The Pro Shop

Midweek Mailbag: Curved Strings, Thin Beams, and Sweaty Swings

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 /by

TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions every Monday and Wednesday in the Mailbag. Click here to send in a question of your own.

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Nadal SweatI have a question about tension and the "straightness" of cross strings after being strung. I regularly have my racquets restrung on a modern Wilson stringing machine at a local sporting goods store. However, I notice that they often pull the tension on the cross strings without adjusting them to be perfectly straight, resulting in most of the cross strings being slightly curved in one direction (usually curved down). I straighten these out either on my own or by hitting the ball. But when I have my racquets strung at my local tennis specialty shop, the cross strings are straight. I do feel a difference: When my racquets come back from the specialty pro shop—with straighter cross strings—they play tighter, but also stiffer with less "feel." So my question is: Do curved cross strings affect tension outcomes? I use a full bed of poly, with the mains 2-3 lbs tighter than crosses—usually 50 lbs. in the mains, 48/47 lbs. in the crosses. (The sports store where I usually have it strung charges half the price of the pro shop.)Darren H.

Thanks for your question, Darren. I also have a question for you. When you take your racquets to the sporting goods store: Are they strung on a machine that uses an electronic, constant-pull tensioner, or one that uses a manual spring (i.e., lock-out) tensioner? The former mechanism pulls the string automatically—all the stringer must do is set the string against the tensioner to tighten it—while the latter mechanism uses a crank that must be pulled by hand.

Not having all the facts, I could be wrong, but it could be that those curved strings—and the correspondingly lower tensions you’re experiencing—are largely the result of a job performed with a manual-pull tensioner. Depending on the technique of the stringer and the type of string being installed, lock-out tensioners can record friction as tension resistance, which results in lower actual tensioning and a softer stringbed. It follows that manual cranks might be more susceptible to “under pulling” tension especially on cross strings, insofar as there’s significantly more friction produced tightening the weaves between mains and crosses, than simply tightening the mains.

Generally speaking, this is less the case with constant-pull machines, which, aided by an on-board computer, consistently stretch the string for more accurate and ultimately tighter tensions. Insofar as electronic machines tend to string crosses tighter than manual ones, they might also string them straighter. Again, this is just speculation, but it could be that the specialty pro shop, unlike the sporting goods store, uses a more sophisticated stringing machine.

(Obviously, it could alternatively be that the two machines are not significantly different, but instead are just calibrated differently, one stringing tighter than the other—the curved strings contingent on whether or not your stringers are straightening out the stringbed with their hands before delivery.)

Given your comments about tighter strings playing too stiff, you may also want to experiment with tensions lower than 50 lbs. in the mains, 47/48 lbs. in the crosses. Especially when using polyester, players report that lower tensions allow them to better pocket the ball for greater “feel.”

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I’ve been searching for a racquet to actually stay with. It’s been a difficult process, however, as I suffered a shoulder injury a while ago, and many of the heavier racquets I enjoy (for e.g., the Head Prestige Mid and Prince Diablo Tour) fatigue my shoulder. Recently, I played with the Head Youtek IG Instinct MP. The problem was, the ball went consistently long, and I started to feel some arm pains. Next, I tried out the Prestige S, which is a great racquet, except that it also sent many of my balls over the baseline. I've been playing with those two racquets, as well as an old Prince Original Graphite 90, the feel and control of which I love, but again, it’s too heavy for my body and ailing shoulder (1.80m, 80kg). I was wondering if you could recommend a control-oriented racquet, something that doesn't give much pop—like the Instinct MP and Prestige S—but at the same time, isn't as hefty as the P.O.G.90, Prestige Mid, or 6.1 90. As for strings, I've been using the Tecnifibre X-One Biphase, strung at ~50 to 55 lbs., depending on the racquet’s minimum recommended tension. I can’t go poly or my arm breaks all over again.Celso W.

That’s a tough call, Celso, trying to find an arm-friendly, medium-weight, control-oriented stick. I would look for a racquet with a more flexible construction and a thinner beam, in the order of ~21mm. Typically, thinner beams—as opposed to thicker beams with stiffer constructions—are easier on the arm and shoulder; they also tend to be less powerful.

In more concrete terms—and staying within the racquet brands you mentioned—consider demoing the Head YouTek IG Speed 300. Strung, it’s just over 11 ounces, is 3 pts. HL, and sports a 20mm beam. The Speed is pretty similar in weight and balance to the Instinct, but has a slimmer profile. Which, again, should reduce shock and increase control. (For a racquet with similar specs, but a higher swingweight, consider also the Head Radical; it, too, has a relatively thin and flexible frame.)

If you’re looking for something a tad bit heftier than the Speed—but still not as hefty as the 12+ oz. racquets you say fatigue your arm—try out the Prince EXO3 Rebel 98. Built into its flexible 22mm beam are unique string suspension inserts, which, judging by our playtesters’ experiences, soften up the hit for a smooth, control-oriented feel upon impact.

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I’m a pretty sweaty guy, which causes somewhat of a problem with my grip. It’s constantly slippery and at times even flies out of my hands. Do you have any advice other than the obvious? I frequently replace overgrips to little avail.Andre W.

You’re not alone, Andre. This is a perennial problem encountered by guys with overly active sweat glands; playing during the summer and in humid climates doesn’t help, either. Of course, as you mentioned, it’s a good idea to regularly replace base and overgrips when they’re worn and are no longer effectively absorbing moisture. On this front, I’d recommend experimenting with various synthetic base grips (as opposed to leather, which doesn’t absorb moisture very well) and extra tacky overgrips. Wristbands may also help, as they prevent sweat from running down your arm and onto your grip. You may even want to consider alternating between multiple racquets when playing.

I, too, often develop somewhat sweaty hands during the course of a playing session. One anti-sweat product I’ve been pleased with is called Gorilla Gold. It’s a tacky towel that you can apply to your hands and/or grip. Check it out here.

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