and your preferences.
As you play more tennis, these attributes will come to light and show you a bit about yourself and how you play. Get a racket that suits your style.
Built like behemoths, power rackets typically have a wider head with more square inches of surface space.
The frame is much stiffer and longer, accounting for a bigger player with more muscle control.
The irony is that they’re actually designed to be more lightweight than a control racket for a few different reasons.
It makes them easier to swing, so you’re driving a larger surface area towards the ball.
Once it makes an impact, it absorbs that kinetic energy and propels the ball back to your opponent.
Power rackets are best suited for experienced players that already know how to control the racket well.
With a slightly shorter build, control rackets are flexible and malleable.
Oddly enough, they’ve built a bit heavier than power rackets, which is usually the opposite of control.
It’s more weight in a smaller package, meaning there are less leverage and more rapid movements.
You’ll be able to react to incoming tennis balls a lot quicker here, making for strong shots without having to move as wide.
Control rackets are best suited for beginner players or those with a small frame/build that need to increase their hit projection and times.
It’s an odd name, but it means resting in between power and control.
If one of those is too extreme for you, a tweener racket is your go-to.
The head is medium-sized, offering 95-105 square inches of surface string space to lob the ball back to your opponent.
They have a fairly decent flexibility rating while still staying stiff enough to hit the ball with perfect utility.
These are nobody’s first choice; they usually go either control or power, but there’s nothing wrong with bringing one of these on the court, even if it’s for a pro game.
There are no strict regulations against them.
Overgrips do just what you’d expect; they go over your current grip.
These make the racket grips a lot bigger, so it’s preference-based and players with smaller hands won’t be able to use them as much.
An overgrip needs a base grip to sort of grasp onto.
Without one, it’s not going to stay on the racket properly and you’ll actually be losing control.
Whether or not you want to use these is entirely up to you, but most pro players seem to stay away from them.
Unless you have bad joints that cause you to have a loose grip or you sweat excessively from your palms, you don’t really need one.
When it comes time to replace the grip on your racket, you can either tediously replace the under grip with a new one, or save some money and use an overgrip.
Overgrips don’t last as long, so it’s a short-term solution.
Racket strings are the heart of your racket.
Without proper strings that can hold decent tension, you’re going to be left with a fairly lackluster racket that won’t hit your mark the way you want it to.
Racket strings come made out of different materials, and they don’t last as long as anyone would like them to.
For light use, you can expect to replace these every six months, but if you’re getting heavy use out of your racket then you might have to restring 4-6 times per year or every two months.
Tension is big here because without the right tension your strings are going to be fairly useless.
This depends on the capabilities of the racket stringing section as well as the quality of the strings.
Tension leads to better hits, but also more wear and tear.
Some professional players will string their rackets with up to 70 lbs of tension, whereas the standard racket tension is about 45-55 lbs.
Types of Racket Strings
Synthetic strings are made of either nylon or polyester.
Both are good choices, though nylon is usually the industry standard.
Nylon will last for a while, but it’s slightly less elastic than polyester, meaning they’re prone to breaking slightly faster.
Synthetic strings have one main advantage over natural gut: they’re cheap to replace.
Even if you end up breaking strings 3-4 times per year, it’s still going to be cheaper than buying natural gut strings.
These are produced on a factory line, but gut strings are extremely difficult to make, marking up their value.
Pro players use a mix of synthetic and natural gut strings.
It’s just what it sounds—made from natural gut fibers, usually from cows, that are dried and stretched out to have the perfect elasticity.
In medieval times, archers would use this same method to create sinew, which was used in crossbows and longbows for warfare.
These are expensive, but they will also outlast any synthetic strings that you buy for years to come.
Federer is a big advocate for natural gut strings, as they are proven to increase your overall performance and bounce the ball better. You’ll only have to switch these out once a year on most rackets.
Dampeners are little plastic bridges that connect at the cross points in the strings on your racket.
You have to apply them when the racket is already strung.
