During the U.S. Open I had a conversation about strings with a bigwig from one of the major manufacturers. When the talk got to the subject of hybrids, he declared that almost everyone interested in using polyester strings—basically those players looking for enhanced control, durability, and spin—would benefit from playing with some type of hybrid; the most popular being a poly in the mains with a softer nylon or natural gut in the crosses. After all, it’s what many of the top pros prefer.
Now, he recognized that the extremely open string patterns (18x16, 16x15, 16x16, etc.) of the new spin-friendly racquets do beg for a full bed of poly. With so much room for the strings to move and snap back, they're designed for the average player to get more spin. Having so few cross strings also makes for a rather springy string bed and a polyester will firm it up for better control. It’s also much more practical: A soft, multifilament could snap in a set with so much string movement.
However, for those players not jumping on the spin bandwagon who prefer the more traditional string configurations, he’s bullish on the hybrid. The reason being a hybrid still provides the benefits of using a polyester—even if to a slightly lesser degree—but with a higher degree of comfort and feel. Plus, it won’t lose tension as quickly as a full bed of poly. Since polys are so durable, many players are often playing with dead strings in stiff racquets. Not a good combination for long term arm health.
I was a hybrid user for many years. I used to play with a 93 sq. in. head with an 18x20 string pattern and didn’t enjoy the firmness of a full bed of poly. But I wanted the spin and control benefits so I went for the poly in the mains/soft multi in the crosses combo. Then last summer I switched to a 95 sq. in. frame with a 16x18 string pattern for more spin and pop potential. Since then I’ve been using a full bed of poly (usually a softer variety) and haven’t looked back. That is, until, my conversation at the U.S. Open.
The different hybrid blends are endless, so I decided to take Volkl’s new pre-packaged Psycho ($10) string out for test drive. It’s a combination of Cyclone, a polyester I’ve enjoyed playing with many times, and Power Fiber II, a softer, more powerful multifilament. And it didn’t hurt that it shares the same name as my favorite Hitchcock film. The design is meant to highlight the spin and control of Cyclone with the feel and shock reduction of Power Fiber II.
The result is a playable, somewhat comfortable, and very controlled ride. When compared to a full bed of Cyclone, I didn’t feel the addition of Power Fiber II gave me much in the way of added pop. To be fair, it was a rather chilly day. The shock was perhaps a little muted, but no cushier than a full bed of the softer Cyclone Tour. The real benefit, however, came in control and spin. I find hybrids with polyesters are like cooking with jalapenos: No matter what else you combine with it, it’s the dominant taste. I felt I could swing up on the ball as hard as I wanted on ground strokes and the ball would always find its way into the court with plenty of weight behind it. When I missed it was either because I was too greedy with the sidelines, or my shots were too flat. Same goes for serving—very consistent and accurate. Contrary to the name, when I played with Psycho strings, my game felt very steady.
The one drawback I noticed was that after a few sets I had to frequently readjust my strings between points. Perhaps when I used the tighter 18x20 pattern this was less of an issue. But now with the 16x18 frame, the strings were taking advantage of the added room to move. The Cyclone mains were sliding, getting stuck on the crosses, and not snapping back. I’ve been told (courtesy of Pro Shop contributor, Mitch Case) that Power Fiber II does not slide very well which could be the reason.
Which got me wondering whether using hybrids in general isn’t optimal for spin production. After all, I was starting to lose that coveted “snap back” effect. So I consulted another friend of the Pro Shop, Julian Li. Julian has been stringing on the pro tours for years and, along with his brother, runs Racquets Rackets in Arcadia, CA, where they sell, string, and customize frames. I asked him for his opinion on the subject and he confirmed that the coating eventually dries out on some hybrids, thus making it "sticky" which can sap some of the snap-back/spin. It’s a trade-off for having a softer string bed. But to lessen the impact he suggested trying the following:
1. Lowering the tension on the crosses by 2-4 lbs (less friction) so it'll be easier for the poly to slide back.
2. Using a thinner poly for the crosses instead; 16g poly mains and 18g poly crosses @ 56/52lbs.
3. For testing purposes only, use a dry lubricant spray such as Liquid Wrench L512 Dry Lubricant on the hybrid to maintain that poly snap back.
No. 3 is strictly for tennis nerds. And maybe a few Psychos.