Monday Mailbag: Poly's Risks and Rewards, Leather Grips
TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions every Monday in the Mailbag. Click here to send in a question of your own.
Some of the guys I play with on my 3.5 team are starting to use a co-polyester string called Head Sonic Pro. The reason for the switch, they say, is that it gives them more spin. How true is this? Are there any negatives to using polyester? I’m thinking whether I should follow in their footsteps.—Alex R.
Thanks for your question, Alex. Polyester strings have been all the rage the last decade or so, ever since Gustavo Kuerten and Albert Costa began using Luxilon’s Big Banger strings on tour in the late nineties and early oughties. The long and short of it is that polyester, compared to other synthetic strings or natural gut, does in fact impart more spin on the ball. (Note, however, that polyester is also less powerful, i.e., returns less energy to the ball, than synthetics or gut.)
The current rationale for poly’s spin friendliness is its “snap back.” That is to say, the string moves when the ball makes contact, and then pops back into place while the ball is still touching the strings. Though most players looking for some added rotations can benefit from poly to some extent, its effects are much more pronounced for players with longer, faster swings.
But before you jump on the poly bandwagon, consider carefully its risks. While the advent of co-polyester technology has in recent years softened up its feel, modern-day polys still play stiffer (and more durably) than other conventional strings. Which, as a consequence, can stress players’ arms and increase the chances of injury.
If nevertheless you are planning to switch over, keep in mind that, in order to compensate for its lack of resiliency, poly should be strung at lower tensions, from the high 40s to low 50s (in lbs.). It should also be restrung regularly, ideally after 10 to 15 hours of play. Finally, consider trying polyester in a hybrid arrangement first, crossed with natural gut or a multifilament. (For more power but less spin, put gut in the mains and poly in the crosses; for more spin but less power, put poly in the mains and gut in the crosses.) In this way, the stringbed will play much softer, but you’ll still reap some of the rewards of poly’s added spin.
What racquet do you recommend for older folks? I’m a very youthful 75. I played for years, but not lately. Starting up again, I want a new racquet. Any recommendations?—John H.
I’d recommend, John, that you look for an oversized racquet—somewhere in the range of 110 square inches. A racquet with a larger head tends to have bigger sweet spot, more power, and slightly greater margin for error. Off the top of my head, I’d suggest looking out for some of Asics’ new racquets—particularly the Asics 109 and/or Asics 116, which were a hit with our playtesters. (We reviewed them in the May 2012 issue of Tennis magazine; they’re scheduled to hit stores at the end of May.) The racquets’ distinguishing feature is their elongated main strings, which the company says increases power and forgiveness during play.
I’m 15 year old who plays at about a 4.0 level. I play everyday, and am working hard to improve. Currently, I use the Babolat Pure Drive GT, which I string at 58 lbs. with polyester. Honestly, I feel that the sweetspot is just a bit small, and I’m thinking of buying a new racket. How is the new Head IG Prestige Pro? I’m guessing that if I drop the tension to around 48 lbs., I’ll have ample sweet spot and power. Do you have any other suggestions? I’m looking for a heavier player’s stick with a low swingweight (320 to 330), so that the added mass will help me keep the ball deep.—Roger L.
That’s quite a detailed inquiry, Roger. Before you switch racquets, you should definitely try dropping your tension. Not only is polyester strung in the high 40s easier on the arm and shoulder, it performs better, with more spin and a larger sweetspot. With that adjustment, you might not have to switch racquets at all.
However, if you still feel compelled to modify you racquet, I’d caution against going to the Prestige Pro—at least if you find, after lowering your tension, that the Pure Drive’s sweet spot is still too stingy. Why? Because the Prestige model has an even smaller sweet spot.
For a heftier stick, one idea might be adding weight to your Babolat Pure Drive in the form of lead tape. Consult with a qualified racquet technician or knowledgeable tennis professional in your area on whether you should add weight—and if so, how—to your racquet. They’ll be able to help you match your racquet’s specifications to your playing style and ability level.
I’ve got a pretty straightforward question for you: What’s the advantage of using a leather grip? Is it better than the foam grips? I see a lot of serious players use them.—Paul S.
Good question, Paul. Typically, leather grips provide a firmer, more traditional feel. I.e., leather allows you to more acutely feel the edges of the handle; some players claim this helps them change grips easier. Note, however, that with leather, you’ll feel more vibrations upon impact. As a compromise, many players use leather as a base grip, and then add a synthetic overgrip for a bit more cushioning and tackiness.