Over the weekend, we received an email from Ashok in Calgary asking if it makes sense for him to buy an elite tennis racquet like the Wilson Prostaff RF97.
In the body of this rather long email, Ashok explains that he is a beginner now but that he is taking lessons and expects to be at the elite level in three to four years. He doesn’t want to buy one racquet now to use as a beginner, a second racquet later to use as an intermediate and a third racquet after that when he expects to be an elite player.
We get variations on this question almost every week during outdoor tennis season. It is one of many “save money” strategies that beginners — especially men — propose to justify spending top dollar to buy a high-end racquet while they are still learning the basic strokes.
On the surface, it seems to make some sense. Buy an elite frame now. String it for a beginner while you are a beginner. String it for an intermediate when you get to that level and then string it for the elite level once you get there.
Of course we can do this — or something like it. We often have players come in who have taken 10 years off from tennis and are just getting back into the game. So we string their racquet at low tension with a very soft string in order to avoid causing injuries while they get back into shape. Then as they improve over several months or the next couple of seasons, we adjust their string bed accordingly. Each time they come in, the string gets firm and the tension gets tighter.
In most of these cases, the racquet the player brings in for customization is an elite level frame. So in a sense, we are doing the very thing that Ashok is asking about.
There is one difference, though, and it is a pretty major difference. In this case, we are talking about a player who has elite-level strokes. They are rusty elite-level strokes, of course. A decade of inactivity will do that to a player. But a rusty elite player is nothing like a beginner.
Beginners really do need softer and larger frames than elite players and, unfortunately, the Wilson Prostaff RF 97 is neither soft nor large. So can we string it in a way that makes it softer or larger? No, we can’t. Sorry.
What we can do though is advise Ashok not to overspend on a beginner racquet. In fact, we can help him pick out a durable intermediate level frame that will carry him through his beginner and intermediate stages of development. Then, when he is genuinely ready for an elite level frame, we can help him with that, too.
While we can appreciate the “save money” strategy that Ashok it trying to adopt in this situation, we feel it is important to remind him that materials and technologies are changing all of the time. We can also advise him that it may take a little longer to get to the elite level than he imagines. So his best overall strategy is to buy the racquet he needs now and to wait and see what will be available to him when he gets to the elite level at a future point in time.
The final piece of good advice that we can give Ashok now is that nobody knows what kind of elite level player he may be when he gets there. Will he be aggressive? Will he be defensive? Or will he be a mixed player? Will he wins his points on his ground strokes or his serves? Since nobody can answer these questions right now, it makes no sense to buy an elite frame now just to save money later because it may very well turn out to be wrong frame for Future Elite-Level Ashok.