Sunday, October 7, 2012

How to set your racquet up like an ATP pro by TravelJam

The ATP pro landscape is becoming more polarized. What I mean by this is that the ATP tour used to be the exclusive realm of players who played heavy racquets with low moment of inertia. Today, most pros still use the classic depolarized setup. But we are now witnessing the dawn of the “polarizer.” Polarizers use racquet setups with more polarized weight distributions - i.e., weight distributed more toward the ends.

The polarized setup is used by players like Federer, Nadal, and Davydenko. Polarized setups have very low hitting weight to swingweight ratio. Because of the relatively low hitting weight, lower tension is required to compensate for the power deficit. The advantage of this type of setup is increased spin. So polarized setups are required to hit the ultra-sharp angles that Federer is known for (According to Greg Raven’s site, Fed’s racquet has a higher swingweight than a retail Tour 90, but it’s static weight is the same. It is therefore more polarized than the retail version). And Nadal’s polarized setup (15 grams under his bumper plus 5 grams in the butt) help him generate the tremendous spins that have helped him to dominate the clay court circuit.

While polarized setups are becoming more popular today (especially for slow-court specialists) because of the increased spin potential, the polarized setups have some major disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage of the polarized (low-tension) setup is that it is very difficult to control the trajectory of your shot when the incoming shot has heavy spin. Considering Federer’s low-tension polarized setup, his inability to drive his flat backhand accurately when he plays Nadal should not be surprising. Also, a polarized setup has poor stability and control on volleys. Polarized setups make it more difficult to hit accurate powerful shots unless a heavy spin component is used to control the depth.

Due to these many drawbacks of polarized setups, most pros still opt for classic depolarized setups. It is no coincidence that the best returners in history have all been “depolarizers.” Hewitt, Agassi, Blake, and Courier are/were among the best at stepping in and ripping returns on the rise. As good as Federer and Nadal are, these two polarizers will never be able to drive service returns from inside the baseline like the best depolarizers.

In general, the best serve-and-volleyers have all been depolarizers. As depolarizers like Becker, Edberg, Sampras and Krajicek have shown, the lawns of Wimbledon are perfect for the accurate and penetrating balls that come off the stiff stringbeds of a depolarized racquet. Rafter is a notable exception – his polarized setup allowed him to hit slow, high-bouncing kick serves, giving him time to close tightly on the net. He then used his athleticism to stab passing attempts downward into the court. But Rafter’s springy stringbed was less than ideal for hitting the precision first volleys from shoetop level that were a key to Sampras’ and Becker’s Wimbledon dominance. And Rafter’s loopy serve didn’t bounce as high on grass, making it harder for him to dominate on grass the way he could on speedy high-bouncing hardcourts.

So now on to the main point of this thread…

The following step-by-step procedure will allow you to customize your racquet with a “depolarized” low polar moment of inertia setup so that it plays similarly to the racquets used by the majority of current ATP pros. Pros using this type of setup include Sampras, Agassi, Blake, Roddick, Hewitt, Kiefer, Grosjean, and most greats from past eras.

Procedure for creating the classic “depolarized” pro style racquet setup:

Step 1. Start with a thin-beam stock racquet. A flex rating of 65 or lower will work best. Stiffer platform frames will be excellent for serve-and-volley style, but the spin potential of stiff frames will be severely limited once they are properly leaded up. So I recommend starting with a flexible frame. The starting strung weight can be anywhere between 11 and 12.5 oz. Headsize is not critical.

Step 2. Choose your desired final racquet weight based on your desired style of play. For serve-and-volley style or for an offensive-minded penetrating groundstroke style, I recommend 13.0-13.5 oz. When optimized, a heavier racquet in this range will be best for directional accuracy, especially against hard-hit incoming balls, or against heavy incoming spin. If you would prefer to be a little more defensive-minded or consistency-oriented player, I recommend a static weight closer to 12.5 oz. For best results, I recommend that there is 0.5 to 1.5 oz. between your starting strung weight and your desired final weight.

