Question: I love to play tennis year-round, even when it gets cold in the wintertime. (Unfortunately, I don’t have access to indoor facilities.) On those temperate winter days, it feels great to go out and play. But as the temperature nears freezing, it feels like I’m hitting a rock. Are there any equipment changes I can make that will help soften the blow?
Answer: According to Adam Queen of Your Serve Tennis in Atlanta, players encountering rock-like impacts should first look to adjust their stringbed. “Cold weather makes everything stiffer, including strings,” Queen says. “To compensate, players should switch to a softer string type”—like natural gut or a multifilament—“and string at lower tensions. There are two reasons for doing this. First, these adjustments will add a bit more zip on the ball, which tends to move slower and land shorter in colder air. The second reason is that they’ll create a softer stringbed that will absorb more vibration,” curtailing some of the jarring sensations of winter play. By the same token, Queen notes, “players should replace their base grip, preferably with a more padded one. Having a grip with ample, fresh padding will also help with the impact vibration.”
Answer: Woody Schneider of Grand Central Racquet in New York City agrees that a new stringbed is good medicine for the harshness of outdoor winter tennis. But, he adds, “You may also want to consider playing with a regular-duty felt ball, which has a softer feel than the extra-duty balls.” Among the regular-duty variety, purchase those that are top-of-the-line, like the Wilson US Open ball or the USPTA ProPenn. Although relatively expensive, high-quality balls are manufactured more carefully and with better materials, lending them a bounce that’s livelier than that of bargain balls.
Answer: John Swetka of Swetka’s Tennis Shop in Mountain View, CA likewise recommends adopting lower tensions and more pliant strings, but also stresses appropriate racquet care. “Strings become less elastic as the temperature cools,” Swetka says. For that reason, “It is not a good idea to store your racquet in a cold environment. At our shop, we find more string breakage in the winter due to the strings becoming more brittle.”
Bottom Line: To improve your playing experiences in chilly conditions: Lower your tension; string with natural gut or a high-quality multifilament; jump for well-made, regular-duty felt balls; and don’t store your racquets in a gelid trunk.
*Originally published in the December 15th, 2012 issue of Tennis 15-30