They’re not necessary, but definitely nice and help prevent tennis elbow during long-term use.
Dampeners come in multiple material types and are used to eliminate or “dampen” vibrations.
This keeps the stress off of your joints, your racket, and most of all it allows you to make your next hit without issue.
Because of their placement, dampeners absorb shock, but they also alter the way that your strings wear down.
They’re not necessarily the best for your strings, but it’s more about preserving your elbow and joints than anything else.
With a hard enough hit, they can make your strings a little tauter and put too much tension on the cross grid, so it’s something to consider.
If you get quality dampeners, they’ll have a bit more elasticity and won’t damage your strings as much.
Where do I Attach Dampeners?
Dampeners go at the cross point of the strings on your racket.
Depending on the way that they attach, they’ll clip-on or have to be slipped onto the string during restringing your racket.
There are two types of dampeners that you need to know about, being short and long.
Short dampeners just clip on and don’t take up much of the visible racket string surface.
However, long dampeners will attach in two or more areas and run the length of about 60% of the racket from top to bottom.
If you attach your dampeners improperly and go into an official match or the US Open, then you’re going to be met with a ref stopping you before the match begins and attaching it properly.
It doesn’t provide an advantage if it’s wrong, but they don’t want you claiming a disadvantage either.
Why do You Need a Spare Racket?
You’ve got a racket, but now you need a spare.
If you’re going into a standard match against an opponent, you might run into a serious problem: total breakage.
You never play more intense and more focused when you’re up against an opponent instead of a tennis ball machine, and for that, you’re more likely to break it.
It takes 45-60 minutes to restring a racket, and that’s if you’re experienced with a stringing machine.
Nobody has the time to wait around for that, and usually, there’s not a spare racket for you to use.
People get very protective about who uses their rackets.
Instead, having a spare at-the-ready will prepare you for this problem.
Whether the strings break or the overgrip has a problem, you don’t want the game to stop short because of equipment failures or malfunctions.
Get a racket bag or a duffel bag that can hold onto two rackets plus your spare tennis balls so you’re never caught off-guard.
Even though there’s a perfectly good reason why it might happen, for some reason it feels embarrassing when your racket breaks and you have nothing prepared as a contingency.
Racket Stringing Machines
Racket stringing machines are life-savers.
Nobody has a good time stringing a racket by hand.
Even with a machine, the process can still take 35 minutes (with a good, high-quality tennis stringing machine as well).
The reason they’re necessary is not only to save time or aggravation but to also ensure you have the right tension on your racket.
If it’s not as tense as you’re used to playing, then you’re going to have adverse reactions when you lob the ball; it’s not going to go where you need it.
It also protects you against over-tightening, which is another problem in and of itself.
If you over tighten and then just take a crack at an incoming tennis ball, it’s going to bounce before you expect it to, or it’s going to shred right through the strings on its way to the backboard.
The thing is, racket stringing machines aren’t cheap, even if you get a simple portable unit that fits in your racket sleeve.
They’re an investment and one that most serious tennis players should definitely make.
If you play hard enough that you’re restringing 4-6 times per year, this thing will pay for itself in no time just in the number of hours you save compared to doing it by hand.
There are two-point and six-point machines, each with different capabilities.
Six-point machines work the fastest while remaining accurate, so it might only take 35 minutes to string, whereas a two-point system will take 45-50 minutes to string.
Professional racket stringing can cost about $20 per racket in comparison, so it’s really up to you on how it gets done.
These are one of your most important pieces of equipment, and that fact is not up for debate.
When you’re moving around the court, you’re not thinking of anything other than the movements you have to make with your racket to stay on top and ahead.
You’re focusing on the ball, as you should be, but there’s a lot going on inside your feet during this time.
Sports wreak havoc on your joints, no matter what you play, but jumping around on a concrete or clay court is arguably near the top of the list for the worst offenders.
Tennis shoes need some of the following attributes to be considered:
Your arch is what takes a lot of the impact, so it’s wise to focus on arch support above all else.
