Nylon vs. Poly
With all the advancements and new introductions in co-poly strings, are nylon-based strings still relevant? The short answer: Very much so.
Poly strings seem to dominate the tennis scene now — from junior tournaments, manufacturer advertising and even commentators at pro tournaments. Now, when strings are mentioned, it’s generally all about the wonders of poly.
But while it may appear that we’re headed to a time when poly will be the dominant material for tennis string, most experts don’t think that will be the case. Sure, poly has many benefits, but also has some drawbacks, especially for the recreational player. (See “The Evolution of Poly Strings” in the May 2015 issue.)
Regardless of how you feel about poly, the real loser in the mix is nylon. It seems no one talks about nylon anymore, although no other string segment has more variations and has undergone more development than this venerable veteran. Even with new nylon strings being developed and introduced to the marketplace, it seems that most marketing dollars are spent promoting what the pros are using, which is often a poly/gut hybrid, although the gut is also rarely mentioned.
While it may seem that nylon strings have gotten lost in the mix, it really could simply be an identity crisis. You will be hard-pressed to find any marketing material using the word “nylon,” and you’ll rarely find it even in the fine print on the package or in the catalog. We may be able to trace the aversion to the label back its roots.
Back when all racquets were wooden, natural gut was the only string used, until technology provided us with nylon as an alternative that was much less expensive and much more durable. Tennis enthusiasts and better players snubbed the new string since price and durability were all it could offer in comparison with natural gut.
But as time went on, and players grew up using nylon, it became more popular — especially as the game moved from country clubs to more city parks and schools. The string also got better, as manufacturing techniques began to produce string that had better playing characteristics. Wrapped construction and multifilaments proved to be better received than the original monofilaments. Somewhere along the way the better nylon strings started to be called “synthetic gut,” which was a more palatable name to the purists of the game.
Still No Respect
Fast-forward 50 years. Today, nylon still lacks respect, it seems, since all the attention is on the co-poly formulations.
But can we as racquet technicians shoulder some of the responsibility? While we certainly don’t control the manufacturer’s marketing plans, nor do we have any influence on what the commentators talk about on televised pro matches, we should be the biggest influence when it comes to helping our customers choose the right string for them.
It is pretty well-established that co-poly strings are not the best choice for average recreational players, so are we guilty of letting our customers down by not informing them that using Nadal’s string is never going to help them hit screaming topspin winners?
Since poly gets all the attention these days, it’s easy to just go with the flow and give customers what they ask for, even when it’s not the best choice for their games or their arms.
In a quick, informal survey from a few dealers, most were stocking the latest introductions of poly strings. However, the vast majority offered nylon-based strings that had been in the marketplace for two decades or more. These are perfectly good strings to have in the inventory, as they are great products.
But I was amazed that many of the newer nylon-based strings were absent from most inventories in my survey group. Can this be attributed to lack of marketing from the manufacturers, unwillingness for us to embrace new strings, or maybe both?
While we can only inform and suggest, it is imperative that racquet technicians take the time to educate their clients about the best equipment choices for their particular game.
Sure, there are clients who won’t listen and will demand what they think they need. But there also are plenty of players who are looking for anything that will help them elevate their game. It is up to the racquet technician to explain how the strings are an integral part of that process.
Perhaps it is an unattainable goal to get all recreational players into a string set-up that will benefit their game and not simply mimic their favorite pros, but we should, at least, inform and educate each and every one.
While manufacturers have been emphasizing co-poly strings, many new nylon strings have been introduced in the last few years and really deserve a look.
Nylon offers such a wide variety of playing characteristics because it can be configured in so many ways and combined with other materials. They should be the staples of any string inventory. From soft multifilaments to single- or double-wrapped nylons, a technician can find something for every player type. Creating hybrids with a co-poly or another nylon gives the client even more options.
The bottom line is, don’t give up on nylons! Embrace them. Learn about newer introductions and look for ways to incorporate them in your inventory in order to offer a complete and diverse range of strings to your clients.
See all articles by Bob Patterson
About the Author
Bob Patterson , the founder of the RacquetMAXX customization service, is a Master Racquet Technician with more than 20 years of experience. He was RSI's Stringer of the Year in 2005. He is Executive Director for the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association.
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