Believe it. It is the grips. Those easily replaced thin, stretchable, inexpensive overgrips are the number one racket prep priority.
Not the strings, although certainly they are in a not-to-be-ignored second position and, of course, important.
Stringing that's not quite right - too loose, too tight, not the right string - can, however, still be compensated for and adapted to. Just increase the racket speed through the ball, and flatten your shots if a bit tight, to gain more power. Or, reduce the racket speed and add spin if it's spongy to gain more control. Very doable.
Photo by Shaun Ondak
Pro players typically carry six to eight rackets with some having tighter or looser strings than their norm to adapt to the conditions if necessary.
But, by playing with a worn out, slippery, grimy grip - the stuff that comes out of even freshly washed hands is surprising - you will incrementally, day by day, begin to squeeze tighter and tighter and ultimately strangle your grip with off-the-scale hyper hand tension.
Not only will you undermine the relaxed, power-packed, swinging-through-the-ball ideal, effectively compensating positively for this particular equipment challenge makes the latter extremely difficult.
By the way, have you ever seen a pro player with a dirty grip?
In the accompanying image, one white grip is pristine, one is clearly quite dirty (you can see the pressure points), and the other is black so it's impossible to see the slippery build-up, a major disadvantage.
White grips in particular, but also the light blue ones that the Bryan brothers pitch on the Tennis Channel, are prevalent on tour for the obvious reason.
Very much in the mix, although not visual, is also the elevated hand-on-grip friction coefficient that allows for optimal muscle grip tension. A relaxed connection to your racket unquestionably results in superior finite motor control - swinging the racket freely - that can be consistently replicated for a far more positive performance.
Changing your grip every other time that you play is a minimum recommendation. Ask your pro or pro shop for a how-to-demo if needed.
Being on the court for a number of hours daily, I re-grip my own racket a couple of times a day to keep it fresh, reduce hand-arm fatigue, and as a, not-to-be-underestimated, over-use injury prevention measure.
Take the time. Make the effort. You will feel the difference.
Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club. Lesson information and appointments can be arranged by e-mail at JB1tennis@comcast.net, by calling 941-626-0097 or by visiting JakBeardsworthTennis.com.