And With Tiger’s Golf Clubs You’d Win the Masters
By PAUL BERGER
Published: October 18, 2007
AT a time when your iPhone case says as much about you as the music you choose
to upload, no two officemates have the same Google home page and no true
sneakerhead would be without customized kicks, it is perhaps inevitable that the
thirst for personalization has seeped into amateur sport.
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Marc Serota for The New York Times
THE RIGHT TOOLS Cristovao Franza, assistant director of tennis at St. Andrew's
School in Boca Raton, and his customized rackets by Warren Bosworth, who
personalizes the end caps.
Cyclists can spend three years’ worth of vacation money on custom-built bikes
while golfers spend hours agonizing over the perfect shaft as if they were being
fitted for an Oscar-ready bespoke suit. Now it is the turn of tennis, where
players for whom mass market just won’t do can take their $200 or $300 rackets
to a customizer.
One part math, two parts physics, customization promises to transform an
everyday racket into the perfect tennis machine by altering its weight, balance
or swing weight (a combination of the weight and the balance), for about $50 a
racket. For hundreds of dollars, sometimes thousands, a professional will
pinpoint which adjustments are necessary for your game.
Cristovao Franza, 22, the assistant director of tennis at St. Andrew’s School in
Boca Raton, Fla., said tennis has been a big part of his life since he was 7. He
spends about six hours a day on court either teaching or training for
competitions. Four years ago, he had four Head Liquidmetal Radical rackets
customized for about $60 each, and another three rackets custom built.
“It’s all about confidence,” Mr. Franza said. “With the racket the way it was
when I bought it in the store, I didn’t have the confidence to hit certain
shots.” He chose the Head Radical because it was used by his idol, Andre Agassi
(whose two-handed backhand is a model for Mr. Franza’s). But the racket was so
light it was hard to control, the rounded grip did not quite match his hand and
the shaft was too short.
Now, Mr. Franza said, if he hits shots correctly he knows the ball will go where
he wants. “I am playing the best tennis of my life,” he said.
Once the preserve of professional tennis players, racket customization is
beginning to catch on among dedicated amateurs who have heard about it in the
media or online, where racket customizers — whose ranks have been growing in
recent years — are easy to find. The message boards of sites like
tennis-warehouse.com buzz with chatter about grip size, racket weight and
People who customize are typically the most ardent amateurs, playing at least
three times a week in leagues or tournaments. Chip Brenn of Sandia Racquet
Services in New Mexico says they are often more obsessed with racket diagnostics
than professionals are. “A pro knows what they like and they are not going to
change,” he said. “But recreational players are a lot more interested in
The precise number of amateurs who have turned to customization is hard to pin
down, but they represent a small number of tennis players. About 24.5 million
Americans played tennis in 2006, according to the Tennis Industry Association,
with just over 5 million of those playing 20 or more times. Tennis retailers say
less than 10 percent of consumers request customization, while customizers
themselves admit the numbers are fairly small.
“If you told me there were 20,000 people out there who have had their racket
customized, I would be very impressed,” Mr. Brenn said. Still, he stopped
advertising nationwide because he couldn’t meet demand.
In Mr. Franza’s drive to hone his game, he turned to Warren Bosworth, 72, a
customizer in Boca Raton who has been tweaking rackets for over 30 years. Mr.
Bosworth added weight to the heads for greater control, elongated the grips and
gave the grip edges more definition. At no extra cost, he personalized the butt
caps: “Custom built by Bosworth for Cristovao Franza.”
Many amateurs already dabble in customization themselves, increasing the mass of
their racket by adding lead tape to the head or handle. Laurence Shanet, 41, a
television and theater director, was among the self-customizers until recently,
when he turned to Roman Prokes of RPNY Tennis in New York, because “you can’t
really get a good machine that measures weight, balance and swing weight for
less than $5,000 or $6,000.”
“Tennis is incredibly frustrating,” said Mr. Shanet, a former junior and college
tennis player, who now plays once a week at most, “and so the equipment is one
of those areas where you can look for an edge.”
Bob Patterson of Racquetmaxx in Alabama said “people are talking more about
customizing rackets,” and that 80 percent of his business is now from amateur
players, compared with 10 percent a few years ago. Tim Strawn, a racket stringer
and the founder of www.grandslamstringers.com, said the Internet has been a huge
factor. “Ten years ago people didn’t even know these services were available,”
Mr. Strawn said.
But David Bone, executive director of the United States Racquet Stringers
Association, attributed the increase to a push from customizers, who advertise
actively online and in stores. More of his association’s members are moving into
customization, he said, and more amateurs are being persuaded to use those
But does it all matter to their game? Billy Martin, the coach of the University
of California, Los Angeles, men’s tennis team and a former Wimbledon
quarterfinalist, said it probably benefited only the most proficient players.
“Everybody wants to play with what the pros play with,” Mr. Martin said. “But
for the average Joe, I don’t think it makes much difference.”
Most tennis enthusiasts know that professionals’ rackets are customized to such
an extent that though they look the same as store-bought rackets, technically
they are worlds apart. These amateurs are demanding the same level of service,
but their desire does not always match their ability.
Donald Cline, the tennis and golf buyer at Paragon Sports in New York, said a
75-year-old man came into the store requesting “Federer’s racket strung with
“The sales guy had to tell him, ‘First of all, you can barely lift that
racket,’” Mr. Cline said. “And if you use this string, your arm is going to fall
off because it will hurt so much.”
Because mass-produced rackets vary slightly in weight and balance, one of the
most common customization requests by amateurs is racket matching, said Don
Hightower, the president of the online retailer Tennis Warehouse. Players want
to be sure, he said, that if they pop a string on one racket they have a bag of
identical ones in reserve.
Popping strings is one problem. But lifelong tennis players sometimes find that
it is their bodies that wear out. John Alper, a 55-year-old director of TV
commercials and documentaries, travels a lot for work, but when he is home in
Florida he plays four times a week, and he plays to win.
But Mr. Alper found his Wilson Pro Staff racket starting to become a little too
heavy. After trying a few customized rackets, Mr. Alper bought a custom-built
Bosworth racket instead. He says customization is still relatively unknown at
his tennis club, but he won’t be helping to spread the word. “I am usually a
very generous guy,” he said. “But in tennis I want every advantage I can get.”