Strings, Grips, etc.
People who play a lot will need to maintain various parts of their racquets as they go. Grips get slippery, head guards (the plastic around the top) get broken and strings get loose and/or break.
Stringing Timeline: The old adage is that you should re-string your racquet once per year for every time you play per week. So, players who play on average two times per week should re-string every 6 months. That is because strings will gradually loosen over time and lose control. You should also re-string if a string is broken. The strings are generally one long string (or sometimes 2), so you don’t just replace one – you do the whole thing.
Stringing Cost: $27 - $35 usually. For serious big hitters who break strings a lot, Players offers string cards - 10 re-stringings with 20% off.
Strings to Use: I’d discuss this with Players when you get it strung there (Dicks will re-string racquets, but I don’t recommend them). This is tricky and really a matter of personal preference. For lots of players, a generic synthetic gut string is probably a good choice. For people who hit really hard and break a lot of strings, a poly main string (Babolat RPM Blast for example) will increase string life. But most people will temper that hard string with something like a synthetic cross to get a good balance of string life and comfort..
To sound intelligent when getting a racquet strung: Strings come in different gauges. The bigger the number, the thinner the string. 15g is a thick string (more durable), 17g or 18g is a thin string (breaks more often but gets a little better bite on the ball for spin).
Shoes: These are mostly personal preference, but I do recommend tennis-specific shoes if possible. If not, then go with cross-trainers. Do not wear running shoes for tennis – they do not have enough ankle support.
Bags: Having a dedicated tennis bag is nice. You'll be able to grab and go with your gear and not worry about forgetting something. I'd recommend getting a bag that's slightly bigger than what you first think. Carrying extra balls, a change of clothes (shoes take up a lot of room) and assorted junk is nice.
Grips: You can buy replacement grips ($6-10) or overgrips ($2 - $3 each) to get a fresh feel on your racquet. You should learn how to add an overgrip to your racquet –it’s pretty easy. Various brands don’t matter much, although I would recommend TournaGrip (overgrip) for people whose hands get sweaty.
Head Guards: These can only be replaced at the time of re-stringing. So, if you are debating it, go for it. They are $8 - $15 installed. If yours is broken and you are scraping the expensive parts of the racquet up, definitely do this the next time you re-string. If you aren’t re-stringing soon, they make tape you can use for protection (it’s not great).
Vibration Dampeners: This is all personal preference. They do take a little or a lot of vibration out of the racquet and change the sound when you hit the ball. Most people notice the sound difference more than the vibration difference. The worm-type dampeners take tons of vibration out, while the little ones take about ½ as much away. These are a few bucks each.
Gift ideas: Grips, Vibration Dampeners, Cans of balls, Tennis Ball Savers (mentioned on the ball page) are decent small gifts for tennis players.