How do the stars set up their racquets to enhance their game? And how has the evolution of racquets changed tennis itself?
JANUARY 20, 2020
is perfect hair held by a perfect headband against a pressed polo shirt, Roger Federer walked on to centre court at the Queensland Tennis Centre for his first tournament of 2014 to an adoring crowd.
A real-life glimpse of Federer was enough to transfix even the most casual tennis fan but, on this occasion, if you were in the know, it was his equipment that would have held your attention as much as the tennis God himself.
Federer had broken with a decade of tradition and got himself a new racquet.
The whole of 2013 had been a career low for the Swiss champion. Usually No.1 or No.2 in the world, he’d ended the year ranked sixth. A premature exit from Wimbledon, in the second round, had marked the first time in 36 consecutive grand slams that he had not made a quarter-final. He’d lasted until just the fourth round in the US Open, a tournament he’d won five times before.
These results represented, in the minds of some, the start of a career plateau for the then-32-year-old, with back injuries among the factors blunting his dominance.
But Federer arrested the slide.
He hired a new coach – his childhood hero, six-time grand-slam winner Stefan Edberg. He set about mending his body. And, perhaps less obviously until he appeared on court in Brisbane, he changed his magic wand – the racquet he’d wielded through his rise to tennis legend.
For a certain weekend warrior type of tennis player, changing racquets might offer a seductive solution to a subpar game. After all, it’s easier to spend a few hundred dollars on new equipment than it might be to work on a weak backhand or sluggish legs.
And a change can’t do much harm, right?
At the elite level, there is nowhere to hide. Just as any adjustment in stroke will be identified and perfected so will every variable gram, inch or centimetre in a racquet be scrutinised. The racquet is the player’s key weapon and one with which he or she has a symbiotic relationship. If a change is to be made to this set-up, it will be for good reason. And even an improvement of 1 per cent is a good reason in international tennis.
For Federer, at that moment in Brisbane, the stakes could not have been higher.
More recently, in the lead-up to this year’s Australian Open, eagle-eyed fans might have noticed that Serena Williams has stepped out with a new racquet.
How do stars such as Federer, his on-court arch rival Rafael Nadal and Barty and Williams set up their racquets to boost their games? And how have changes in racquets over the years changed the game itself?