The only string you’ll ever need…….Tim Strawn
One of the things we try to address here at IART is helping the average player with racquet, string & tension selection. In fact, during our redesign of the website in 2021, we added a Q&A specifically for consumers and you can find that at www.gssalliance.com HERE The biggest misperception we encounter is players thinking that using the same racquet or string that the pros use is going to help them play like the pros. Unfortunately, the facts don’t bear this out because, in reality, average players do not hit like the pros. Let’s take a look at a few of the things that can help you in this area and we’ll focus primarily on string and string selection.
It’s not unusual for us to hear the following when we ask players what they’re looking for in a string.
Well, I’d like to have something that lasts a long time. I want a string that gives me a lot of spin because I see Rafa using spin and well, you know, he’s pretty good, right? Also, I’ve read a lot online about strings and spin recently so it looks like there are a lot of string choices out there that can add spin to my game. Plus, I heard this guy on TV talking about the “new strings” that create a lot of that “up and down” effect for the pros and that sounds great to me. Most of all, I’d just like to get something that’s relatively cheap, is easy on my arm, gives me lots of spin and power, and lasts a long time. Yeah, that’s pretty much where I’m at so what do you have that fits that description?
In essence, this player has just asked for the holy grail of strings and sadly, that string simply does not exist. There are literally hundreds of strings on the market today but what’s critically important for the average player to understand is that all of those strings fall into one of 6 string types. Most strings are nylon-based and this would cover the standard synthetics like Prince synthetic gut etc. Included in the nylon category would also be the multifilaments like Wilson Sensation and NXT or some of the more complex multi’s available. Natural gut, polyester, Kevlar™, and PEEK (Ashaway’s Zyex based MonoGut) round out the types of strings available.
Without getting too far into the weeds here I think it’s important to point out a few things that often get overlooked or just not explained properly to players when they’re looking for help in choosing a string. This boils down to two main characteristics; playability and durability so let’s explore those two characteristics and see what affects both.
String gauge will affect durability. A heavier 15 gauge string will last longer than a thinner 17 gauge string. Technically, the gauge of a string refers to its circumference (photo right) and is the perimeter of a circle or ellipse. Therefore, the string with the largest diameter is going to be more durable than the string with a smaller diameter. While a thicker gauge string, in theory, will last longer, it will have reduced playing characteristics. In summary, the string gauge will be a deciding factor in the string’s durability as well as its playability.
The racquet string pattern refers to the number of main strings (vertical) and the number of cross strings (horizontal) in the racquet. This will have a definite effect on the durability of your strings. When racquet string patterns are displayed, they will always show the main strings first so a pattern listed as 18×20 means there are 18 main strings and 20 cross strings. An 18×20 pattern is considered a dense or tight string pattern whereas a more common 16×19 pattern would be considered to be more open. Recently, Wilson introduced spin effect technology racquets to the market and you can see a nice video about this by checking out the video below
This technology offers very “open” patterns like 16×15 and this will have a huge impact on string durability because they allow maximum string movement and tremendous snapback at ball impact. This means that the square holes formed in the stringing pattern are much larger than the holes in a more traditional stringing pattern. This allows the ball to embed itself much deeper into the strings at impact and to stay on the racquet face milliseconds longer. String movement creates friction between the mains and cross strings and that friction will cause the strings to notch and break prematurely. This is, IMHO, very important for parents to take note of because their junior players will convince them that they need a spin racquet. The hidden danger here is that the kids aren’t paying for the string and spin racquets will need to be restrung far more frequently than a racquet with a more standard 16×19 string pattern. Take a look at the difference between a Wilson Spin effect racquet (on the right) and a racquet with a normal stringing pattern (on the left). Check out the video below and you can see there’s a tremendous difference.
