Buying the Right Length Tennis Racquet for a Junior Player

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25: Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia plays a backhand in her Junior Girls' Singles Final against Jana Fett of Croatia during day 13 of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 25, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.
Matt King/Getty Images

Tennis racquets come in a wider variety of shapes, lengths, weights, materials, head sizes, thicknesses, and stringing patterns than anyone could have ever imagined forty years ago in the age of the woodies. Making a choice amidst all of these options can be a real challenge, but the first step in narrowing down your choices is clear: you need to decide on the correct length, which will be our focus here.

The question of length for juniors using adult racquets has become more complicated since the advent of extra-long racquets. Virtually all adult tennis racquets used to be 27" long, but now lengths are available up to 32", although lengths greater than 29" are illegal in most competitions. If a junior is just barely big enough for an adult racquet, he's probably better off with a standard 27" racquet than with an extra-long. Despite all of the recent advances in reducing the swing weight of extra-long racquets, they still tend to play heavier than shorter racquets of the same weight. Adult racquets come as light as 8 ounces these days, but racquets lighter than 10 ounces start approaching too small a multiple of the weight of the ball. An average 12-year-old usually hits quite comfortably with a racquet weighing 10-11 ounces strung.

As a general principle, a junior should use as long a racquet as she can comfortably handle. This will encourage her to develop smooth strokes that utilize good weight transfer and her larger muscles. Too small a racquet encourages excessive wrist and elbow action, which, in the long run, will harm both her strokes and her arm.

The following provides two methods for choosing the best racquet length for juniors of all sizes and levels. If a junior is playing in tournaments such as those run by the USTA, check the rules on maximum racquet length for competition in that age group.

You can find the best length racquet for a junior through two different methods. In each case, after finding an initial length, you should adjust for the additional factors noted below. If you're shopping in a store where a junior has hands-on access to a range of junior racquets, a simple way to find the best initial length is to have the junior stand with her arms at her sides and find a racquet that spans the distance between her fingertips and the ground. If you're shopping online or can't bring the junior to a store, you can measure the distance from her fingertips to the ground or, if measuring isn't feasible--perhaps the racquet will be a surprise gift for a grandchild--use the standard guidelines for age and racquet size charted below. Using the chart, if an 8-year-old is the size of an average 10-year-old, for example, choose for a 10-year-old.

Move up one racquet length, possibly two, to adjust for exceptionally high physical strength, but adjusting down for lack of strength is almost never necessary. Modern junior racquets are extremely light, and even a total couch potato should be able to wield the racquet designed for her age. Experience is also a factor. The chart and the fingertip method assume a beginner player. An experienced player will often do best with a size or two larger. Experienced players will have enough feel for their strokes to be able to conduct a meaningful demo. As noted on the previous page, if a junior is playing in tournaments such as those run by the USTA, check the rules on maximum racquet length for competition in that age group.

Age: Racquet Length

0-4: 19"
4-5: 21"
6-7: 23"
8-10: 25"
10-12: 26"
12 up: adult size

You will notice overlaps in the above chart at ages 4, 10, and 12. At these ages, either size is equally likely to be suitable, but as a general rule, when in doubt, go with the bigger racquet.

Beginners won't have enough feel for tennis strokes to be able to make a firm decision based on an on-court demo, but if a junior is completely torn between two sizes of racquets, here's a test that might help him decide. Have him hold the racquet behind him so that the tip touches his lower back and his elbow is the highest part of his arm. Have him raise the racquet overhead, much as if he were serving, but with a slow swing. If the racquet is going to be too heavy for him, this is where he'll feel it.

Juniors can outgrow racquets quickly, but it helps a lot that junior racquets tend to be inexpensive. Very nice junior racquets at a pro shop will run roughly $20 to $50, and some of the $10 racquets at the big discount chains are quite good, too. When you look at the least expensive racquets, one crude test is to bang the strings on the butt of your hand to get a feel for the racquet's solidity. Avoid racquets that seem lighter or more flexible than the others in the bottom end of the price range.

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