This includes excellent midsoles with vibration absorption capabilities, as well as rubber outsoles that are non-marking (otherwise you’ll pay for damages to a club or public courts), as well as insoles that add comfort to your stride.
These might come in your shoes, and if they do, you’re going to be thankful.
Not only do they add a mild arch and overall foot support, but they prevent your feet from turning into stink puddles while you’re playing.
Sock liners are there to wick away sweat and keep everything cool.
Mesh uppers and thin tongues are basically the stuff dreams are made of.
You’re only going to be using these on the court, so you don’t need them to be super thick and sustain walking around all day, but you absolutely need them to be breathable.
Mesh also keeps your shoes lightweight, which is something else that you absolutely need to account for.
Shoes that are too heavy are just going to feel clunky, which will prohibit mobility and mess up your game.
When you slip into your tennis shoes, they’re supposed to feel completely different from your normal trainers or work shoes.
You’re supposed to shift gears, so having a different (and lighter) shoe for tennis is a very big deal.
Do You Need a Different Type of Shoe for Grass, Hard, Indoor, and Clay?
Yes, you should have different shoes for different courts.
You basically have three different court types to look at, each with their own recommendations so that you can retain mobility and reduce shock wherever you play.
It’s weird but dirt is both the most shock-resistant and shock-absorptive material you’ll ever play on.
It’s because it’s natural, whereas clay and concrete have been manipulated to give a consistent feeling.
Grass courts just feel off, and it’s recommended to have tennis shoes with wider bottoms and a 12 oz weight to them so you can actually stick your landings and keep your feet planted.
This is considered the most premium surface to play on, and it’s one of the weirdest.
Clay absorbs shock from your feet, but only a tiny bit.
It mostly takes the shock from the tennis ball when it hits the court.
That messes with the kinetic energy in the ball and dampens it a bit, so the clay is easier to play on.
You can have tennis shoes with thin outsoles, insoles, and sides here since you won’t be putting as much stress on them as hard surfaces.
This pertains to asphalt and concrete, which do not absorb shock as clay does.
Everything on this is harder, including the bounce that the ball gives when it pings off the ground.
You need plenty of arch support here to cushion your feet from the blow of hitting the ground time after time.
There’s this whole fashion movement in tennis, and honestly, it’s quite exhausting.
You don’t need to contour to a specific style, you just need to have lightweight clothing that’s not going to get in the way while playing.
This usually means wearing:
Anything with a slightly tight collar will do, but polo shirts are usually the go-to.
You want quarter sleeves so nothing is flowing in the wind, as well as hems that will cover you if you go to make a jump (no midriff) but aren’t halfway down your lap.
A lot of pro tennis players get custom shirts made for this reason.
It gets hot out here, especially with the way that some tennis matches can just carry on for hours.
You’ll be at the mercy of the sun and the length of the match, so get something that airs you out a bit.
For skirts, there are pre-configured lengths for tennis skirts, so you have it pretty easy there.
For shorts, you want something that’s just above the knees but that also aren’t booty shorts.
Tennis attire gets a bad rep for a reason.
Some people like compression socks, others are just fine with a simple pair of cotton socks, but you need something covering your feet.
It aids with comfort and support but also prevents getting cut from sweat buildup and thinner tennis shoes that can dig into your ankles.
Visor or Headband
Another preference, but you need one or the other.
Headbands help collect sweat during play, but a good visor will do the exact same thing and collect that sweat in the rim.
You can’t be wiping your face in the middle of a match.
You’ll not only mess up the return, but you’ll get your grip all sweaty and make a mockery of yourself.
These are optional, but keep your line of sight clear and focused on sunny days where you would otherwise have a beam shining right in your face.
Not all opens or tournaments will be accepting of sunglasses, so it’s important to look at the rules beforehand.
Mixing these with a headband will help your visibility while keeping the sweat out of your eyes.
