When you get serious about tennis or get a child who’s serious about tennis, your first investment should be a good tennis racket.

But with so many choices out there, how do you know which one to choose? We’ve put together this guide to help you narrow the field and find the best choice based on your experience and playing level – and in some cases your age.

If you’re an adult beginner: don’t fall into the “oversized” rackets that are advertised for older teens and adults. Oversized rackets typically measure more than 106 square inches in size (measuring length plus width of the hitting area) , while traditional adult rackets measure approximately 95 square inches (the official USTA limit). Oversized rackets are best used by players with longer reaches and more athletic abilities.

You’re better off buying a standard racket in the 100-105 square inch range (and we recommend staying away from very flexible or “whippy” rackets). You can always add lead tape to make it more head-heavy, which gives you more power. For kids, don’t get anything bigger than 95 square inches (or 2 5/8ths inches wide), regardless of age.

Even if you’re shopping online, read the fine print. Many sites will give measurements for each racket along with weight and balance information, so use that just as much as price and style in your decision-making process.

If you’re a novice: First of all, resist the temptation to buy a cheap, poorly made racket at your local discount store. While it may be tempting to try and “save” money by buying a less expensive racket, you’ll be sacrificing quality and performance.

Do not purchase used rackets. The protective coverings that go over the throat (also called the head) and handle can hide cracks that can cause serious injury if left undetected. For all of these reasons we recommend you spend between $60 and $100 for a new racket in this category, which should provide sufficient features for playability without being so fancy as to intimidate beginners with overly complex technology.

While there are many “junior” sized rackets on the market – from half-size racquets for smaller children to a junior-sized version of the “head” racket brand – we don’t recommend them for beginners. Most kids will outgrow these smaller rackets quickly, and since they have less surface area, they can generate less power. In addition, many juniors are still learning the basics of the sport and their hand-eye coordination is not developed enough to get full use from more advanced features like grippy handle covers or teardrop-shaped heads.

If your child does play on a smaller court (like a clay court), he/she may need a slightly shorter racket than average with enhanced visibility. Many manufacturers offer colorful and bright-colored junior rackets that stand out well on clay courts and in lower light conditions. These can be a good choice for a child who plays in a lot of tournaments or on clay.

For kids, don’t get anything bigger than 95 square inches (or 2 5/8ths inches wide), regardless of age.