Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The World of Strings - written by Jeff H.

Strings are half the racquet in tennis. They are like the tires for a race car and can dramatically alter how your racquet plays.  With hundreds of strings to choose from, tensions, and gauges, which string is the best string for you?  Before you make a selection, let’s go over some basics of strings.
String Types:
There are three main types of strings:  Synthetic Gut, Polyester (Poly), and Natural Gut. 

Synthetic Gut Strings:
Synthetic gut is a multi-filament string comprised of very thing fibers that attempt to simulate natural gut.  These strings tend to be softer and flex more easily when striking the ball.  Synthetic gut strings are not made with the intention of durability, but instead made for feel and playability.  Players who play doubles exclusively, serve and volley or attack the net frequently in singles would benefit from the feel of synthetic gut strings.  These types of strings tend to also be more forgiving on the player’s elbow and wrist since they absorb more of the impact energy than stiffer polyester strings.  The downside to synthetic gut strings are they do not generate as much spin or power as polyester strings.  The player needs to use his/her stroke and body to generate big power and big spin.  Certain synthetic gut strings are a little stiffer to help add power and spin, but nothing compares to polyester strings.  As synthetic gut strings are used, they will begin to fray like an old rope.  This is completely normal and caused by the friction of the ball and strings rubbing against each other.  When this occurs, it’s time to restring your racquet.  One advantage to the fraying is you can see where on the string bed your strings are fraying.  If the fraying is in the sweetspot, then you know you are predominately hitting the sweet spot on the majority of your shots.  If not, then that’s good information too.

Polyester Strings:
Polyester strings, often referred to as “polys”, are very stiff strings.  The playability is horrible with these strings.  But for a baseliner or power hitter, they are a dream come true.  Despite the lack of playability, polys are made for power and spin.  As the ball hits these strings, they bite the ball much more effectively than synthetic gut or natural gut and snap back much faster, creating excellent spin and power.  Due to polys being stiffer, they absorb less of the energy from striking a ball and can be more impactful on the elbow and wrist.  One option to increase the feel with polys is to use a different gauge string.  A thinner poly will increase the feel slightly but still provide excellent power and spin.  See below for a description of the different gauges and their pros and cons.  Polys are very, very durable strings and most players will not break these strings.  It’s important to remember when to restring your racquet when using these strings since they will not fray like synthetic gut or natural gut.

Natural Gut Strings:
Natural gut strings are made from beef intestines.  In order for them to be strings, they are dried considerable and vacuum sealed for shipment.  Never put a wet towel, socks, or any moisture near natural gut strings since this may cause them to stretch or break.  Nothing beats natural gut in terms of playability and feel.  Many players use a hybrid where natural gut is in the mains or the crosses and then a poly in the other.  These strings are expensive and can break if the universe is not aligned properly.  But seriously, natural gut strings are not meant to be durable.  Just like synthetic gut strings, these strings are for players who want extraordinary feel and playability and players who create their own power and spin.

String Gauges:The smaller the gauge, the thicker the string.
The standard gauge (g) for a string that most players use is 16g.  Strings come in all kinds of gauges or thicknesses.  15g, 15Lg, 16g, 16Lg, 17g, and so on down to a 20g, which is a very thin string.  The “L” means that the string is just a bit thinner than the associated gauge number, 1.25mm (16Lg) versus 1.30mm (16g).The thicker the string, the more bite on the ball which results in more spin.  But a thicker string is harder to flex and much stiffer, which affects playability and the impact on the player’s wrist and elbow.

How Often Should You Restring Your Racquets?
The general rule of thumb is however many times you play per week is the minimum number of times you need to restring your racquet per year.  Three times per week = At least every four months.  If you string you racquet and never use it, keep it in a climate controlled room, your strings will lose their tension in 12 months.
Signs you need to restring your racquet:
  • Your strings do not snap back in place after hitting the ball.
  • The “crackle” or make noise when you move them with your fingers.
  • You hear a thud rather than a ping when you hit your hand with your strung racquet.
  • The strings are fraying (synthetic/natural gut)
  • It has been at 6 months or longer since you have had them restrung

String Tension:
If you change the string tension and use the same strings, the strings will play differently.  The higher the tension, the less power.  Too low of a tension, no control.  Deciding which tension to use for your strings depends on the type of strings, the type of player you are, and when you are trying to get out of the strings.  Think of a trampoline, if the trampoline is pulled very, very tight you will not be able to bounce very high.  If the trampoline is loose, you will bounce high but you might bounce off center and have little to no control to which direction you bounce.Generally, you need to alter your tension at least 3-4 pounds in order to notice a difference.  If you have not had your racquet restrung in a long time, a freshly strung racquet will feel much different than your used to since your stings were at a lower tension.
For players looking for more power and spin, generally speaking a string tension between 50-55 is recommended.  For players that generate their own power and spin or just want more control, a higher string tension is recommended.   If you notice that all of your ground strokes are just going past the baseline by 6 inches or so, increasing your string tension 3-4 pounds will bring the ball back into the court without having to change your stroke.  The opposite is true as well.  It may take a few attempts to find a string or strings you like and the tension that works best for you, but once you do it’s amazing!

All of this information is pretty general and can be as complicated as you want it to be.  This article is just a general guide with the hope that it will help players find the best string and tension for their playing style which will hopefully improve their game.  I hope you enjoyed the read.

-          Jeff Heuwinkel


Unknown said...

Great post. Only thing I think you should mention is that when stringing poly you should typically drop the tension by about 10% of what you'd string the synthetic gut at. E.G. is the racket recommends 50-60lbs and you would decide to go for 55lbs with synthetic gut, try 50lbs with a poly.

As a general rule I personally would never string a poly higher than 55lbs.

Though I've never dared to try I've heard for people preferring to string poly's in the low 40's.

Anonymous said...

This is generally true, but it also depends on the player. I string my racquets with poly at 52 and play with them for about two months before restringing them. So, I'm probably playing with strings in the mid to upper 40s after the first few weeks due to tension loss.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. There is so much to learn about stings and stringing that it'll be years before I know half of what you can do.