Unravelling the world of strings
Making sure your tennis racket's strings are in good nick is a vital part of looking after you kit, but it's all a bit confusing, isn't it? Not any more...
Tight strings will give more control, while looser strings offer more power. Thinner strings will give more feel (but will break more often) while strings with a thicker gauge will last longer but won’t give the same feel. Strings that produce more power will also absorb more shock load at impact. Softer strings, or strings with a softer coating, tend to vibrate less and a stiffer stringbed tends to produce more spin.
Why do they break?
The longer vertical strings are often the first to snap after rubbing against the cross strings as a player puts spin on the ball. This rubbing causes a notch on the string, which inevitably snaps. A ball hit near the frame may also break the strings, no matter how old or new they are, and some break simply because they’re damaged goods or because they rub against cracked grommets (the plastic bits the string goes through in your frame).
Why and how often should I change them?
Strings lose their elasticity and tension over time resulting in them going ‘dead’ – a lack of feel and power. Try to at least restring your racket the same number of times during a year as you play in a week.
Where should I go?
If you play at a club, the chances are there are a few members moonlighting as racket stringers. If not, you can visit a specialist racket sports shop, but if you visit your local sports shop ensure that they have a reputable stringer on staff.
Can I string my own?
Investing in your own machine can be a money saving scheme – especially if you’re getting a restring every few weeks, but machines don’t come cheap. It could turn into a nice little earner in these times of economic gloom, however.
Should I go natural?
Natural gut was the only string worth talking about before the quality man-made fibres improved with graphite frames. While nothing yet matches its resilience and elasticity, it is highly prone to breaks and loses tension once wet. Nowadays gut is often used for crosses in hybrid string jobs with something more durable used for the mains.
Keeping strings alive
Strings are mortal, but measures can be taken to lengthen their lifespan. ‘String savers’ are small plastic discs that slide between intersection points between mains and crosses. The idea is that they keep notches from deepening and snapping, and can apparently double the life of a stringing job. To increase the durability of your strings you shouldn’t expose your racket to extreme heat, cold or humidity. Try to keep it in your bag. Tape along the top of the racket can help too – it’ll stop strings snapping when the frame is scraped against the ground.
The majority of recreational players now use synthetic strings – aramids, polyesters and nylons. Aramids have the polar opposite characteristics of gut. Highly durable – the material is used in bulletproof vests – these strings will last the distance, but on their own feel like playing tennis with piece of plywood. If you find yourself being offered syn-gut strings, you’re dealing with nylon. A nylon string comes closest to replicating the feeling of natural gut, as it is very flexible and fairly resilient. Polyesters resemble aramids in terms of durability, but are a little more forgiving when it comes to feel.
An open string pattern (14 or 16 main or vertical strings) will help you put more spin on the ball, while a denser pattern (18 mains or more) means a more solid strike of the ball.
Tension and gauge
Nearly every racket will have a recommended stringing tension range printed on the frame (typically around 50-65 lbs). The gauge of a string refers to its diameter, and the higher the number the thinner the string. Typically, strings are available in five different gauges: 15, 15L, 16, 16L and 17. As a rule, the larger a string’s diameter the greater the durability, but at the expense of feel.
String facts and stats you (probably) didn't know...
- Rafael Nadal goes on court with six newly strung rackets and will often have another couple strung during a match.
- Around 40km of string was used on more than 3,400 rackets during the 2009 Aussie Open.
- Bjorn Borg’s rackets were said to be strung higher than anyone else’s on tour – at around 80lb. They were so tight they used to snap in the night.
- It takes about three cows to produce one set of tennis strings. It used to take about six sheep.
- A shortage of sheep gut following World War II forced manufacturers to look for other natural gut alternatives.
- The first rackets in the late 1800s were strung with the stretchy outer skin of sheep intestine known as serosa.
- Between 11 and 12.2 metres of string is needed to string a tennis racket.
- A common misconception is that 'gut' string is made from cats – it isn’t.