Gear Q&A: A Question of Tension

by: Jon Levey | May 13, 2013

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I’ve been struggling with unforced errors lately and one of my opponents suggested stringing my racquet tighter. I always get it strung right in the middle of the manufacturer’s recommended tension range. Would going to a higher number really help my control?—Kim S., West Palm Beach, Fla.

The theory behind tighter strings resulting in more control derives from several factors. We’ll start with string movement, which looser strings have more of. If a string moves more on impact, the resulting ball trajectories will be less predictable. Think of throwing a ball against a concrete wall (tight stringbed) vs. throwing it against a pitchback (loose strings). The wall will have the more consistent response.

The next consideration is the amount of time the ball stays in contact with the strings, aka dwell time. A ball will have greater dwell time on a more loosely strung racquet. That means as the racquet continues out and up on its swing, the ball will have a higher launch point. This can result in greater depth, which some also equate (probably incorrectly) with increased power. The ball isn’t traveling faster, but it is traveling further. However, the more time a ball spends on a stringbed, the more things can go wrong. The ball can slide to a less desirable part of the racquet face, causing a mishit or loss of power. Plus, the added depth of a looser strung racquet may actually be disadvantageous if shots are consistently long.

All that said, there is little scientific evidence to prove that a couple pounds difference in string tension causes significant spikes in power or control. Things like faulty mechanics, poor shot selection, and over-aggression will cause far more errors than string tension ever will. But, as long as you don’t mind a firmer feel, it can’t hurt to bump up the tension to see if you lower the error count. Perception can be reality, and many players perceive tighter strings to result in better control. Which, in a hugely mental endeavor like tennis, is hugely important.

Jon Levey is an editor-at-large for TENNIS. You can e-mail him here.

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