Gear Talk: John Lyons, Part II
In the first part of my conversation with John Lyons, Global Product Director at Wilson, we spoke about how the company is fine-tuning its racquets based on a growing understanding of "feel." We also spoke about what professional players look for in racquets, and how Wilson guides their hands. Now, in part two of the interview, we turn to the topics of spin and string.
JD: From your perspective, where do you see the game heading?
JL: I think the game’s changed. It’s about spin more than ever. So there’s a lot more wrist involved. I think the racquets have changed, but the strings have changed as much as the racquets. If you look back at the history of tennis, there’s only been only half a dozen or so game-changing, disruptive technologies. You know, wood to metal, metal to graphite, graphite to oversize. There’ve only been a few big shifts. And I think the last shift, honestly, was the Luxilon strings. Only 10 or 15 years ago, players were controlling the ball by using a smaller-headed racquet, reducing the swing speed, and guiding the ball more. But now, players are using a lighter, bigger-headed racquet, and the way you control the ball is by generating more spin. It’s not about slowing down anymore. You watch players practicing, and they don’t slow down on anything. They’re swinging fast and hard at everything, and the spin’s what keeps the ball in the court.
JD: Is that the focal point at Wilson—spin?
JL: I think in the short term it is about spin. What we’re really focussed on is trying to make the shift from racquets people who hit with lots of spin like, to racquets that can generate more spin for the average player. Because I think what’s happening on the pro tour is that players are generating more spin, but on the club level players aren’t really generating more spin. Maybe the better recreational players are because they’ve switched to monofilament strings.
Otherwise, I’m not sure most players really understand what is causing spin. For a long time, what players thought about the Luxilon type of string was, “The strings don’t move at all.” And the folks at Luxilon in Belgium would always laugh about this, because they’d say, “No, the strings move a lot. They just move back so quickly you can’t see it.” Now, with high-speed video, I think everybody understands that it’s the snap-back. While the ball is in contact with the strings, the strings are deforming out of line and coming back while the ball is still on the stringbed. It only works with the monofilament type of string. You don’t get the snap back with nylon or natural gut, because the string’s not physically stiff enough. With the monofilament, what you’ve got is something that’s firm and you’re bending it out of position, and so the stiffness of the string actually makes it want to go back.
JD: What’s in the air at Wilson with respect to strings? What’s changing?
JL: We used to categorize strings very simply. All the multifilaments and guts, we said, were playability strings. All the monofilaments and polyesters were the durability strings. And the nylon and synthetic gut stuff was sort of all around, a little bit of both. And what’s happened is, now you have monofilament strings that feel pretty comfortable at the right tension. And you have multifilament strings that are more durable.
For example, we’re now making strings—“internal hybrids”—that use polyester fibers and nylon fibers together, like in NXT Control. What we’re essentially doing is making the string play more dead, but it’s comfortable dead, and some players like that feel. Players who try poly, they kind of get used to liking that lower-powered feel. We actually have players who tried poly and when they come back to regular NXT, they feel it’s too powerful. So we’re selling a lot of NXT Control, which we’ve engineered to return less energy to the ball.
So, things are changing. I think that’s a trend in string, mixing polyester and nylon together. We couldn’t do it until a few years ago, because the resins that bond the fibers and string together, the resin systems either worked with polyester or they worked with nylon. The resins didn’t work with both. So now, the resins have gotten better and you can put polyester and nylon together in one string.
JD: Do you think that hybrid patterns will become obsolete? I mean, if you’re able to combine multiple strings into one—
JL: Yeah, I think you’ll have less need for hybrids, because you’ll have one string. Originally, I think most players playing with a hybrid felt like they wanted the durability of a monofilament string and the softness of the multifilament to soften the stringbed up. And I think now, hybrids are more about feel. It’s like pro players who are using the Luxilon string in the crosses, like Roger Federer does. He puts gut in the mains, Lux in the crosses. With the old model, it doesn’t really make sense. Don’t you want the more durable string in the mains? But it’s not about durability. It’s about using the Luxilon to lower the power level of the gut.