Mailbag: Has Technology Crossed the Line?

by: Bill Gray | June 18, 2010

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A8baab4e2d88ac3e388a69a807bf967f-getty-tennis-britain-aegon-international A lot has been made about polyester strings and how much more spin they generate, especially the new Babolat RPM Blast. I wonder if anybody in the tennis community thinks this kind of technology crosses the line. I'm thinking specifically of the debate over high-tech suits in swimming. Is there is any talk out there like this?—Josh

The suits you’re referring are the neck-to-ankle polyurethane bodysuits that were finally banned by the swimming’s governing body, FINA, because they boosted speed so much that 43 world records were set at last year’s world championship. But there’s been no “string war” over whether poly strings are ruining the integrity of tennis. We checked with the International Tennis Federation, which tests equipment to preserve the tradition of the game, to be sure. “I’m not aware of any question regarding the validity or legality of the string,” says Dr. Stuart Miller, head of the ITF’s Science and Technical Commission. “Our testing is ongoing, but as of yet, there hasn’t been any reason to consider the conformity of this string.” A growing number of recreational players are using some form of co-polyester, largely because it’s the string of choice among most pro players, including all four finalists at the French, three of whom—Rafael Nadal, Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur—had their racquets strung with RPM.

With all the racquet companies putting comfort technologies on the front burner the past couple of years, has it decreased the number of tennis elbow incidents?—Mike

In theory, all those bells and whistles should help ease our pain, but there are no studies to prove it, says David Geier, Jr., M.D., the director of Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. Adds Todd S. Ellenbecker, director of Sports Medicine for the ATP tour and author of The Elbow in Sport: “There have been advances in vibration-dampening, and racquet manufacturers have made positive advances using lighter materials and new and innovative designs to optimize the sweet spot of the racquet. But there are no studies that have identified an ideal frame or frame characteristics that can minimize the risk of humeral epicondylitis [tennis elbow].”
I’ve noticed that the weight specs on the racquets you review are usually heavier than what the manufacturers list for the same racquets on their websites. Why the difference?—Richard

That’s easy. We list racquet weights after they’ve been strung; most racquet brands show them as unstrung on their sites, and it’s usually a difference of about 1/2 ounce. To us weighing a string-free racquet seems like weighing a car without the motor.  
How can I figure out the best string tension for my game?—David

By trial and error, David. Start with the tension in the middle of the manufacturer’s recommended range (which is printed on the frame, usually on the inside of the yoke) and try it out. If you feel you need more control, have your stringer increase the tension (but don’t exceed the top of the range; it could cause damage to the racquet). If you want more power, have the tension lowered.

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