Tennis - The Right String Set Up
As I’m about to restring my 100th tennis racket since tennis was restarted during COVID19, I thought it would be good to write some thoughts and observations down, which will hopefully be useful for players, coaches and stringers. I include details on:
String Set Up
String Set Up for Juniors
Injury Prevention (arm)
Spin/Power/Control set ups
As an ERSA Master Professional Stringer, I take pride in every restring, regardless of the racket sport. I like to learn as much as I can about new techniques and improve my skills at every opportunity. You can also learn a great deal from seeing what’s not done correctly. From looking at some of the rackets that have been given to me to restring recently (may I add that all rackets have been sprayed and wiped) and based on conversations I’ve had with their owners, here are a few things to note:
I’ve received a lot a rackets where customers have complained of arm pain/tennis elbow. This is often due to over tensioning on strings, more specifically polyester strings, which are probably the most popular type of string at the moment as most pros use polys (or as part of a hybrid). There is a general rule that poly strings, due to their lack of elasticity and hard feel, should be strung around 10% lower than other strings. So, If you normally have a racket strung with multifilament/synthetic gut at 55lbs, then Poly strings like Babolat RPM Blast, Yonex Poly Tour Pro or Luxilon Alu Power should be strung at around 50lbs. Or look at the tension range on your racket and reduce by 10% of whatever you’d normally have your rackets strung at. There are also plenty of poly strings now which actually perform better in the 40’s.
I’ve seen many rackets where, according to the player, they’ve been strung at 60lbs with polys on a mid size head, such as a Wilson Pro Staff or Babolat Pure Strike. Comments such as ‘it’s playing like a plank of wood’ and ‘it’s killing my arm to get any kind of power’ have been common. Poly strings are hard, they’re not elastic and by stringing too tight, they drastically reduce the playability and kill any flex the strings may have had. SO… be kind to your rackets, strings and your arms and knock off the tension for Polys!
Wrong string set up (take note parents of juniors and people with arm issues!)
Strings are a little bit like the engine in a car. You can have a Ferrari, but if you put a scooter engine in it, it’s not going to go particularly well. If we apply this analogy to rackets, with the engine of the racket being the strings, it’s really important that you have the right strings in your racket. If you’re a junior, it’s a big ‘no-no’ to have a full bed of poly strings in your racket until you’re more developed. I won’t put an age on it, as we all develop at different stages, but certainly U13’s shouldn’t be using a full bed of polys. As mentioned above, they are less elastic and the impact on underdeveloped joints, especially in the elbow, are huge compared to using a synthetic gut/nylon or multifilament string. I always recommend synthetic gut or multifilament strings for juniors, along with a lower tension so that they don’t have to work so hard to create power. The next progression is to move into a hybrid set up (poly and synth gut/multifilament mix). The synthetic gut or multifilament does a good job in softening the string bed, creating a less severe hitting surface. It’s also worth noting that thinner polys tend to offer a bit more protection than thicker gauge polys. So when the transitioning away from synth gut and multifilament does happen, try to pick a thinner gauge on a softer poly - the thinner gauge will generate power more easily too. So the player doesn’t have to apply as much force through their shots.
I apply the same logic to players who are ‘advancing’ in years who maybe struggling to generate as much power as they used to and may be developing arm issues. As the swing gets slower, less power is generated… so lower the tension and use a softer string. Maybe even a racket with a larger head size (which also aids power). Some of the bigger Head Ti’s are mainstays at the senior end of the clubs where I string and help to reduce arm issues, allied with not using polys at a high tension. Prevention is always better than the cure though, so it’s better to adjust before arm pain sets in.
Also worth noting is the string bed itself. I receive quite a few new rackets where the player is concerned about the lack of power they’re generating even thought they are using the same strings and tension as in their last racket. A lot of the time this may be due to the string bed. If there are more main and cross strings in a racket then the string bed has a more dense pattern and the tension will feel naturally tighter as the strings are held in place more firmly. Typically a racket has 16 main strings, so look out for rackets with 18 main strings, such as the Head Prestige which has 18 mains and 20 crosses – this is normally a giveaway that the racket is built for ultimate control rather than power. One tip is to drop the tension by 2 or 3 lbs, should you have spent a fortune on a nice new racket already.
Premature String breakage is also an issue which I speak with people about lots. Normally it’s the rackets with less dense string patterns that suffer. There are several rackets that are designed for more power and more spin, which normally have less strings and wider gaps in between the strings. The wider the gap between strings, the less they are kept in place, meaning that there is more movement of the strings when the ball is hit which causes the strings to rub against each other more – creating notches that lead to strings breaking, often prematurely. So choose carefully as you can buy strings that you can install in an average string pattern that are made to generate spin. Luxilon Alu Power Rough is an example of a string which has grooves in the string to grip the ball and generate spin (Roger Federer uses this string in his cross strings) and there are also plenty of strings with edges, such as Babolat RPM Blast (which Nadal uses) where the cross section of the string is octagonal which creates extra spin, or MSV Focus Hex which has a more severe hexagonal cross section to create even more spin. Also worth noting that sometimes a very head light racket may hinder racket head speed and ability to put power/spin on a ball. I’ve re-balanced a few rackets recently to get around frame weight and balancing issues. I've also resized the handles on rackets.
It’s been a busy month or two on the tennis front and I’ve strung with every type of string imaginable, on most types of rackets – From limited edition Andre Agassi Head Radical’s with Natural Gut and Poly hybrids (pictured) to stringing junior rackets with cool rainbow synthetic gut strings.
A good stringer will find out a bit more about a player before they string a racket. A good stringer will also have a range of options for strings so that they can provide the best service possible.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!