Tennis Strings: So Many Choices!
I would love to make this simple for us all, and I will try my best to do just that. To begin, your racquet was expensive, and you want to get the most out of it. That means, obviously, that you’ll need nothing but the best in strings. However, I dare you to find out for yourself what the best string is. There are quite literally dozens of brands and hundreds of strings to choose from and none of them dominate the marketplace. Good luck trying them all out. And, if there are 16 courts at your club and everyone there is playing singles, you will undoubtedly, if you were to ask, find 32 players with 32 different string configurations – all insisting that they have done all the necessary investigations and found that their choice in strings is fantastic. The stringing of your racquet and what string you use is, above all, a perception game, folks. Yes, there are differences, but let’s be honest for a moment. You aren’t Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, and neither am I. Finding a string that falls roughly into our playing parameters is going to work out just fine. With such a huge selection of materials and options, I am going to narrow it down to the bare bones of what works and what you need to know. If you’re the sort of person who wants to torture yourself with tedious research and investigation of every possible angle I suggest visiting stringforum.net.
THE MATERIAL: It Makes a Big Difference (These are generalizations. Some multi-filaments are tougher than others; some polys are less stiff, etc… .)
COMFORT: Say you’re a person who has elbow problems. You want something comfortable, right? A multi-filament string is for you! You want something that absorbs shock, and multi-filaments are designed to approximate (as much as is possible) the feel of natural gut string (which, while quite comfortable, most people don’t buy because it is ridiculously expensive). A couple choices for very good, arm friendly multi-filaments are Babolat Xcel and Technifibre NRG2.
DURABILITY: Perhaps you’re the sort of person who hits with heavy topspin and you find yourself breaking lots of strings. A durable mono-filament string is for you! These days most mono-filaments are polyester. Even the thinnest gauges (1.10mm) of these strings last much longer than the toughest multi-filaments. In addition to being durable these strings offer a unique feel that many players actually prefer to other materials. The trade-off with a polyester string, though, is that they are stiff – very stiff, and they don’t absorb shock well. If you have arm problems you should use caution with a polyester string. A much lower tension would be in order. Some good choices in polyester strings are MSV Focus Hex and Prince Beast.
CHEAP: Now, to the truth of the matter. Synthetic gut string is cheap, and it is a perfectly acceptable string choice. Sure, your friends might turn up their noses at your pedestrian string job, but how would they know if you don’t tell them? In any case, a synthetic gut might be just the thing for you regardless of cost. They aren’t the sorts of strings that are particularly arm friendly, or durable, or spin friendly. They are simultaneously everything – and nothing. They are designed to be solid, all-round strings. They do the job, and sometimes that’s all we want. I’ve used Gosen OG-Sheep 16 and I liked it.
HYBRID: This is what I do to my racquets. I use a polyester string in the mains (the strings that run the length of your racquet) and multi-filament in the crosses. In this way I can get a bit of comfort and just a little more durability. It has become a popular configuration among players, and I can see why. You can ask your stringer for some suggestions on cross and main choices. A competent stringer will be happy to spend the time answering these questions for you and helping you to choose.
TENSION: The tension of the strings refers to how tight the strings in the string-bed have been threaded. Each string, upon being fed through a grommet and wound around a tensioner in the stringing machine, gets tensioned individually. Tension can range, depending on the racquet, between 50 lbs and 65 lbs. Bjorn Borg used to string his wooden racquet at 85 lbs — which often resulted in spontaneously imploding wooden frames. He had some peculiar ways about him. I suggest sticking to the manufacturer suggestions. The more tension you use, the less time the ball stays on the string bed at contact. This means less power but more control. The opposite is true for lower tension, more power and less control (generally speaking).
I have tried dozens of combinations of strings and tensions and I have arrived at the conclusion that, on my racquet, 55 lbs in the mains (polyester) and 58 lbs for the crosses (multi-filament) works fine. But, is this the only tension that would work for me? If I’m going to be honest, I have to admit that I could make do with anything that falls into a certain range. I am not Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer. I don’t need perfection, I need approximations. I suspect you are the same.
Now, I have to take a breath and issue myself a reality check. Tennis players like to think of their racquets in the same way a soldier thinks of his weapons. If you only had one implement to take into battle with you, and success or failure depended on the reliability of said weapon, wouldn’t you obsess about it a little, too? That’s the bottom line about string tension and string brands. One brand might be just as good as another, one multi-filament might work just as well as any other multi-filament, but when we find something that works reliably for us we will naturally insist it’s the best and that no other could possibly measure up. It isn’t true but, when consistency is the name of the game, that mentality follows in every facet of the game, on and off the court. Try a few configurations. When you stumble upon something that works I suggest sticking with it. It will save you the aggravation of paining yourself with indecision the next time you are asked by your stringer “So, what can I do for you today?”