When you’re watching coverage of major tennis tournaments on TV, you might notice that some of the players look like they have something stuck to the strings of their tennis racquets. It’s a little button that looks like a Croc charm, and it usually sits on the bottom of its strings.
This little piece of rubber isn’t just a racket decoration. It’s a piece of equipment called a tennis dampener. These humble buttons have gotten a lot of hype in the past, so let’s separate the facts from the fiction around tennis dampeners.
Do tennis dampeners work? Tennis dampeners do work for their intended purpose, which is to reduce (or dampen) string vibration. This has some benefits, such as reducing noise and changing the feel of your racquet. However, tennis dampeners don’t decrease injury or prevent tennis elbow, even though they’ve been marketed as such in the past.
What Is a Tennis Dampener?
Essentially, a tennis dampener is a piece of equipment that a tennis player attaches to their strings. Its purpose is to reduce some vibration in the strings when the ball makes contact with the string bed.
ITF rules state that they must be placed “outside the pattern of the crossed strings.” This gives players relatively few options for where to place the dampener, and even few places to put it where it will be effective.
Realistically, if a player is going to use a dampener, they put it on the lower uncrossed strings near the neck of the racket.
Types of Tennis Dampeners
There are two main manufactured types of dampeners, and one DIY dampener.
For manufactured dampeners, the two styles are button and worm. A button dampener is usually a round shape with a cut-out on either side.
You push the string into on of the slots, then pull the adjacent string open a bit so that you can turn the dampener and fit it into the space. When you release the string, it should seat itself into the cut out on the other side.
A subtype of the button dampener is the doughnut dampener. The hole in the middle of these dampeners lessens the resistance and weight of the dampener while offering the same functionality.
A worm dampener is long and skinny as opposed to round, and you weave it between the vertical strings. They’re a little more fiddly to get on that a button dampener, but they tend to stay in place much better than their button counterparts.
For a DIY method, you can tie a thick rubber band to the bottom of your strings like the great Andre Agassi. He used a #64 rubber band and tied it in a simple knot over his strings. It was a simple, cheap, and effective solution that didn’t fall off.
- Button Dampener:
- Pros: Cheap, easy to install, customizable for your personality
- Cons: Can pop off easily in the middle of game or practice
- Worm Dampener:
- Pros: Durable, offers more vibration dampener due to its increased size, won’t fall off
- Cons: More difficult to install than a button, not as fun to look at
- Rubber Band Dampener:
- Pros: Extremely cheap, won’t fall off, make Andre Agassi proud
- Cons: You might get some funny looks, can’t stall for time putting your dampener back on mid-game
Purpose of a Tennis Dampener
The only thing that a tennis dampener does is decrease string vibration. This has two effects: one, it makes the racket quieter when you hit a ball; two, it decreases some of the feeling you get when you hit the ball.
Don’t be tempted to shell out extra money on tennis dampeners marketed to fixing your tennis elbow or decreasing vibration in your racket frame, thus reducing fatigue and injury in the arm.
The science is pretty clear that a piece of rubber on your tennis racket isn’t going to be the thing that stops your elbow injuries. If you’re finding that you’re prone to those sorts of issues, try adjusting your string tension, the type of strings you’re using, or your racket head.
So that’s what they don’t do, no matter what it says on the packaging. However, a tennis dampener does decrease the audible ping that the ball makes when you hit it on the racket.
If you’re hitting a lot of balls, that sound might get pretty annoying. It may be distracting. You just might not like it, and if that’s the case, a tennis dampener can make your game a quieter, more pleasant experience.
A dampener also changes the feel of the strings. It won’t help your strings keep their tension or change the level of vibration going into the racket, but if you play with a dampener and then without a dampener, you’ll probably notice a difference in how it feels when you hit the ball.
This isn’t right or wrong. It’s a matter of personal preference, and since dampeners are pretty cheap and come in multi-packs, we definitely recommend that you give dampeners a try.
Do the Pros Use Them?
Some do, some don’t. Again, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Some will use dampeners that look like emojis or have their sponsor’s brand name on them. Some use them sometimes and not others. Some don’t bother replacing them if they fall off mid-match. Some players, like Serena Williams, don’t appear to ever use them.
Pete Sampras loved them so much that he put his name on the Tourna dampener that he used, and it is still sold under the brand name “Tourna Sampras Vibration Dampener.” So the use of dampeners runs the gamut on the ATP and the WTA.
How Much Do They Cost?
Tennis dampeners are really cheap. On sites like Amazon, you can get packs of seven to ten in all sorts of patterns for $10 to $15. Brands like Wilson and Head offer packs of two for less than $10. #64 rubber bands come in a pack of 320 for $6.99, which will probably last your entire tennis career.
If you’re tempted by sleek-looking tennis dampeners that are much more expensive than your other options, really consider why you’re buying them.
Sure, they’ll work, but will they work three or four times better than other tennis brands, like Wilson? Will they work 15 to 18 times better than cute ones that come in a multipack? Probably not.
Tennis dampeners are great for reducing that pinging noise when you connect with the ball. They can cause a little bit of change in feeling that some players may prefer.
There’s no scientific evidence to back up claims that tennis dampeners reduce racket vibration and/or reduce injury to players. They’re cheap, can look fun, and may be some players’ preferred way to play. This makes them easy to try, so shell out a few bucks to get some dampeners and see if you like how they sound and feel.