An aside note: When choosing your playing style, I encourage you to be open-minded, ignore your current strengths and weaknesses, and select the setup of the player you most desire to play like. When I use a well-balanced, Federer-like polarized setup, I find myself going for inside-out sharply angled dipping forehands. When I set my racquet up like Coria, my strokes become loopy and spinny but I feel like it’s impossible to miss. But when I set my racquet up like Blake, I can’t resist going for flat penetrating forehands to the corners. And when I use the Sampras setup, my serve-and-volley confidence shoots skyward. In other words, my racquet setup influences my playing style more than my physical skills do. Unless you have an obvious physical limitation, your game may be more versatile than you think.

Step 3. Add lead at 3 and 9. I recommend adding about 5-10 grams total (about 5 grams for starting stock swingweight of 330, plus an additional gram for every 5 kg-cm^2 drop in stock swingweight below that) with two layers of strips on each side. It is better to use 2 layers of 4" strips than to spread one layer over an 8-inch length because the former will increase swingweight less. Also, significantly better torsional stability can be achieved by putting the lead on the outside of the frame rather than the inside, since the change in moment of inertia about the longitudinal axis is proportional to the square of the distance from added lead to the centerline. Use ¼”-wide strips on each side of the string plane. Eight grams is a rough guideline. The total amount that you add here can be adjusted later when you troubleshoot your setup. But I definitely advise against adding more than 10-12 g at this location, since the swingweight will likely become unmanageable.

Step 4. Measure the new weight and balance of your racquet.

Step 5. Calculate the amount of additional weight to be added using this equation:

m’ = M – m

m’ = additional mass to be added, in ounces.
M = desired final static weight in ounces.
m = static weight measured in step 4, in ounces.

Step 6. Calculate final balance point using this equation:

R = 44.57 / sqrt(M)
R = distance to final balance point from butt end.
M = desired final static weight.

Step 7. Calculate location to add concentrated mass m’ using this equation:

r’ = (MR – mr)/m’
r’ = location of center of mass for m’, in inches from butt end.
r = distance to balance point in inches measured in step 4.

Step 8. Add mass m’ at location r’ by wrapping lead tape around handle (under grip). Make sure that the center of mass for m’ is within 0.1” of location r’. As other racquet technicians such as John Cauthen have correctly noted, the location of this mass is critical to having a high-performance setup. The value for r’ determined by the above equation will optimize the plough-through effect of the racquet for a male player of normal strength. Moving the mass m’ a quarter inch up will likely decrease power due to higher swingweight, while moving it a quarter inch down will likely decrease power due to lower hitting weight. For best results, the total width of the leaded zone centered around r’ should not exceed 1 inch.

Step 9. Adjust tension. This depolarized leaded setup may be higher powered than your regular setup. If so, an increase in string tension will be required to optimize control. For final weights around 12.5 oz., you likely will be fine with the tension that works for you in the stock frame. But for setups over 13.0 oz., an increase of 5 lbs or so will probably be necessary.

Step 10. You are ready for a playtest.

Step 11. Troubleshooting your setup:

If your frame feels overpowered or underpowered, there are two preferred options. The first option is to adjust the string tension. Another option is to adjust the desired final static weight and repeat steps 2 through 8. If your racquet is overpowered, a lower static weight will reduce the power. And if it is underpowered, increasing static weight will help.

You can use the amount of weight at the 3 and 9 region to tune your swingweight. Increasing the weight at the 3 and 9 region will flatten your serve and groundstrokes, while decreasing the weight will add spin. I recommend making these adjustments in 1 gram increments. Also, you might get better results if you repeat steps 2 through 8 after you tweak the amount of lead at 3 and 9.

Lastly: remember that these are just general guidelines to get you started on your way to a sweet feeling setup that will best suit your game. Don’t be afraid to keep tweaking things.

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