Jon Levey answers your equipment questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to submit a question of your own.
I’ve been playing tennis 20+ years and have always used some type of nylon string. Like many players, I’ve been sucked into the recent polyester craze. I’ve tried monofilament polyesters and multifilament polyesters, sometimes in the entire string bed and sometimes in a hybrid. It doesn’t matter the set-up or the brand, nothing seems to suit me. Everyone I play with keeps telling me to stick with it, otherwise I’ll be missing out, especially on spin. But all this trial-and-error is killing my game and making me crazy. What’s wrong with nylons?—Tyler M.
Tinkering with your equipment and trying the latest trends to look for an edge is commendable. And experimenting can cause regression before progress is made; the proverbial step backward before two steps forward. That’s the fingers-crossed hope with Roger Federer’s recent racquet switch. However, if there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and enjoyment is affected by it, then the proposed change is clearly not worth it.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing with nylon strings. For years it was the undisputed best-seller in the category. If you’ve tried everything else and keep coming back to your old reliable, stick with it. Just because something works for the pros, doesn’t mean it’s meant for mere mortals. Don’t forget many pros find success bucking the trend, whether it’s with equipment or technique. Jim Courier won all his Grand Slam titles and got to No. 1 playing with a basic synthetic gut string. Many pundits disparaged Andy Roddick’s quirky service motion and believed it would lead to chronic injury (never happened). Marion Bartoli uses an unusually long racquet with an extended grip and two hands off both sides, and she’s Wimbledon champion.
Polyester strings first gained popularity because they’re so durable. But that’s not as attractive to infrequent string-breakers, especially since polyesters have poor tension maintenance. Polys are also deemed to supply a high level of control, partly because of their inherent stiffness. That works for big swingers who can flex the strings at impact, but without adequate swing speed the response can feel harsh. Players with arm troubles abhor the rigidity of polyesters. Then there’s the spin potential you seek, which also helps with control. Certain polys slide down at impact, and snap back while the ball is still on the strings. This can create a spin slingshot effect. Once again, however, a player needs significant racquet head speed to experience the benefit.
The other thing to remember is that an equipment change can help accentuate a playing characteristic, but it won’t create it. For instance, if you hit the ball with a fair amount of topspin, using polyester strings can potentially give your shots a little extra bite. But if you hit with mild topspin, using Rafael Nadal's string won't give you the spin on his forehand. It will take a grip or swing change and lots of practice to see a real difference. Similarly, a control player looking for extra power may get a slight bump in pace from a lighter, stiffer frame, but it won’t turn his serve into a canon. That calls for working out kinks in the motion and more time in the gym. In other words, switching gear will rarely give you the same positive results as improving physical and technical skills.