Well, you’ve got to get from A to B somehow, and you’ve got plenty of gear to bring along with you.
You don’t need to get a specific tennis bag, but a medium-sized duffel bag will do just fine.
This should contain your tennis gear, shoes, spare strings, spare racket, laces, one or two visors/headbands to switch out to when those get too sweaty, towel, and anything else you find relevant.
Tennis bags don’t really get dirty, so you want to find something made out of polyester or nylon that will be dirt resistant so it stays nice and clean on the outside.
Yeah, you’re going to be putting stinky clothes in it at the end, but keeping the outside clean means you’ll look like you’re put-together when you step on the court in the first place, which will let your opponents know that you mean business before you even deal your first serve.
This covers a wide range, but basically practice gear is anything that you use for practice that you don’t want to use against an opponent.
This could be a beat-up old racket that you can’t get rid of or some pressurized balls that have lost a bit of their pop, or anything in between.
If you don’t want to fully dress up in tennis clothes for the occasion, your practice gear could have running shorts and a loose-fitting t-shirt if you want.
Everyone has clothing that they use when they’re training.
There’s not much of a point in getting all dressed up and looking spot-on perfect if you’re just trying to get your practice in.
The skill-building is far more important than anything else you’re doing, so just stick with that and you’ll be fine.
This cuts costs and keeps your older gear in use until it truly just runs ragged.
We’ve done so many articles and posts on tennis balls that we’re losing count.
Basically, tennis balls will lose their internal gas and rubber durability over time.
They’re switched out in professional matches on a constant basis (7-11 games max) so that they don’t lose their pop.
It’s also why pros will bounce the ball a few times before serving so they know if there’s any issue or splits in the rubber.
For practice, you can get unpressurized tennis balls to fill your tennis ball machine with or just lob over the net, but those won’t work for matches against opponents.
The US Open and tournaments require pressurized tennis balls to keep everything fair.
Unpressurized tennis balls or practice balls will last a lot longer than pressurized balls and cost a lot less as well.
They are a bit more difficult to use, so before you hop into a match against another person, knock a pressurized ball around a bit so you can get used to the way it responds.
Tennis Ball Machines
This is a big one.
If you’re serious about training, and I mean seriously, you need one of these for your home court or to bring to the club when you don’t have a partner to play with.
Tennis ball machines are far more advanced than the ones you commonly see in reruns of the 1990s comedy movies.
They come with apps, Bluetooth pairing, remote controls, and wrist strap buttons now, and they’re just great.
The main reason you would want a tennis ball machine is to use the variable oscillating modes to test out your abilities.
They don’t just shoot straight at you; they’ll change based on the number of acceptable degrees of the machinery, and shoot slightly to the left or right.
Tennis ball machines can keep you running up and down the court all day, getting in the same level of workout as if you were up against an opponent.
But much like stringing machines, these are only for those who really want to invest in tennis.
There’s no such thing as a cheap tennis ball machine.
Some have less ball capacity or don’t come with a remote, but that just brings the cost down a very tiny bit.
You’re not going to get away with a cheap one of these.
It’s also not something that’s recommended to buy used.
While some of these are compact, there’s a lot of working parts.
We go into full detail in our tennis ball machine buying guide on why you should avoid buying used ones.
The only time that it’s acceptable is if you’re buying it off a friend and you know for a fact how often and how rigorously it’s been used.
There’s no reason to take a gamble on a used one otherwise.
If you want to run some drills and improve your movement speed and reaction time, getting some cones and weaving through them as you play can make a world of difference in the long run.
This is something that’s obviously better practiced on your home court so you don’t look like a goof, but it’s still beneficial to do.
You’re Ready to Rule the Court
Now that you know everything you need to about all the different tennis gear out there, what’s going to stop you from building up your arsenal of tennis gear and absolutely dominating the competition?
Let nothing stand in your way.
Your gear isn’t going to define how good you are, but it certainly is going to make small differences in the right areas that will help you with wherever you’re weak in tennis.Last updated on: