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Monday Mailbag: String Tension, Patterns, and Meters

Tuesday, May 01, 2012 /by

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.

DogRight now I'm playing with a Dunlop Aerogel 4D 100. Dunlop recommends that the racquet be strung in the range of 55 to 65 pounds. I'm currently stringing at 53 lbs., but I’m thinking on moving down to 50 lbs. in order to get a little bit more power from the stick. What effects, if any, would moving away from the lower range of the recommended tension have on my racquet’s performance? Kind regards—Cristián, Chile 

Thanks for your question, Cristián. If you’re looking to hit with more pop and depth, dropping your tension is always a suitable route. Not only do looser strings return more energy to the ball for more power; they also increase the ball’s rebound angle off the stringbed, resulting in a deeper shot. If you haven’t already, you might also want to consider switching to a more elastic string. As Bob Patterson, a professional stringer and owner of RacquetMaxx, in Alabaster, AL, explains, “More elastic strings”—like natural gut or multifilament synthetic strings—“will stretch and pocket the ball on impact and catapult it off the racquet.” The result, he says, is greater power and depth.

But onto your question: While stringing your racquet above the manufacturer’s recommended tension range can have negative consequences for its long-term performance—the tighter the tension, the more stress is placed on the frame, which can accelerate its weakening—stringing below that range shouldn’t pose any problems. Of course, stringing at too low of a tension can compromise ball control. But there’s no harm in experimenting. I’d recommend that you string as loose as you possibly can while still retaining control over the ball. 

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I recently switched to a polyester string. I loved the spin the string gave me, but it hurt my arm, so I had to go back to synthetic gut. As an alternative, I’m considering switching to an open string pattern, as I’ve heard that it provides more spin. How would you compare the gain in spin from switching to a polyester string vs. that of switching to an open pattern strung with a more conventional string?—Carlos C.

This is a very good question, Carlos. While it’s difficult for me to quantify exactly the differences in spin production between the two, a racquet strung with polyester, regardless of pattern, should impart more spin than, say, an open 16x18 pattern strung with a multifilament. But that’s not to say that open string patterns don’t impart added spin onto the ball; compared to closed, 18x20 patterns strung with the same material, they do. The difference is just not as pronounced.

What are the mechanisms at play here? As discussed in last week’s Mailbag, poly’s spin friendliness is a result of its extended “snap back”—i.e., more so than others, poly strings move when the ball makes contact, and then pop back into place while the ball is still touching the strings. Interestingly enough, the same principle applies to string patterns, just to a lesser degree. The strings in open patterns, as opposed to those in closed patterns, move more upon impact, increasing spin production. 

Keep in mind, however, that the very effect that increases spin decreases durability, insofar as the strings saw against one another when they move. The bottom line is, if you put a synthetic material in an open pattern—and you have long, fast swings—expect to break strings frequently.

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I have just started playing again after many years. I find the racquets nowadays too light and too powerful. I am looking for control as opposed to spin or power. What should I look for? Many thanks—Claude 

If you’re searching for more control, Claude, I’d recommend you starting demoing a number of flexible racquets. With more flexible racquets, the ball dwells longer on the stringbed upon contact, resulting in greater control. 

Which racquets are most flexible? Jeff Rodefeld, a racquet technician at the Indianapolis Racquet Club in Indiana, notes that, “In general, the wider the beam (26mm to 30mm), the stiffer, lighter, and more powerful the racquet will be. At the other extreme, thinner-beam (19mm to 22mm) racquets are more flexible, heavier, and less powerful.”

Of course, consult with a qualified racquet technician or knowledgeable tennis professional in your area. In all likelihood, they’ll be able to help you narrow the racquet field down to one that best meets your needs.

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I’ve been worrying lately that my string tension is not where it’s supposed to be. Is there a way I can determine my tension without getting my racquet restrung?—Antonio

You can, Antonio. Many racquet diagnostic centers, such as the Babolat RDC, are able to provide exceptional measures of stringbed stiffness. But the easiest way to determine your current tension is to use what’s called a “stringmeter." The product I’m familiar with is the Tourna Stringmeter, a small dial that attaches to the stringbed.

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