How did you select the string you currently use and is it right for you?Tim Strawn
Tennis is a mystery at times. For instance, what string and at what tension would be best for your game? Why, pray tell, is this such a hard question to answer? Well, to start with, there are an astonishing number of strings on the market today, enough to make your head spin. However, there’s a simple way to narrow this down. I’ll address that in just a minute. To complicate things further, the marketing used by the various companies to promote their strings is often misleading plus, the plethora of information accessible by anyone on the Internet is suspect, to say the least. That’s just the string choice we’re talking about and we’ve not even started with what tension to use which brings me to the point of this article.
Choosing the right string is a multi-faceted process that revolves around your level and style of play. That starts with the racquet and that selection would be made taking into consideration what I just mentioned; your style of play and your level of play. Once you’ve nailed that down then it’s time to think about string and tension so let’s look at the suggestion I made about narrowing your choices. I mentioned there are an astonishing number of strings on the market BUT, all of them fall into 5 basic string types. They are:
- Nylon – often referred to as synthetic gut
- Natural gut
- Kevlar –
- PEEK – Ashaway’s MonoGut is a great example
Of those 5 string types, nylon constitutes the lion’s share of the recreational market. Standard synthetic gut and softer multi-filaments fall into this category. Natural gut was once the king of all strings and it’s still a great choice for recreational players looking to add a softer feel and additional power to their game. Today’s pros are still using it but more often as part of a hybrid set-up. Polyester has gained ground in recent years because many touring pros use it. It offers a more muted response and allows touring professionals to take a big swing at the ball. This string type is quite stiff and today many manufacturers have turned to the production of co-polys, a softer version of the original polys we first came to know. Kevlar was initially used by frequent string breakers and although it’s soft to the touch, it’s quite stiff at impact with the ball, loses tension rapidly, and becomes very sloppy in the racquet. PEEK strings give the best of both worlds with tremendous elongation and great snapback for additional rotation on the ball. Strings like Ashaway’s MonoGut ZX, a PEEK string, are also more durable than standard synthetic gut strings.
So let’s look at a typical example of a player and what string and tension they might benefit from.
Mary is 40 years old, addicted to tennis, plays 6 times a week, and averages 2 hours of play each time. She’s using a 110-square-inch racquet with a standard 16 x 19 stringing pattern. Now, what string and tension should we recommend for her? Ahh not so fast there. Have we covered everything? No, Mary needs to answer a few more questions like what’s her playing level, does she play doubles, singles, or both. It’s also important to find out if she’s ever had any arm issues like tennis elbow, rotator cuff, or wrist problems. So let’s say Mary never plays doubles and she’s a die-hard singles lady. We need to know if she’s permanently stuck on the baseline, if she’s an aggressive serve & volley type or maybe she’s a mixture of both. Mary says she’s more comfortable at the baseline, has an NTRP rating of 4.0, she’s not a string breaker and although she’s not had any serious arm injuries that required surgery, she’s had some issues with elbow pain recently.
Now, we’re ready to talk about string and tension selection so let’s take a look. Of primary concern is that Mary plays 6 times a week and that’s a lot of tennis for a recreational player. She’s having some elbow issues so we would be well advised to remove traditional poly (even if strung at lower tensions) and Kevlar from our list. We can look at Mary’s current string and in this case, she’s been using a relatively inexpensive standard synthetic gut string. I would ask how long she’s used that particular type of string and if she knows when it was last strung and at what tension. I’d also ask if she’s ever tried any other types of strings and typically when I ask that question, the answer is no, and in this case, that’s exactly what Mary says. Tennis players are creatures of habit in many ways and they can be quite reluctant to change their racquet set-up so her answer comes as no surprise. She’s always strung her racquet at 60 pounds and has also never veered away from that tension. So, my next question is if she feels like she’s putting enough pressure on her opponent from the baseline, and if she answers no, that gives me a good indication that her shots lack depth and she’s working too hard to get good penetration into the court.
At this point I feel confident in recommending something like Ashaway’s MonoGut ZX or a nice natural gut if she’s willing to absorb the additional cost, Typical cost for the MonoGut is around $45 and for the natural gut, she’ll be in the $65-$70 range. Both strings will give her additional power with little effort due to the higher elongation of each one, thus absorbing more energy from the ball at impact and returning that energy back into the shot. Each is a good choice for any player who has arm or elbow issues so that’s addressed too.
Finally, we get to the tension. Going to the court to watch Mary hit a variety of shots would be ideal but in the real world, it doesn’t always work out that way. So, I’ll need to question her about her strokes, especially those from the baseline since that’s where she likes to hang out. Are they long and loopy with an exaggerated follow-through or short and very compact? If they’re the former I’ll use a slightly higher tension to maximize her control and if they’re the latter, I’ll reduce the tension to increase the trampolining effect of the racquet to maximize the depth of the ball.
As you can see, string and tension selection is a calculated process and not a guessing game. It’s always best to seek out and use a professional stringer when making these choices so you’re not simply guessing. Guessing will only complicate matters, extend the process and increase the cost of finding the right string and tension for your game. You can go to our list of tennis shops in your area HERE and check out your options. The shops and individuals listed there are all IART members, well-trained, and certainly capable of walking you through the steps of improving your set-up (racquet, string & tension). If you want to increase your enjoyment on the court, enhance your racquet and string set-up to take your game to the next level.
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