For many people, badminton was the soft option when it came to school games. But, with more than a billion players, it is the world's most popular racket sport. Clive Ellames, director of development at the Badminton Association of England, has coached players, from beginners to county and national level, for more than 20 years. He is well-placed to explain what badminton players should look for in a new racket.
There have been huge changes in badminton recently; Ellames believes that technology has increased the game's speed by about 60 per cent over the last 15 years. "When I started I used a racket with a wooden head and had to really whack the shuttlecock," says Ellames, "but with modern rackets you have more power with less backswing."
The most significant advance in racket technology has been in the materials used. Ellames recommends that beginners buy a graphite racket; ordinary steel is heavier and less flexible. A reasonable amount to spend on a starter racket is £35 to £40, and beginners should look for one that is light and well-balanced, although very young players might find it easier to generate more power with a racket that is heavier in the head.
Ellames' own racket is a £150 Yonex Muscle Power 100. The frame is reinforced with titanium because the forces released when hitting a shuttlecock hard are astonishing. Simon Archer, Britain's No 1 player and a bronze medallist at the Sydney Olympics, holds the world record for the fastest smash: 162 miles an hour, quicker than any tennis player's serve.
Ellames agrees that £150 is a lot to spend on such a slight piece of kit (it works out at £1.66 per gram of racket), and advises people not to buy on reputation, but to go for what is most comfortable: "You can normally tell as soon as you pick a racket up whether it feels right or not". Ultimately, Ellames does not think that there is much difference between a £35 racket and a £70 model.
Professional players restring their rackets once a month, but most people should get away with restringing once a year. Typically, a full restring costs £12. Serious players also have the strings tightened to a greater tension, but doing this on a cheaper racket may cause the head to distort eventually. If you refrain from hammering the court in frustration (graphite shatters), a mid-range racket should last many years.
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Carlton Airblade 300
The Airblade 300 has a vibration-absorbing graphite shaft and a low-profile aluminium head. Weighing 102 grams, it is a solid starter racket.
Yonex Isometric 60 MF
The Isometric 60 is a medium-flex graphite racket weighing 89 grams. The Isometric head gives an extra-large sweet spot.
Yonex Muscle Power 55
Aimed at the keener club player, the graphite Muscle Power 55 weighs 90 grams and has a large, noticeably square-shaped head. Price: £60
Yonex Muscle Power 77
In a market dominated by two companies, Yonex and Carlton, the 77 offers a titanium and graphite frame for serious players.
Carlton Airblade 900
Carlton's answer to Yonex's Muscle Power range also weighs 90 grams. The difference is that the Carlton's racket head is smaller and oval-shaped.
Yonex Muscle Power 100
The world's most expensive badminton racket is titanium-reinforced graphite. It is ultra-stiff, with a robust head. Aimed at county-level players. Price: £150Reuse content