Re-stringing a racquet shouldn't be a complicated process and yet, for the average player, this is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the game of tennis. Think not? If I were to ask 10 different players, any age and any level, when should you restring your racquet do you think all of them are going to give me the same answer? Not on your life. You may say "Well Tim, you can apply that to almost any question" to which I might reply "Is a fire truck red"? You see, that's a visual thing and everyone who looks, with the exception of someone who might be color blind, will give you the same answer. But determining when to restring your racquet is a much more complicated question to answer. Yes it can be visual but in reality, there's much more than a visual aspect that has to be considered.
For such a very long time, people within the racquet sports industry have been trying to answer this question. However, I would pose that perhaps, in order to answer that question, maybe we need to dig deeper. Let's start by recognizing we're in the 21st century, not the 20th. Many things have changed like how players are hitting the ball, racquets, in particular, head sizes, the equipment being used to string the racquet and hey, has anyone else noticed all the new generation strings available these days? We're so far beyond 60 pounds and standard nylon it's almost comical so why, why on earth do we remain in the 20th century when trying to answer this question?
Let's start by peeling back the layers and reexamining this topic. Considering the aforementioned, there are two major points that need to be a part of this conversation.
#1) The hidden question
First of all, there's the elephant in the room, a more penetrating question that seems to have escaped us all in this conversation. I believe it's a question that's always been there but remained tucked away, hidden in the shadows. Stay with me here. How many of you have ever heard the following comment? String your racquet as many times per year as you play in one week. For example, if you play twice a week then you should restring every six months. Ok, if that's the case, it's definitely time to bring that hidden question out of the shadows. Are we all clones of one another? Think about this for just a second. Do we all look exactly the same and are our physical attributes identical? Do we play the same length of time each time we play and do we all hit the ball exactly the same? If so, then the question of how often to restring is easily answered and we can apply the guideline of decades ago to every player. However, we all know we're not the same don't we? We're all different and therefore, using one approach to address every single player is not the answer.
We need to be more proactive in educating our players. There are certain scenarios that the technician has absolutely no control over and this is where having a more comprehensive understanding of your profession can play a key role. For instance, you cannot control how many mishits your player is prone to and since mishits can often snap a string on the spot, your player needs to understand this dynamic. Educate them. Take photos of obvious mishit string breaks and keep them within reach so you can use them when talking to your player. People are visual and photos of mishit breaks will be extremely helpful. You, as the technician, need to broaden your knowledge of string so you can address this issue for your players. Softer strings tend to hold up much better to mishits than those with a high dynamic stiffness. Technicians also have no control over how players take care of their racquets. If your player subjects their racquet to extreme temperatures this is going to have an adverse affect on the string. Educate them about proper racquet care
So now that we're up to speed let's see if we can tackle that age old question with a new and innovative approach that's more in tune with the times.
Initial Player Assessment
Since we know we're not all the same, that, in and of itself, dictates a new approach. A process that begins with the realization that every single player deserves individual attention and at the very least, a basic assessment by the tech servicing the racquet that includes the following:
- Physical attributes of the player
- Frequency of play - defined as how many times per week AND how many hours the player plays each time
- Style of play - baseline, all court or serve/volley and how much or how little topspin or slice is in your game
- String pattern of racquet i.e.; 16x19, 18x20, 16x15 etc
- Type and gauge of string used i.e; nylon, natural gut, polyester and Kevlar
- Tension maintenance of string used
- Care of the racquet
#1 Physical attributes
- The difference between a player who is 6'2" tall, weighs 215 pounds and is 22 years old as opposed to a player who is 5'6" tall, weighs 160 pounds and is 60 years old.
- A junior player who is 13 and of normal size and weight as opposed to a child who is 13, is 3" taller and weighs 20 pounds more than his/her peers. The first player is advanced and is involved in a high level training camp and the second player plays twice a week, one of which is an hour lesson with their teaching pro
- A touring professional and ANY adult recreational player
Now you begin to see why the physical attributes of a player are never to be overlooked. Everyone is unique and physical size should always be considered an important factor
#2 Frequency of play
- Playing hit & giggle doubles once a week for 90 minutes as opposed to advanced doubles for 90 minutes
- Playing 2 hours of pitter-patter push ball as opposed to 90 minutes of aggressive singles
- Recognizing that a player that says they play twice a week may play on Wednesday for 2 hours and all day on Saturday for 8 hours. The average player plays 2 hours per week so this person is playing 5 times as much
#3 Style of play
- A player who hits everything flat, creating no spin at all as opposed to a player who hits with excessive topspin and slice
- A baseline player that might hit 10 balls to end a point as opposed to a serve-volley player who may only hit 2 balls to end a point
- The dinker who has never broken a string in their life as opposed to the basher who hits everything 90 miles per hour
#4 String pattern of racquet
- Is the pattern more open (16x15), average (16x19) or very tight (18x20)
- String pattern will affect string movement, string movement creates notching and premature breaks
#5 Type of string used
- Strings like polyester and Kevlar are going to be far more durable than standard nylons or natural gut
- Heavier gauge strings i.e.; 15 vs 16, 17 or 18 will be expected to last longer due to the additional thickness of the string
- Hybrid stringing will be a factor depending on what the setup is i.e.; more durable string in mains and softer string in crosses or visa versa
#6 Tension maintenance of string
- Tension maintenance is how well a string retains it's original tension once installed in the racquet
- All strings lose tension at different rates, thus, adversely affecting racquet performance
- String construction will affect tension maintenance
- String material will affect tension maintenance
Once you have all of this information about your player, you're now armed with the tools you need to first select the string and tension and then monitor the racquets performance as it pertains to restringing. What's next? Probably the most important question in this entire scenario. Most players have their own idea of how long a string should last so you need to ask the following question:
What can you live with? If you don't establish this baseline with your client neither one of you are going to know what to expect from the other. What are your player's personal expectations regarding their string? Some prefer feel and comfort over durability and if that's the case, explain to them that they're going to sacrifice durability. Some will expect a string to last for 4 years and if so, explain that you can give them a more durable string (think Kevlar) but it's going to play entirely different than their soft synthetic that they've been used to. Whatever you do, find out what they're expecting to make sure that it's not unrealistic.
Stringing software that provides a section for notes and ALL pertinent information about the racquet, string used, tension selected and date the racquet was strung.
When should you restring your racquet? The answer will vary for each and every person who trusts you to service their racquet. There is NO one answer that works for every single player.
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