Racquet Stringing: Finding the Perfect Pair
Like a sommelier matching the right wine to your meal, you should be helping your customers pair the perfect strings in a hybrid set-up.
As racquet technicians, our job is not only about putting strings in the racquet properly. While that is certainly an important part of it, before you get to that stage you must first help your customer choose the right string for their game and style of play. It is your job to guide them to find a string set-up that will enhance their game and thus their enjoyment.
Becoming proficient at installing strings properly takes training and experience. The same is true for knowing how to help your customer choose the right string set-up. First, you have to know your stuff! You need to know how tension and string-bed deflection affect performance. And how racquet head size and string pattern contribute to the puzzle. And how the main strings and cross strings work together to produce power, control, comfort and other attributes that may be important — along with a multitude of other facts.
This knowledge base is always growing because new strings are constantly being introduced. New racquets and technologies are also being introduced. To do your job properly, you have to keep up and know what is out there and how to apply that knowledge to give your customer the very best set-up you can to improve their game.
Become a ‘string sommelier’
A wine sommelier knows all the complexities and nuances of wines. From the type of grape, to the region it was grown and the year it was produced. They also know how those subtle differences affect the taste buds and interact with the accompanying food. Pairing the right wine with the meal will make both taste better and thus be more enjoyable.
So, how do you apply your vast knowledge of strings and racquets to help your customer? You are going to have to engage them in conversation, especially if you haven’t seen them play.
Start by asking questions to determine what is important to them. What do they think they need? More spin? More power? Chances are they have something in mind, but don’t stop there. Remember, you are the expert! Apply your knowledge to what they think they need and work toward a solution.
Let’s say they want more spin. If their swing is flat, no matter what you do with the set-up, they’re not going to see a big change. You need to let them know that up front. You don’t want to set their expectations too high. Be honest and tell them what you can do with the set-up to increase spin potential, but unless they apply the correct technique in their stroke, they may not see a big change.
By asking more questions, most likely, there is some part of their game you can enhance by changing their set-up. On the other hand, if they are the local spin master, you might find that their stroke along with their string set-up may be producing too much spin, keeping their balls from penetrating deep into the court, and they could see a big improvement with less spin. It is all about information. The more information you have, the better you can apply your knowledge to help them.
There is no doubt that hybrid string set-ups are popular now. The majority of touring pros are using hybrid pairings, and TV commentators are talking about them. This provides a great opportunity for you to introduce hybrids to your customer. As a matter of fact, many may ask you about them. Clearly, there is no “one size fits all” solution, which provides a perfect opening for you as the racquet technician to establish yourself as the “string sommelier.”
Tom Parry of Pacific elaborates on the opportunity: “While those of us in the industry often cringe when hearing TV commentators incorrectly discuss pro player equipment, at least lately with their mentioning that a player is using two different strings, this has really helped to inform the viewing consumer that there are some amazing advantages available to them regarding stringing their racquet. Obviously, this makes it much easier for the local shop/stringer to really talk with their customers about the possible benefits they might receive from trying a hybrid set-up.”
By discussing the various options with your customer, not only are you informing them, you are also gaining their trust. And when they trust your advice, you will have a customer for life. Work with them to experiment with not only different strings and combinations, but also tweak the tension.
With the popularity of poly strings, hybrids of poly/gut or poly/nylon have become commonplace. But don’t get stuck in the rut of only using those combos for hybrids. Remember, it is about pairing the string with the player. You can combine any two strings in a hybrid.
A Radical Idea
According to Parry, Pacific was the first company to introduce a packaged hybrid back in 1972. Pacific Dual Gut was actually two half-sets of natural gut in two different gauges. “Details were clearly printed on the packaging to inform the stringer/consumer that the thinner string should be used in the mains for more power and the thicker string used as the main if more control and durability was desired,” says Parry.
The industry didn’t quite know what to think about this radical idea of using two different strings but the stringers embraced it, Parry notes. “We received a lot of positive feedback from stringers who said they had been doing this for years!”
During this era when natural gut was the dominant string in the marketplace and new “synthetics” were being introduced, it was common to see natural gut and synthetic hybrids. If for no other reason, the difference in price made the hybrid much cheaper and popular. That can still apply today for price-conscious customers.
The first hybrid appearing with regularity on the Pro Tours was in the early 1990s — a Kevlar main string paired with either a nylon synthetic gut or natural gut cross string. Andre Agassi used a hybrid of Ashaway Kevlar and Babolat VS for most of his career.
According to Steve Crandall of Ashaway, today most hybrids take that same form. “The evolution has been to replace the stiffer Kevlar string with poly or co-poly,” Crandall says, adding that many tour players use a natural gut as the cross string, but many opt for a soft multifilament synthetic or a Zyex polymer monofilament like Ashaway Monogut ZX. According to Crandall, “MZX is just as effective as natural gut but a third the price, and it is much smoother and more durable than natural gut, which provides better snap-back and spin characteristics.”
Stiffer Strings for Mains?
While the stiffer string in the mains and softer string in the cross is the predominant set-up for hybrids, it is certainly not the only way. Roger Federer is probably the most famous player to buck the normal trend by using natural gut in the mains and a co-poly for the crosses.
It is pretty well documented that the main strings are the driving force on play and overall string-bed stiffness. A natural gut/poly hybrid strung at 55 pounds will play and have a drastically different string-bed reading than the same racquet strung with the poly in the mains and gut in the crosses at the same tension. Remember it is not better or worse. It is just different! One may be the best for one player and the opposite may work better for someone else.
With your knowledge, take into consideration the stiffness of the strings used and adjust the tension accordingly. If your customer as been using a full racquet of a soft multifilament at 60 pounds and you suggest a poly/multifilament hybrid, you’ll need to explain why it is necessary to drop the tension a bit to get the best results.
Use All You Have
Don’t just limit yourself to packaged hybrids. Every string in your inventory should be open for consideration in a hybrid pairing. This increases your inventory selection exponentially without stocking additional strings. It also allows for much more flexibility in choosing the strings with your customer.
Utilizing the String Specification and other tools on the USRSA website (www.RacquetTech.com) will ensure that your inventory is diverse. You may want to make a list of your inventory with the stiffness index of each string to help you and your customer decide on the best combination to try.
Make sure to follow up with customers trying a new set-up. Is it achieving the desired goal? Could it be better? Work with them to tweak the set-up until it is dialed in. They will appreciate your attention to detail and concern for their game. It will also add to your knowledge base as to what string combos work best together and at what tensions.
With the “laboratory analysis” of our string data available on the USRSA website tools and your applied knowledge of “real-world” results, your knowledge base will continue to grow as you assist more customers.
As your reputation as the “string sommelier” grows, so will your customer base and your bottom line.
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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