The Essence of Stringing
Stringing is one of the most misunderstood things about tennis, even with its newly-found publicity from the pro game. Recreational players still pay less attention to stringing and racquet dynamics than they do to the color of their team uniforms.
Guess which is more important?
In every instance I can imagine, stringing is more important than the racquet itself. The highest-quality frame on the market, custom-matched to your game, will not help you much if it is strung with the wrong string and/or tension. Meanwhile, if the frame is not perfect for you, but it’s strung properly, you will be able to make confident, repeatable swings and get consistent results.
How do you determine the right string and tension for your game, you ask? I don’t think you can do it alone. Every player, regardless of level, would be well served to find an experienced, reputable stringer, take advantage of their knowledge, and never let them go. Whatever price you pay for their service will be returned tenfold in better play, more enjoyment, and fewer injuries.
How to Begin
In your area, there is, doubtlessly, at least one stringer who has many years of experience and who offers full racquet service. In most instances, this will not be your local tennis pro: to most of them, stringing is something to do to make money while not teaching. Only a few teaching pros (like me) have made stringing an important part of their work.
What to Look For
A reputable, full-service stringer will offer a large variety of strings. Look for at least 2 dozen different strings (including different gauges but excluding colors), with a minimum of 4 different manufacturers represented (I currently offer 78 strings, representing 14 manufacturers). Within a large offering like this, you can easily find the best string, or combination of strings, for you (for a discussion of hybrid stringing, see below).
Along with the variety of strings -- easily acquired by spending money -- look for the thing money can’t buy: an understanding of how they work, in general and for you. A stringer worth your time and money will ask questions and listen to your answers, and then make recommendations for you to consider. Since this is an inexact science (for example, no one can possibly know exactly how much impact shock your elbow can take), you will need to take these suggestions to heart, and then try several of them. This will cost you some money, but will also leave you confident you made the best choice (I offer discounts up to 20% for players wanting to experiment. Please contact me for details).
After trying different strings, a good stringer will listen to your report, then adjust as needed for your next trial. Once you find the “magic formula”, your stringer should have a good information database on you, making results easily duplicable later on.
A good stringer will also invest money in the best equipment for the job. You won’t see cheap, table-top style machines in a good shop. An investment in top-notch machines signifies a stringers’ desire to produce consistent results and protect your expensive racquets. I use a Beers ERT300 andBeers ERT700 Tenniscomputer, along with a Babolat Racquet Diagnostic Center (RDC) for racquet analysis, and Babolat Star 5 and True Tension stringing machines, all top-line, professional equipment.
Also look for a variety of replacement grips, overgrips, and the ability to change handle size and/or shape. A full-service racquet professional will offer as many types of original equipment replacement grips as possible, to preserve the feel, size and shape of your racquet handle. Research has shown me that every racquet handle is not the same – a Wilson 4 ½ grip, for example, may not measure the exact same circumference, or have the same shape, as a 4 ½ Prince racquet – and the original equipment replacement grips can make a big difference in how comfortable the frame feels in your hand. Changing handle size of shape can make a racquet much more comfortable and playable for you, and save the expense of buying a new one. I carry replacement grips from Prince, Wilson, Gamma, Gosen and Babolat, in addition to TournaGrip, Gamma, Luxilon and Yonex overgrips.
The ability to change handle size is an important step in the fight against tennis elbow. If the grip is too small, the player will have to hold it tighter to prevent twisting at impact. This tightening of the forearm muscles not only reduces shot power and spin, it adds much more strain to the arm, possibly resulting in an injury. Sometimes, the handle is too large, resulting in similar levels of discomfort.
Handle size can be increased by using a heat-shrink sleeve or, on some occasions, by using a thicker replacement grip. If you can, use the thicker grip, as it will add less weight to the handle, affecting swingweight the least. Reducing handle size is possible by carefully shaving down a urethane foam handle. Modern graphite handles are very difficult to reduce in size. It may be possible to reduce handle size enough by simply using a thinner replacement grip.
Even if you bought two identical racquets at the same time, and from the same place, the odds are that they are not weighted and balanced the same, and could be quite different. Even slight variations can render one racquet unplayable for you. With my Babolat Racquet Diagnostic Center (RDC), I can determine the specs of your racquets and offer suggestions on how to make them feel more alike.
If you’ve recently changed racquet brands and/or models and are unhappy with their feel, it may be possible to “morph” your racquet to feel more like another model. Please feel free to contact me to discuss how this may be done.
Hybrid stringing – where the mains and crosses are strung with different strings – has the potential to give you the best of both worlds: power and control, tension maintenance with comfort, durability with feel, or any combination thereof. All that needs be done is to pick the proper combination of strings. Look below for a discussion of the different types of string if you like.
“Designing” a Hybrid
How do we choose strings to build our hybrid? Luckily, most manufacturers have done the work for you, offering numerous hybrid string sets, or by selling strings in half-set packages, letting you put your own hybrid together.
The original hybrid string set, put in use decades ago, was natural gut main strings and solid-core synthetic crosses. This played almost as well as an all-gut job, and cost much less. However, for some reason, this is not as popular today.
Currently, the most popular hybrids are Kevlar or polyester mains with solid-core synthetic or natural gut crosses. This gives the modern topspin player better durability with a softer feel than an all-Kevlar or poly job. Kevlar hybrids are offered by almost every major company, and almost as many offer poly/synthetic hybrids. Hybrids with gut strings are not as prevalent, but you can buy gut in half-sets from at least one major player.
