New Rackets or New Strings?
Having chatted with a few players, coaches and fellow stringers over the last few months, there seems to be a growing trend… Racket sales are declining and restringing is increasing. Speaking with head ERSA Squash Stringer, Nick Down, following the ERSA symposium in April, this subject was brought up and discussed at length. There will be a few theories as to why, but I'd suggest the main reason is probably down to education. The ERSA is working hard to equip their stringers with the tools to provide a complete advisory service to their customers.
When a player gives his/her racket to a competent (preferably professionally qualified) stringer, the stringer should be able to find a string and tension to help the player play beyond the limits of the original factory set up. My mantra is that the strings in the racket are just as important as the racket itself. With this in mind, I think players now view rackets for what they are, frames for the important stuff (ahem), the strings, to sit in. Good players hit the ball with their strings, not the frame ;-)
Squash is perhaps an exception to Tennis, in that squash rackets are far more likely to break and get damaged prematurely due to the nature of the game – in which case, new rackets will be essential. It is interesting to see how many players I string for have had the same rackets for 2+ years, though. Quite often they’d sooner try a new type of string or tension than buy a new racket.
Rackets can be customised to play completely differently to the spec they arrived in. More accomplished Tennis players will often buy frames without strings and get their stringer to weigh them, re-balance them and string them to meet their expectations and match their other rackets. Even grip sizes can be changed – lengthened, widened etc. There are many tennis players who play the majority of their careers using the same frame – just painted a different colour to match the latest models on general release to the public. In fact, Agassi’s Donnay that he used in the late 80’s and early 90’s was actually a repainted version of his old Prince!
Customising of squash rackets is slightly less common, aside from a few pros who will re-balance rackets for consistency – stringers will use a mixture of special lead tape for the frame and resins/other materials inside the handle. Squash pros may also remove or trim down bumper strips – saving weight and allowing the racket to glide across the walls quicker on tight shots, though this doesn't tend to transfer below the pro ranks to any great extent. In fact, the practice of removing bumpers by pros led to my own sponsor and top squash company, Eye Rackets, to develop their rackets without the use of bumper strips, using Eyelets instead. Aside from a bit of paint wear, I’ve not seen any increase in frame breakage.
So, before you think about buying a new racket, think about why you’re buying the new racket in the first place. If it’s just because you want the latest shiny model or feel that the frame you’re currently using is totally inadequate, then fine – otherwise, chat to your stringer about how you’d like to play. There’s a lot that can to be done and good stringers can, and are, helping players to save a fortune on new frames and also helping them to get the best out of their game.