The Pro Shop

Monday Mailbag: String Savers, Shoe Sizing, and Stencils

Tuesday, May 15, 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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WozniackiMy question is about string savers. Is it a good idea to place string savers in a full co-poly bed? I’ve been playing with Signum Pro Hyperion, a round monofilament string, for about a year now, and I couldn’t be happier with it. It has tremendous power, control, feel, and pretty decent spin potential, plus I find it’s really comfortable. The only drawback is its durability. The string lasts me about eight hours of playing time. So I’m wondering: Is it a good idea to insert string savers into the Signum? (Or are string savers useful only for natural gut?) More specifically, would the string savers make the string play stiffer and less arm friendly? Would they have an effect on the co-poly’s spin potential, as much spin is produced when the strings move and snap back upon impact? I string my own racquets at 52/50 lbs, and I play with the Wilson BLX Six.One Team, which has an 18 x 20 pattern.—Tom

Thanks for your question, Tom. String savers—small pieces of material, plastic or otherwise, placed in between the strings to reduce friction and breakage—would definitely extend the durability of your Pro Hyperion, though it’s hard to say by how much; much of it depends on your playing style and ability level. The short answer, though, to your question is: No, it’s not a good idea to combine string savers with polyester. Not only would it make a string like Pro Hyperion play less comfortably and arm-friendly, it might even reduce the stringbed’s power and spin potential.

As professional stringer Roman Prokes, of RPNY Tennis, explains, “We generally don't recommend string savers, because they really deaden and stiffen up the feel of the stringbed. The one exception is with natural gut, because it's such a lively string. To be honest, in the last four years I can’t remember once installing string savers into polyester. And I don’t think it’s a very good idea, as it’ll make the poly play even stiffer than it already does.”

“And anyways,” Prokes says, “Eight hours of playing time for any string these days really isn't that bad. In my opinion, it's almost perfect timing when it comes to polyester. Recently, I attended a string seminar hosted by Babolat. The topic of the seminar was polyester and tension loss. What they did, in their labs, was to test many different high-quality strings on the market, and what they found was that, on average, good polyester strings lose about 50 percent of their tension after 20 hours of play. And that’s the good poly. Bad quality will drop even quicker. So if it’s working for you, keep playing with the string, keep restringing after eight hours, and don’t use those string savers.”

But for the sake of discussion: What would the effects be of placing string savers in a co-poly stringbed? How exactly would string savers affect playability and performance? As a hypothetical, I posed your question, Tom, to one of the field’s most knowledgeable and experienced stringers: Ron Rocchi, Wilson’s Global Tour Equipment Manager.

“String savers,” Rocchi replied, “noticeably affect overall durability by protecting the string from notching itself at the intersections, wearing away the coating, or, in the case of your reader’s question, the poly itself. Since string savers move and separate strings apart from one another, the actual result tension will be slightly higher tension than without these installed, and power will decrease slightly. But again, the benefit is increased durability.”

“As for snap back [and spin potential],” Rocchi continued, “this will depend greatly on the coefficient of friction of both the string itself, and the material used to manufacture the string savers. Without knowing the exact composition of all the components, I would guess that the snap back would reduce slightly to marginally, as the string is not free to move as much, more contact area exists to distribute the shearing, and frictional forces would be greater. Thus, spin potential would be reduced. However, since the strings are now farther apart, a more coarse string grid is present, and could (on more open string patterns) provide a slight increase in spin. And of course, these factors tend to cancel each other out in some cases. Overall, I’d say string savers increase durability and slightly reduce snap back and spin potential.”

*****

I am having no luck finding a shoe that fits the width of my feet. The only manufacturer that seems to offer E widths is New Balance, but their sizing is limited to D, 2E, and 4E in tennis shoes. What should I do to find a shoe that fits?—Jim K.

It’s true, Jim, that the majority of manufacturers do not make tennis shoes in extended widths, let alone E widths. (New Balance's tennis shoes do, as you noted, come in extra widths: 2E and 4E.) To be quite frank, I have never heard of a tennis shoe coming in an E width, and do not believe they exist—at least, not on the U.S. market.

In order to best answer your concerns, I put your question to Dr. David Sharnoff, Tennis Magazine’s consulting podiatrist, who recommended a few options. “First,” Dr. Sharnoff said, “try wearing 2E-sized shoes with tennis-specific socks. Socks like Thor-Los provide greater cushioning and are bulkier in the heel and toebox, as well as the sole of the shoe. You could also, of course, try wearing D-sized shoes with thinner socks.”

But if changing the thickness of your socks doesn’t improve your fit, try on—in a D width—the Babolat SFX, Yonex Power Cushion 308, and/or Prince T-22s. According to our weartesters, these shoes provided relatively generous D-width sizing and fit rather comfortably with a wider toebox.

*****

I’d like to put a question to you about stenciling. Does the ink affect stringbed performance? Do you advise players to stencil their racquets?—John Q.

Thanks for your question, John. For all practical purposes, stenciling your strings with ink, in order to, say, display a particular racquet or string brand, should not change your stringbed’s performance. If you’re committed to (or sponsored by) a particular brand or symbol, stencil away.

Now that you mention it, I think I'm going to start inking my stringbed with ?.

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