A decision on Emma Raducanu’s weaponry about a year before her US Open triumph in September proved critical to the rising star’s historic fortnight in New York.
The brilliance of the teenager’s serve, her fearlessness on one of the biggest stages in sport and her superb shotmaking were facets of Raducanu’s breakthrough in the Big Apple.
The right-hander, who turned 19 on Saturday, became the first qualifier in the Open era to win a grand slam title, ultimately defeating Leylah Fernandez in a compelling display.
Mark Petchey, who coached Raducanu for six months in 2020 and again for a period earlier this year, highlighted a crucial decision that enabled the Englishwoman to flourish.
Before the Battle of the Brits in 2020, the world No. 19 was weighing up whether to switch racquets from the Wilson she has used for years to another brand for the following season.
Petchey noted the latter gave her considerable power on her forehand.
But they both felt Raducanu, who last week appointed Torben Beltz to be her new coach, lost shape on her other wing.
Ultimately some advice from leading agent John Morris convinced the combination to stick with the racquet Raducanu felt most comfortable with.
“It was a sliding doors moment and had she gone to Yonex, I genuinely don’t believe (the US Open success) happens,” Petchey said.
“She tested it and we were both seduced by the power on her forehand, but the backhand came out too flat and would have been a huge problem. The extra length and swing weight of the Wilson was everything.”
Morris, who represented Nick Kyrgios for several years and has also coached at a high level, recommended trialling a longer frame of the racquet she was already using.
He also suggested adding some weight to the frame to allow her to whip the racquet head through faster.
Morris said credit should go to Petchey, who fine tuned the superb service action of Raducanu, another mentor Philippe DeHaes, along with the rising star for her willingness to experiment.
“Mark Petchey did an outstanding job changing the serve. World class, in fact, and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Morris said.
“Although as Mark said, (the racquet change) had a huge impact on Emma’s game, the likelihood is she wouldn’t have won the US Open without the improvements Mark did to her serve technically, as well as the added pop the racquet gives her now on her serve and ground strokes.
“The other thing to consider here, too, is the bravery and intelligence of Emma to even try. So many players are stuck on what they like and so afraid to move away from what they’ve always used. Thankfully she’s a very smart individual with a thirst for knowledge and improvement.”
It is the type of decision professionals are faced with whenever their racquet contract is on the verge of expiring.
But it is also something every player, from club tennis to the professional level, should consider carefully.
The wrong choice could lead to a dip in form and confidence, or even worse, a potential injury.
Of course, there are numerous examples where a switch in racquets, or a change to the type of string being used, or even an alteration in tension, has reaped rich rewards for players.
After Ash Barty’s breakthrough year in 2019, the world No. 1 and coach Craig Tyzzer used the extended time they spent in Australia the following year wisely.
Tyzzer felt the 2019 Roland Garros champion could benefit from switching gut into her strings, believing it would provide her with additional power and feel.
He believed it would help her “add a little more grunt” to her game if she could adapt to it successfully.
Even for a player of Barty’s renown, adjusting to the use of gut strings can be a tricky task.
An earlier attempt was abandoned when the champion struggled to control the ball during training at a time the circuit was in full swing.
But with ample time to get used to the new strings, Barty blossomed.
Tyzzer monitored her shotmaking to ensure it did not rob her of spin on her kick serve, or make her backhand too flat, but was soon assured on the practice courts in Brisbane.
The results proved conclusive, with the 25-year-old claiming a maiden Wimbledon championship, along with four other titles, to end the 2021 season on top of the world once again.
Roger Federer is another to benefit from advances in racquet technology.
Adapting to different models and sizes as he has aged allowed him to contend for and win major titles in his late 30s.
When the 20-time major winner first joined the tour, the weapon he used to unleash his arsenal was the classic Wilson Pro Staff 85.
He later moved to a Wilson with a 90 size head and, more recently, has been using the Wilson Prostaff RF97, which enables him greater power while maintaining control.
In Christopher Clarey’s biography on Federer The Master, he canvassed the reasoning behind the Swiss champion’s decision to switch racquets.
Federer loved the feel of the 85 frame as a youngster. But those advising him feared it would eventually lead to injury.
When discussing why he switched to a 90 ahead of the French Open in 2005, the 40-year-old pointed to the difficulties an idol of his in Pete Sampras had when attempting to win the clay court major with the Wilson Pro Staff 85.
“He was born for coming to the net more often because of his big serve and his technique of the baseline was very flat. And he was also playing with that little racquet,” he said.
“I’m not saying with another racquet that Pete would have won the French, but it would have helped.”
With Christmas around the corner, the pandemic easing and pennants and tournaments returning around Australia, it pays to seek guidance from experts when considering a change in racquet.
Major racquet producing companies have tips on their websites for players of all standards to consider before investing in a new weapon of choice.
Steve Kelly, who has been the head coach of Kelly Gang Coaching in Victoria for 26 years, said it is always worth asking professionals for advice.
“You are probably always better off buying from a proper tennis shop or tennis specialist website, rather than a generic shop, because they can recommend the right racquet for you, the right string to use, even the best tension for you,” he told The First Serve.
“Those online speciality shops offer good advice and tips. So, too, your local coach, or if the tennis centre you play at has a pro shop, it is worth checking with them as well.”
The Bacchus Marsh-based Kelly said that, if possible, it is worth trying out “demos”, a demonstration racquet. This allows players to identify a racquet that provides the best combination of feel, power, precision and control.
He said it is advisable for players of all standards to consider their purchases from a health perspective.
“People who get tennis elbow, for example, you can often trace that back to a racquet which might be too heavy for them, or strings that might be too tight,” he said.
“In those cases, you might want to go to an oversize racquet, or a lighter frame, just to provide a bit more comfort and take a bit of stress off your arm.
“Good health is important, because it allows us to spend more time on the court doing what we love.”
Listen to The First Serve with Brett Phillips each Monday at 8pm AEDT on 1116AM SEN Melbourne, 1629AM SEN SA / 1170am Sydney or listen live and catch up on the SEN App.
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