Let your game decide which hybrid you use: serious string breakers should use a Kevlar or poly hybrid with solid-core synthetic crosses; the highest-level players should consider a polyester or co-polymer hybrid with gut. Many ATP Tour players use this, some using gut main strings (like Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt), although most use gut on the crosses.
If you like feel but have a sore arm, use polyester or Zyex mains with a multifilament synthetic or gut cross, or get a little more innovative by using a “performance hybrid”: take a high-performance string for both mains and crosses, using a thicker gauge for mains. This could easily be done with Wilson NXT Max, or almost any type of gut.
The option of hybrid stringing opens up possibilities not previously available to tennis players, and everyone should at least consider using one. The chance to remedy problems not previously thought solveable should be a prime incentive.
Types of String Materials
Aramid Fiber (Kevlar)
Kevlar is the most durable material currently used for tennis strings. Developed from automobile tire and bulletproof vest research, it offers high strength and friction resistance (friction between main and cross strings is a leading cause of string breakage). Its main drawbacks are poor shock absorption and lack of resilience. Most Kevlar string jobs are done as hybrids.
I offer my own, in-house Ashaway Kevlar hybrid, and Prince Pro Blend, for those wanting maximum durability.
Polyester, along with modern co-polymer research, has produced some of the most popular strings of the last several years. Made as a monofilament (a single piece of string), poly strings offer more durability than standard synthetics, and better playability than Kevlar, along with sharply reduced string movement. Many touring pros use polyester strings, alone or as hybrids. Poly’s drawbacks are lack of power and shock absorption, along with inferior tension maintenance. If you are going to use poly strings, keep on top of tension loss and restring when necessary.
My current polyester/copolymer string offerings are RAB Monoflex and Endura Flex, Head Sonic Pro, Luxilon Alu Power/Alu Rough, Luxilon TiMo, Luxilon M2 Plus, Babolat Pro Hurricane Tour, Tecnifibre Promix, Prince Poly EXP and Topspin Cyber Blue.
Solid-Core Synthetic Gut
The most common strings in use today are solid-core synthetic gut (nylon) strings. A monofilament center core is surrounded by one or two layers of multifilament wraps, which gives these strings a softer feel and more power than polyester or Kevlar. The cost of these strings tends to be among the lowest in the industry, although a few do use higher-grade materials. Their main drawbacks are reduced durability and generally lower levels of performance compared to gut and high-grade synthetics.
I offer many solid-core synthetic strings, from less-expensive ones (Tournament Nylon, Gosen Micro 16, MetaSyn, Pre-Stretched Synthetic Gut, Hyper, 2-Wrap Synthetic Gut, Prince Synthetic Gut Original and Duraflex, Gamma Gut 2, Gamma Synthetic Gut and Gamma Wear Guard Synthetic Gut, Prince TopSpin) to top-line solid-core strings like Prince Lightning XX, Tecnifibre Multifeel and Gamma TNT2.
Multifilament Core Synthetic Gut
The highest-performing synthetic strings currently available do not utilize a center core. Instead, there are individual filaments wrapped around each other, like natural gut, or several larger filaments are used as a core, and are covered by smaller multifilament wraps and/or polyurethane impregnation. These are the cream of the crop in synthetic performance and feel, with some even approaching gut in overall quality. Most of these strings offer high-level shock absorption, making them a great choice for tennis elbow sufferers.
Any tennis player should be able to find a multifilament core synthetic string they like from my offerings: PMS (Polyester Multifilament Synthetic), Alpha Sensorfibre, Prodigy, Element, Sphere , Comfort Plus and Firecable, Babolat Addiction, Tecnifibre NRG2, TGV and X-One Biphase, Wilson Sensation, NXT, NXT Max and NXT Tour.
Zyex (the trade term for PEEK, or polyetheretherketone) is a material developed in the 1980s and rapidly used by many string companies for its gut-like playability and feel (its sound is also unique, and it is used quite widely for musical instrument strings). Newer versions also show remarkably good tension maintenance and a firm, controlled feel to the string face. Ball pocketing with Zyex is as close to natural gut as you will find.
Earlier Zyex strings had problems with material bonding, largely fixed now. Zyex’s main drawback is its stiff feel, making it a poor choice for those with arm problems; lower string tensions are required to eliminate this “boardy” feel to the string face. Zyex strings also suffer from excessive string movement.
I offer Zyex in two different strings: it is used as an additional material in Gamma Live Wire XP, or offered as a core material with a microfiber outer wear layer in Ashaway Dynamite.
The basic elements found in polyolefin are propylene and ethylene. They are gaseous at room temperature but, when heated and fused, they form a strong and flexible chain with thousands of links. These chains are normally made into ribbons and then bonded together, making strings with good tension maintenance and a soft feel for those with arm problems.
Head IntelliTour is my sole polyolefin string offering.
Vectran is a high-performance fiber derived from liquid crystal polymer. It is five times stronger than steel, possessing high strength along with exceptional abrasion resistance, moisture absorption, cut resistance and tension maintenance.
Vectran is used in combination with nylon to produce Ashaway Composite XT Pro and XL Pro, two viable alternatives to Kevlar hybrid strings.
Gut -- beef intestine, actually, not from cats -- is the best we have to offer: one string that gives you outstanding power and control, with a soft, shock-free feel and great tension maintenance. For years, gut was the overwhelming choice of professionals and serious players everywhere. Natural gut is not used by everyone due to its high cost.
I offer the best natural gut for your pleasure: Babolat VS and Tonic +.