Stringing: Expecting Miracles
Are your customers asking to try polyester strings? A Master Racquet Technician lays out the case for managing, and adjusting, their expectations.
By Tim Strawn
I know you’ve heard it — and so have your customers. You’re watching a match on television and the announcer talks about the new super strings the pros are using. They boast about that tremendous “up and down” effect they have on the ball and how they’re changing the game. But are they? Have you tried them? Did they work the same magic for you — or for your players?
Chances are, most consumers who may have gone to their local racquet technician and asked for the new “miracle” strings probably were somewhat surprised at the results they had with them. I’ll bet it wasn’t quite what they were expecting.
Yes, touring pros get enhanced spin and power with these strings. And so recreational players may think if they use them, too, the strings can produce the same result. Well, not exactly.
These “new” strings are co-polymer or polyester, as they’re most often referred to. The name most thrown about these days is Luxilon, so I’ll use that as my example. What makes these strings perform the way they do? First, a few basics, then we’ll go from there:
- Elongation is the string’s ability to stretch.
- Elasticity is the string’s ability to recover to its original state after stretching.
- Strings absorb energy from the impact of the ball and store it.
- Strings return that energy to the ball when they recover.
- Natural gut stretches and recovers naturally, as designed by nature. Tests have shown that natural gut will stretch more between the tension range of 60 to 70 pounds than nylon (as Howard Brody, et.al., wrote about in “Tennis Science for Tennis Players”).
- Natural gut has remarkable recovery (elasticity). It will return to its original state for a much longer period of time than nylon.
- Common synthetic strings stretch, but after hours of play, they lose their elasticity (ability to recover).
- Strings on their own do not produce topspin. That “up and down” effect on the ball comes primarily from two things: 1) an effective low-to-high motion with the racquet, and 2) racquet-head speed. Without these two elements you can forget about hitting topspin forehands and slice backhands.
Luxilon is a relatively stiff string with a very unique coating. The coating actually allows the string to move or “slide” at impact and when the string recovers (slides back into place), it can increase the amount of spin on the ball. Just how much is not known, but there is some residual effect from this movement.
Because these strings are much stiffer than typical synthetics, the player can take a much bigger swing at the ball (reduced elongation = less energy stored in the ball). That bigger swing equates to faster racquet-head speed, and when coupled with an enhanced low-to-high motion, that additional momentum is what brings the ball down into the court when you think it’s going to be 3 feet out. This is one reason why you see fewer and fewer players using a racquet strung with all natural gut — they store too much energy, and with today’s big game, the string is harder to control. We do, however, still see it in many hybrid configurations.
But here’s the real difference and what often gets left out of the conversation:
- Average club players do not generate the same racquet-head speed as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, so their results will not be as pronounced.
- Also, the average recreational player strings once or twice a year. In a tournament situation, the typical professional strings before each practice and before each match. That’s a huge difference in how long the string is in use. How many club players do you know who are going to pay $35 for a set of good Luxilon and then cut it out in two days? It’s just not going to happen.
- The third point is probably one of the most important. Many players are simply stringing poly way too tight. When you have a string with limited elongation and you string it up tight, you’re going to kill whatever elongation properties the string had to begin with. This is where club players get into trouble. They think that because they were stringing at 64 pounds when they were using softer synthetic gut, they can still string at 64 with poly. They’re told that the string has exceptional durability, and this is correct. However, because it doesn’t break as quickly as their old synthetic gut, they string it up at 64 and leave it in the racquet far too long. We’re talking months here. Remember this stuff is not cheap. It’s really important to understand this pro/club player comparison.
So just how should recreational players figure out what tension they should use if they’re going to try the new string, and how long should they leave it in the racquet before restringing?
Recreational players need to work with a trained racquet technician who understands what’s really going on. Choosing a starting point that is 20 pounds less than what the rec player used with his old string might be the right way to go. Yes, you heard that right — 20 pounds less, then experiment from there. Keep accurate records so you have a baseline from which to work and a timeline for restringing.
The “new” strings can work for or against recreational players. To best service them, you need to arm yourself with the facts.
USRSA Master Racquet Technician and tour stringer Tim Strawn owns and operates grandslamstringers.com and gssalliance.com and is the founder and owner of the GSS Symposium, an annual global training event for racquet technicians. His tour stringing experience includes working for the Bow Brand team at Wimbledon and the Wilson team at the US Open and Sony Ericsson in Key Biscayne. Contact him at Tim@gssalliance.com.