Let’s talk about spin

topspin-racquet

TAD Davis Topspin racquet

Having been in this industry for over 25 years I've heard a variety of marketing campaigns on just about everything when it comes to tennis, tennis racquets, and strings & stringing. Back when I was just a player and knew very little about anything except just the act of playing the game, I can remember seeing the TAD Davis "Topspin" racquet that had a diagonal stringing pattern that was marketed as providing more spin. Of course, I had to have one and it turned out to be the second racquet I ever owned. Needless to say, it didn't turn me into a topspin "master" but it was a pretty cool racquet to have just the same.

Prince Topspin string

Prince Topspin string

The next encounter I had with spin was the introduction of Prince Topspin string. It was a solid core nylon string with two raised fibers on the outer core of the string that gave it a somewhat rough texture. Again, I had the same result with the string as I had with the racquet and it took me quite some time to figure out just why I wasn't getting that extra spin from the racquet or the string. So what in the world was the problem? As time passed and my game improved I started to study the intracacies of tennis and it didn't take long before I had a clear understanding

Wilson Profile racquet

Wilson Profile racquet

of many things, not just spin. I learned about weight and balance and how those two things could contribute immensely to adding power to your game. I learned about beam width of a tennis racquet and how, when applied to the correct location of the racquet, it could make that racquet very stiff and in turn, increase power. The Wilson Profile was a game changer in tennis when it came to power and the stiffness rating of that frame was off the charts. The beam just above the yoke of the frame was so wide it made it one of the stiffest racquets ever to be introduced to the sport and it remains so to this very day. If you look at the photo on the right you can see it being compared to a Gamma frame and you can clearly see the difference. But let's get back to spin?

Everyone can use more spin in their game, everyone. Unfortunately, that's not what the average player asks for. Invariably, they all want power but the problem with that is that if they had it, they wouldn't be able to control it without adding one very important aspect to compliment their newfound power and that's spin. Think about that for a moment. How many hackers have you seen out on the court who can absolutely pummel the ball? But if you think real hard you'll also remember that those players you see taking big whacks at the ball are pasting the back fence with it. They can't keep it in the court because they haven't mastered the art of spin. Spin is what gives the ball that "up and down" effect but as an avid tennis player what you need to know it how to create spin and that's where the game has evolved somewhat over the years. Consider the following things that can actually increase spin in your game:

  • a high to low swing to produce slice or backspin
  • a low to high swing to produce topspin
  • an open string pattern
  • weight - yeah that's right - weight
  • polyester string
  • a textured string

Let's look at each one of the above and break them down a bit.

  • The way you swing a racquet is the ultimate factor on how much spin is created on the ball. This is the only thing in the list above that will create spin no matter what string is used, what racquet is used, the weight of the racquet or the type of string used. Further to this point, the racquet head speed produced can greatly enhance the spin created with a low to high or high to low stroke.
  • Wilson Spin racquet

    Wilson Spin racquet

    Open string patterns found their niche in the sport in the last couple of years. This concept is all about changing the string pattern (number of main strings & cross strings) to allow the ball to imbed itself further into the strings and thus, allowing it to stay on the strings milliseconds longer. A more traditional stringing pattern will have 16 main (vertical) strings and 19 cross (horizontal) strings. A typical spin racquet will have something like a 16x15 string pattern which significantly increases the spacing in the racquet as you can see in the photo at right.  Couple that with a low to high or high to low swing and you're going to see a noticeable difference in the amount of spin created. BUT, remember, it's all about how you swing the racquet. If your swing is straight back and straight forward (flat), the amount of spin is going to be negligible regardless of all other factors. For a great video on Wilson Spin technology go HERENotice that while the Wilson video states that no matter what your stroke you can add more spin, all of the video examples they show are of players hitting topspin strokes using a pronounced low to high swing with lots of racquet head speed.

  • The weight of a racquet can make a huge difference in a player's game. Remember how opponents used to talk about how heavy Pete Sampras' ball was? Pete was using a racquet that weighed upwards of 13 ounces, a monster weight by anyone's standard and that weight contributed significantly to the pace and spin of Pete's ball.
  • Polyester string is, IMHO, one of the most misunderstood phenomena's in the game today. Does poly string create spin? No. What it does is add to the amount of spin a player can create by doing two things; #1 -  snapback and this happens when the player generates extreme racquet head speed. It's more pronounced on a topspin shot but the same thing occurs with a heavy slice. The strings actually move during the stroke and when really fast racquet head speed is generated, the string moves even more and snaps back into place creating additional rotation on the ball. HOWEVER, the point that is often overlooked in this conversation is a very important one. The average player does not have the capability to produce the kind of racquet head speed required to take full advantage of polyester string. While we see tour players like Rafa Nadal who possess the talent and physical attributes to generate such racquet head speed, we mortals fall far short of being able to do the same thing. #2 - Polyester string, at least the older generations, are extremely stiff. They negate the traditional effects of standard nylon strings that, at ball impact, elongate (stretch) and the more they stretch, the more energy they absorb from ball contact. Conversely, when the string rebounds it returns that energy to the ball and that energy transfer results in additional power to the stroke. Now, since polyester does not stretch, it provides the perfect vehicle for a player like Nadal to take an exceptionally big swing at the ball, producing that incredible "up and down" effect that you so often hear TV announcers talking about. Nadal's topspin forehand for example, now becomes a lethal weapon because the poly string gives him maximum snap back, his pronounced topspin stroke puts extreme spin on the ball AND the fact that the poly string does not stretch and absorb energy allows him to keep the ball in the court. So, does poly string enhance spin? Of course but only if you have the skills to take advantage of it.
  • Textured string does not, in and of itself, generate spin. At best, it may add a small percentage of additional spin to the ball but ONLY if the player is using a low to high (topspin) or high to low (slice) stroke. If that player is taking the racquet straight back and straight forward (flat stroke) a textured string is no more effective in generating spin than any other string.

So there you have it. My take on spin and what you need to know as a player to add more spin to your game. Now, put on your best Rafa outfit, grab your Rafa racquet and head to the court to see it you can add more spin to your shots. Be careful now - don't smack yourself in the head with all that new racquet head speed you're trying to create!

 

Written by Tim Strawn

Owner, IART

Comments

  1. Yes, Tim, I learned a rude lesson at the Symposium a couple of years back: no matter what racquet I used during the Trackman demo, my spin rate remained at its same measly 1200 rpm. Flat grips and flat swing planes produce — guess what?– a flat shot.

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