I knew something was wrong as soon as I picked it up. One of four brand new Babolat Pure Drive Tour + frames I had bought, this one just felt lighter. Its head swung through the air way faster than the others, and it didn’t seem stable at contact. At first, I chalked it up to an overactive imagination. Maybe you’re just not playing as well today—that’s why it feels like that.
But the longer I played with that particular frame, the more I realized something was off. To put my mind to rest, I took all my racquets to my local pro shop to put them through their Head 3 in 1 Swingweight Machine/Diagnostic Centre. The machine would allow me to check their static weights and swingweights. Put another way, I’d be able to check their quality control.
What is quality control?
Quality control is a measure of how precisely racquets are made. For example, if a racquet has a billed weight of 300 grams and a swingweight of 315, we would check how closely it actually matches up to those specifications.
In many cases, racquets don’t match very closely with what they are sold as to consumers.
Javier Ronchietto, a United States Racquet Stringers Association Master Racquet Technician, had a more succinct definition of quality control, telling me that, “It’s a measure of whether or not racquets made in a factory are created to be within a few grams of each other.”
I was aware that quality control can be quite poor because I had researched the subject before, but once I put all of my racquets through the Diagnostic Centre, I was genuinely surprised at how bad it actually was.
Contrary to what was written on the sides of my racquets, their actual specifications were all over the place.
Actual weights and swingweights of my racquets
These are the specifications of the Babolat Pure Drive Tour +:
- Static weight: 332 grams (strung)
- Swingweight: 328
Modifications such as the leather grips and overgrips I’ve installed will impact how closely my racquets match to what Babolat says their specifications should be, but what we’re looking for is how close each of my racquets are to one another.
The further apart their specifications, the worse their quality control. The results are as follows:
This is a measure of how heavy a racquet is while at rest.
- Racquet 1: 339.5 grams
- Racquet 2: 343.8 grams
- Racquet 3: 345.1 grams
- Racquet 4: 349.7 grams
Largest discrepancy: there was a difference of more than 10 grams between Racquet 1 and Racquet 4. In terms of static weight, my frames exceeded their billed weights. This is most likely due to them having leather grips and overgrips installed.
In simple terms, swingweight is a measure of how heavy a frame feels when you swing it. For example, if two racquets both had a static weight of 315 grams, but one had more weight distributed through its head compared to the other, that one would have a higher swingweight. Why? Because the weight is further away from your hand—thus making the frame more difficult to swing.
- Racquet 1: 313
- Racquet 2: 320.5
- Racquet 3: 325
- Racquet 4: 326.5
Largest discrepancy: there was a difference of more than 13.5 between Racquet 1 and Racquet 4. Coincidentally, Racquet 1 was the frame that I noticed felt “off” compared to the others.
Interestingly, none of my frames exceeded their billed swingweights (328)—even though I had leather grips and an overgrips installed.
Why is quality control so bad?
Why were my specifications all over the place? How could four versions of the same model have such wild discrepancies? I understand that they can’t all match perfectly, but 10 grams and 13.5 kg/cm^2 seemed quite excessive.
To find out why the production quality of tennis racquets is low, I spoke with three racquet technicians—professionals who have spent a large chunk of their careers stringing, customizing, and selling tennis racquets. They told me that poor quality control occurs because of the manufacturing process in factories.
Jimmy Miller has worked as a racquet stringer and technician for over 40 years, customizing the racquets of players at every level. He informed me that all manufacturer’s struggle with quality control:
“Every racquet we carry [Miller works at Swetka’s Tennis Shop in Mountainview, California] from Wilson, Babolat, Head, and Volkl are all made in China ‘within tolerances’ to manufacturers’ specs. Yonex’s top of the line frames are still being made in Japan, while their less expensive frames are now being made in China.”
Chuck Hakansson, who has been a USRSA Master Racquet Technician at Georgia Tech since 2004 and strung at the US Open, Western & Southern Open, and Memphis Open, had a similar point, saying:
“My understanding is that vendors ‘farm’ out their newer frames to whoever has the best bid. The quality control for performance frames in general is better than previous decades. Sometimes the specs are off due to the racquets taking an extra pass through the paint spray machine. As with any business if you put your associates under a quota then the pressure could get to the technician. The quality control could go down if you put your associates under strict quotas.”
Ronchietto’s opinion was related to Hakansson’s, in that he mentioned quality control (or its lack of) was to do with manufacturing pressures:
“Many of the manufacturers produce so many units per quarter/year that the speed of production compromises the tolerances of each racquet.”
When asked about what companies are doing to combat poor quality control and standards from their places of manufacture, Miller told me that companies usually have contacts in Chinese factories trying to ensure that manufacturing standards are met. He added:
“[B]ut it’s obviously far away, and different batches of racquets can come off the line with different specs, but ‘within tolerances.’ Weight and balance may be close, but sometimes not, and swingweight may differ, even if weight and balance are close.”
So quality control is poor due to discrepancies and pressures in the manufacturing process. In other words, not all racquets of the same model are created equal.
Best and worst manufacturers
If you’re buying new frames you might be wondering which manufacturers to go for and which ones to avoid. I asked the racquet technicians which manufacturers were known for their quality control.
Ronchietto, Miller, and Hakansson each said that Yonex was the best—with Miller attributing this to the fact that their high-end frames are still made in Japan. Hakansson also mentioned that French manufacturer Tecnifibre was quite good.
What about the worst? Wilson was a common response, with both Ronchietto and Hakansson saying that its quality control was poor. Ronchietto added Head to his answer and Hakansson added Prince to his. Miller’s response was a little more pragmatic, in that he pointed to the reason why quality was poor in certain brands, saying, “Just about all the other major tennis racquet brands are now manufacturing in China, including Wilson, Babolat, and Head, who comprise the top three companies sales-wise to my knowledge, and whose specs tend to vary more, and about equally, quality-control wise.”
Want racquets that don’t have different specifications? Get them “matched”
Still want to buy Wilsons, Babolats, Heads, or Princes—even though their quality control might be poor? Or finding that the differing static weights and swingweights of your racquets are bothering you?
Fortunately, your racquets are not stuck the way they were made. All you need to do is to take them to a racquet technician and get them “matched.”
Racquet matching is a service where you tell the racquet technician which one of your racquets is your favorite and then the technician matches your others to its static weight, swingweight, and balance using lead, silicone, and various other tools of their trade.
The end result is that you have two, three, four or more racquets which all come close to having the same static weight, swingweight, and balance.
In other words, technicians will alter racquets so that the differences between them become almost imperceptible.
You can find your local racquet technician by inquiring at your closest pro shop. Readers in the United States can also use the United States Racquet Stringer’s Association website to locate their closest certified racquet technician.
Planning on purchasing online? Tennis Warehouse offers a matching service off the shelf, meaning that they’ll try to send you racquets that are closest to each other from their massive stock.
Due to manufacturing pressures and processes, the specifications of off-the-shelf racquets are often inconsistent with what they are sold as to consumers.
But just because manufacturers aren’t the best at ensuring quality control, this doesn’t mean that we tennis players are stuck with racquets that have different static weights, swingweights, and balances.
Playing with racquets that have poor quality control is no longer a given—even for those of us at the recreational level, and tennis players all over the world have options to rectify discrepancies with their frames.◉