Recreational players & string choice – Part 3 – Why change?

It's always about choice

Can we agree on one thing? Far too many players rely on the person stringing the racquet to choose the string and tension and that's ok IF that person has been properly trained. Unfortunately, from my experience of 10 years presenting the IART symposiums, I found that the majority of those people have no real formal training in racquet service. Further to that point, they also had very little understanding of the different "types" of string. One of the most common comments I received from attendees was "I've been stringing for a very long time and I had no idea there was so much I had to learn. This has been a real eye-opener for me".

An understanding of string is at the heart of what a racquet technician does. That's precisely why we've presented a class on this multiple times at IART symposiums. If you think of the racquet as the car then it stands to reason that the string is the engine. Another analogy would be putting small 13 inch tires on a high-performance Porsche or Ferrari and then expecting that car to perform at full potential, taking corners like a real champion and grabbing the road like there's no tomorrow. It's just not going to happen until you take those 13-inch tires off and install a set of high-performance tires that are properly matched to the car's capability. The same applies when it comes to racquets. The racquet is the car and the string is the engine or the tires. The trick here is knowing what string to choose and that comes via a process of interacting with the player and getting all of the details before we select a string. The best way to do this is to actually watch the player on the court but that's not always possible. For most of us, it's a "sit down" conversation and often that's enough to get the data we need. So let's talk about why players often ask for a change. Remember, the primary function of the racquet technician is to assess the players game, taking into consideration the racquet being used and the style and level of play on the court. Consider the following examples and probable solutions:

Example 1: I recently had a player who was complaining about his drop shots at the net and wanted a string/tension change to address this. Question--What about the rest of your game and how is your current string set-up working for that? How is your serve, overhead, groundstrokes, the return of serve and volleys? His response "All of that is working just fine. In fact, I love this set-up you recommended and what it's done for my game". Think outside the box - How about a recommendation that he schedule a visit with a teaching pro for some lessons on drop shots? Get a full assessment on drop-shot technique before making any kind of change. After all, if it's not broken don't fix it right and why would you make a string/tension change to address one shot when everything else is working just fine? Also, in this case, the drop shot is not a shot that's hit that often anyway so IMHO it's not worth a change that will affect everything else.

POWER - no one can get enough of it

Example 2: Players & power. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to install a string that will give a player more power. Granted, there are strings that by their very nature, can increase the power in your shots and natural gut is a prime example. Don't overlook the obvious - If I install natural gut does the player have the skills to control it? Think about that question for a minute. No matter what level of player you are, what is the natural response when you want to increase power? The mind tells to swing the racquet harder right? It seems that EVERYONE wants more power in their game but the real issue here is why. Why do players think that adding power to their game is the answer? Most likely it's because they see the professionals knocking the crap out of the ball and they want to emulate that. Is there a better solution?  I would ask if they've ever had anyone chart one of their matches? At the end of match play, check to see how many points they've won by overpowering their opponent. How many outright winners did they hit? Now, compare that to how many points they won by consistently keeping the ball in play and giving their opponent one more chance to make an error. You're going to find that consistency and control win out EVERY single time. Power is something they should worry about once they've mastered consistency and control. There's a proper time for it and it's not when they're still playing at the lower levels of the game.

Spin - everyone wants more of it

Example 3: Players and spin. Now we're talking about something that can truly enhance your game because spin leads to control. However, beware of one very important thing. A string can only increase spin marginally and I'm talking about the textured strings that are very prevalent in today's game. The additional spin generated from textured strings is minimal and that's ONLY if the player has well-refined strokes for topspin and slice.  capable of swinging the racquet in a low-to-high motion to create that topspin? Does the level of your game allow for that? A simple explanation--the player is not going to create spin just because they have a textured string in the racquet. Once again a visit to the teaching pro might be in order. You're going to hear a lot from the manufacturers about textured strings and how they create spin.  The marketing techniques used for these types of strings are all over the place with slogans like "add more slice to your game" or "improve your topspin" etc. The truth here is that until you learn to swing the racquet the right way none of that's going to happen. Don't blame the manufacturers. It's their job to sell strings. It's the racquet technicians job to work through the process to determine what's best for any given situation.

but are you listening to me?

I see you.....








Example 4: Durability is often the subject of the conversation when discussing what string to use. Why? Suffice to say that the majority of players are not changing their string often enough. Too many feel that if it's not broken then it must be ok and the longer the string lasts, the happier they are. I often get feedback from a player who has had his/her racquet freshly strung and they are shouting to the rooftops as to how great the racquet is playing. They just can't believe that they waited this long to get new strings and that those new strings have made such a huge difference! This is without a doubt one of the most difficult things to get across to players. Understand this becasue it's very important. Players who ask for durability and great playability are asking for nothing less than the holy grail of string and unfortunately, that's not been invented yet. We can give you durable. Oh boy, we can give you durable. But there's a high probability that you're not going to like the way it feels. We can give you playability but chances are, you're not going to be happy with the price or how long the string will last. The missing question - Unfortunately, this one question is rarely asked and it's a very important one. What can you live with? What are you willing to accept in terms of how often you have to re-string your racquet? Once this benchmark is established a racquet technician has a baseline from which to work and string choices are much easier. If the player wants maximum playability they need to understand that strings that provide this are typically not the most durable strings in the technicians arsenal. The reverse is true for durability. The more durable the string, the less feel it has and the comfort from that string is minimal. There are strings for every situation and working with a qualified technician can go a long way in helping the player find the right string for their individual game.

So, if a player is asking for a string/tension change they can expect that a qualified technician is going to ask a few questions because, in reality, many players really don't know exactly what it is they want. A competent racquet technician can take the guesswork out of the process just by asking a few questions. From there it's a matter of patience and proper feedback and that, my friends, is a winning combination.

See part 1 HERE
See part 2 HERE



Written by Tim Strawn

Executive Director, IART

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