String type will dictate durability as well. First-generation polyester strings are extremely durable but they are also very stiff so there’s a trade-off there for anyone with shoulder, elbow, or wrist issues. Today we are seeing co-polys that are much softer than first-generation polys and these add an element of durability not found in standard synthetic gut strings. Co-polys are much softer so they are a great substitute for a player who is breaking standard nylon strings frequently. If you would like to try a polyester string ask your retailer if they offer a choice between the two. For maximum playability, there’s no substitute for natural gut strings. Not only are the playing characteristics unmatched, but natural gut has superior tension maintenance so your strings stay lively and play better over a longer period of time. Kevlar™ is one of the, if not the most durable strings available. Kevlar™ is what bulletproof vests are made of so that should give you a pretty good idea of the strength of the material. The down side of Kevlar is that once it starts to lose tension it moves around a lot and the stringbed gets very sloppy. Ashaway’s MonoGut ZX Pro (PEEK) string is the closest you’ll get to the best of both worlds when it comes to playability and durability. The string has exceptional elongation (stretch at impact) and the snapback effect is very similar to polyester.
This is the elephant in the room so let’s just get this one out into the open. Strings do not produce spin. Let me repeat that. Strings do not produce spin. Strings can enhance spin but only when they are combined with proper stroke technique. If you have a straight-back, straight-forward motion with the racquet you will not produce spin, no matter what string you’re using. The primary driver of topspin is a low-to-high upward motion, brushing up on the backside of the ball. Conversely, a slice or backspin is created by a high-to-low motion through the ball. By adding a textured string (see photo at right) you can add an additional percentage to the spin you create. That percentage will be directly related to the construction and type of the string. Looking at the photo from left to right, the second string has a raised fiber on the outer core that allows for more bite on the ball. The string to the far right in the photo is a pentahedra shape (5 sides) and this will also enhance spin. There are several variations of shaped strings available and the best advice I can offer when choosing these types of strings is to be careful using them in a hybrid configuration. Oftentimes, hybrids consist of a softer string in the mains and a stiffer poly in the crosses. When a textured string is used in the crosses, this can wreak havoc on the softer main strings and cause premature breakage. If you choose a textured string you would be well advised to use it in the entire string bed. Once again…strings do not create spin!
THE UP & DOWN FACTOR
I always get a chuckle when I hear this while watching a tennis match on television. Yes, the pros create a tremendous up-and-down effect on the ball that brings it down into the court but there’s one big difference here that is never pointed out. These are professional players who create a tremendous amount of racquet head speed when striking a ball. Mere mortals like the rest of us simply do not strike the ball the same way and therefore, our “up and down” is minimal at best.
That up & down factor can also be enhanced by the type of string being used. Polyester has an uncanny ability to “snap back” at ball impact. That’s why you see very little string misalignment after play. Although the string moves, it snaps back into position after impact. That snapback adds another dimension to the amount of spin that’s created from the stroke. Combine racquet head speed with snapback and voila, you get spin, a lot of spin!
It’s no secret that most recreational players want more power in their game. They watch the pros and see how hard they hit the ball and that leaves a lasting impression. Unfortunately, the harder the average player tries to hit the ball the more they struggle to keep the ball in the court. The secret here is to have a good balance of power combined with spin and in turn, the end result is more control. This will take some time and experimentation for each individual to hone their stroking technique. So where does the power come from as it relates to strings? The one-word answer is elongation, meaning that at impact, the string stretches (elongates) and as it stretches, it absorbs energy from the ball. On the rebound, the energy stored in the string is transferred back to the ball and voila, there’s your power. When we test strings here at IART we get a numeric figure that relates to how much the string actually elongates when pulled at a set reference tension. The higher the number, the more the string has stretched during our test. Also, those strings that stretch a lot are always softer strings that are arm friendly.
There is no holy grail of strings however, there are strings out there that can greatly enhance your game. The key is to find a professional racquet technician that can guide you through the process of finding the perfect combination for your playing style and level of play. The right racquet, coupled with the right string and tension is exactly what you need, and to find a qualified racquet technician you can go to www.gssalliance.com HERE to the IART database listing of members in your area. Just enter the name of your city and if we have a member in your area who has chosen to add their business to our database they should pop up in your search.
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I remember when Wilson brough ta Trackman out to one of the IART Symposiums so we could see how their Spin Effect frames would increase our spin rates.
Well, my little Eastern grip forehand had NO spin increase no matter what racquet I used.
You are right, Tim: a flat grip produces a flat swing path which produces a flat ball. No racquet, string or string pattern will change that. I answer this question virtually every day.