Monday Mailbag: Dampeners, Gut's Relevance, & Wide Feet

by: Justin diFeliciantonio | June 12, 2012

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Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions Mondays and Wednesdays in the Mailbag. Click here to send in a question of your own.


Azarenka Vibration DampenerWhat do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of vibration dampeners? I normally do not use them, because when I do it seems I lose feel on the ball. I have, however, heard conflicting opinions on that. What's your take?Sherrod

On the subject of dampeners, Sherrod, it really comes down to a question of personal preference. Upon impact with the ball, strings without dampeners vibrate and make a high-pitched, ping-like sound. Using a dampener, this sound can be changed—or nearly eliminated, depending on the dampener’s design—to a lower-pitched, thwack-like sound.

This “auditory cue,” according to the book Technical Tennis, “is absolutely necessary to all players in terms of feedback as to the quality of their shot.” The thing is, every player interprets the sound of impact differently: some associate power, control, and feel with ping sounds, while others prefer to hear the lower-pitched thwack sound when hitting the ball. (I imagine there are some lucky players out there who don’t care either way.)

Really, Sherrod, the term “vibration dampener” is somewhat misleading, because dampeners have nothing to do with impact shock to the arm. Although they change the sound of impact, dampeners do not, in fact, affect the frequency at which the racquet frame vibrates upon impact. As such, vibrasorbs and such products do not significantly affect how the ball interacts with the racquet; rather, they affect how players interpret that event—which has everything to do with “feel.”


With all the talk nowadays about polyester string, is natural gut still relevant? What justifies its use? Does gut still harbor unique qualities?Andrew H.

Good question, Andrew. Natural gut has been around since at least the late 19th century, when Pierre Babolat supposedly manufactured his first tennis string. Like it was then, natural gut is still made from cow intestines—particularly a thin membrane called the serosa. As it happens, the serosa membrane yields strings that are softer, more elastic, and more resilient than any other (man-made) string on the market today. 

What this means for performance, is that natural gut is superior to other strings in (1) tension maintenance (i.e., it doesn’t lose tension as quickly), (2) comfort (i.e., it imparts less shock on the arm), and (3) power (i.e., it returns more energy to the ball).

On the other hand, natural gut is not nearly as durable or spin-friendly as man-made synthetics like polyester. This accounts for natural gut’s decline among professional players on tour, at least when strung in full sets. (Although in the minority, there are still a number of players, Roger Federer among them, who string gut with polyester in a hybrid configuration.)

But then again, most of us don't play the game as professionals do. It should be clear, then, that natural gut will remain relevant in the tennis world, at least for the foreseeable future. Players who hit flatter, and thus don’t break strings as frequently, should especially consider adding gut for its power; others prone to injury would do well to keep in mind gut’s exceptional comfort. (And who among us wouldn’t appreciate better tension maintenance, and hence fewer trips to the stringer?) Gut’s not going anywhere.


What shoes (brand/model) do you recommend for wide (E and greater) feet? When I try on pairs of Adidas and Nike shoes, I feel like my toes get squished in. Not a comfortable feeling to have on the court. What should I be looking for?Mark

Thanks for your question, Mark. If you feel that your toes are being crammed together by a standard-width shoe (i.e., size D width), it’s certainly a good idea to give wider shoes a try. When it comes to tennis shoes in extended widths, you pretty much only have two sizing options: 2E and 4E. It’s unfortunate, but no major manufacturer produces tennis shoes in E widths—at least, not for the U.S. market.

Accordingly, I would recommend that you try on pairs of New Balance tennis shoes, many of which are offered in 2E and 4E widths. Consider the New Balance 1005, or the New Balance 1187. At 12.6 ounces in a men’s size 9, the 1005 is relatively lightweight, but is only appropriate for neutral foot types; the 1187, on the other hand, is appropriate for all foot types, but is almost two ounces heavier than the 1005. (Read complete reviews of the shoes, respectively, here and here.)

If you find that 2E-width shoes are a bit too wide, another option is to try on shoes—in D width—that fit generously in the toebox. According to our weartesters as well as the magazine’s consulting podiatrist, Dr. David Sharnoff, the Babolat SFX, Yonex Power Cushion 308, and/or Prince T-22s are all viable candidates in this respect.

(To access our 2012 Shoe Reviews, click here.)


UPDATE: I stand corrected: Hitting with a dampener is more thwack than twang. Though can we all agree that impacts sans dampener still mostly ping?

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