TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.
I’m currently learning how to string. One topic I don’t quite understand is knots. What’s the best way to make a tie-off knot? If you’re stringing in two pieces, how do you recommend tying a knot that starts the crosses?—Peter S.
These are important questions, Peter. Knots are a crucial endpoint when stringing. Incorrect technique can compromise a string job by causing it to lose tension. Moreover, in worst case scenarios, bad knots can even cause a stringbed to fall apart completely—not something you want to happen when you’re in the middle of a match.
So let’s start with your first question: Tie-off knots. For most stringers, these knots, which secure the ends of main strings and/or crosses downstream of tension, are best tied using a double half hitch. As the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association makes clear, “To tie a half hitch, remember the word ‘OUT.’ Thread the string Over, Under and then Through—then repeat the procedure again and you’ve completed the knot.”
Indeed, doubling up on the half hitch is important, as single hitch knot is liable to come unfastened or sink deep into the grommet, due to its simple configuration and small size. When installing a very thin string, like an 18 or 19 gauge, it may even be advisable to tie a triple half hitch—that is, three consecutive half hitches—just to make sure that the knot doesn’t slide down into the grommet hole.
Also remember, after tensioning the last main or cross, to leave yourself at least 10 to 12 inches of string to tie-off with. There’s nothing more frustrating than being unable to finish the knot, because you’ve clipped the string too short or measured the entire length of string incorrectly. To tighten the knot, the best approach is to use hand-held pliers. While some use the stringing machine to tension knots, if not done with care, the tensioner can place too much pressure on the knot, causing it to break. Finally, after the knot has been secured, clip the tail down below the racquet’s sidewall, so that it’s about 1/8th to 1/4th an inch long. Cut the length too long and leave it above the sidewall, and the tail may cut the player; cut it too short, and the knot may slip out of place.
As to your second question: A different knot, apart from the half hitch, is required when tying knots at the start of crosses. (These knots are only necessary, as you note, when working with two pieces of string.) Starting knots, unlike tie-offs, are designed to be larger to, again, prevent against slipping down into the grommet hole, as well as resist breakage upon first tensioning the string. (“A starting knot,” the USRSA explains, “does not place pressure on the anchor string.”)
Stringers, over the years, have devised a number of different starting knots. The “figure-eight” and “fishing” knots are two that are commonly used; the former is among the bulkiest, and is good for stringing racquets with big grommets, while the latter has the advantage of being, in USRSA terms, “free floating,” meaning that “it can be pulled against the frame without tying the knot to an anchor string [as] you’re tying it against itself.”
For diagrams of the standard tie-off knot, a.k.a. the double half hitch, as well as three viable starting knots, see the above diagrams, excerpted from the USRSA’s Racquet Service Techniques Manual.