Gear Q&A: Miracle Worker

by: Jon Levey | October 04, 2017

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Jon Levey answers your equipment questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to email your question, or send him a tweet at @72unforced.


I’m not unhappy with my current strings (Luxilon), but I’ve been using them for many years. Everybody I play with seems to be switching strings all the time, and are thrilled with their discoveries. I feel like I’m missing out. What new strings would you suggest I try?—Martin

Martin,

When I get quizzed by tennis buddies, this is the question they ask most. More than racquets, it’s what new strings should they be playing with to improve their games. There currently seems to be a halo effect surrounding strings in that they promise massive gains to every stroke. (I blame TV announcers going on and on about the pace and spin generated by “new technology”). And while advances in strings have grown in recent years—arguably more so than in racquets—they’re not magical. If your game suffers from technical or physical deficiencies, a different string won’t fix them. Finding the right one for your game and frame can certainly elevate performance, but a little perspective is required.

Rather than offer up my favorites or any of the countless strings and combinations that could compete with your Luxilon—still an excellent string—perhaps it makes more sense to address why players seek out new strings. For instance, when I’m posed this question my first response is usually: “What are you looking for?” One of the more common replies is: “More power and control.”

Well, who wouldn’t want that? But let’s unpack that request a little bit. Those are virtually opposing traits. If a string provides more power, the resulting shots would invariably be more difficult to control. As tantalizing as such a string would be, most must strike a compromise between the two characteristics. A softer, springier string will often return more energy into the ball, giving shots easier depth and pop; a firmer string will deflect less, giving a truer rebound off the string bed, even on a longer, faster swing. It’s difficult for a string to do both.

Luxilon is a terrific control string, but much less adept at providing pace. That’s why many pro players opt to hybrid it with a softer string (typically natural gut) for better power and comfort. It’s not necessarily the best of both worlds, but it’s as close a bargain as they’re going to get.

If you like the feel of your string, something simple to consider in the hunt for either more power or control—that many players overlook—is experimenting with the tension. Having it strung even a few pounds lower can result in more pop, while raising the opening tension can lead to better control. It also doesn’t hurt to restring your racquet more frequently in order to keep it in its optimal playability window. Oftentimes players leave strings in too long, especially a highly durable string like Luxilon, and then blame the string for their slip in play, forgetting that they were quite happy with their performance when the strings were fresh.

Another common request is for more spin. Again, if you don’t have the stroke mechanics for it, a spin-friendly string won’t turn your forehand into Jack Sock’s. But co-polyester strings can accentuate this attribute thanks to their non-abrasiveness and ability to “snap back” into position. Shaped and textured varieties provide added grip to the ball for even more spin. This can provide more safety to shots, allowing players to take even bigger rips at the ball. When you combine pace with nasty spin, you get that coveted “heavy” ball players crave and opponents hate.

You seem to be doing fine with Luxilon, but polyester strings aren’t for everybody. They can be extremely stiff, and if you don’t have the requisite swing speed to move them at contact, it can feel like hitting with a board. Which brings up another issue players are often hoping to solve with their strings: they’re in pain. I frequently hear from players complaining of sore wrists or bum elbows, playing with stiff, arm-unfriendly polyesters strung at high tensions. That’s a no-no.

Simply put, if you have chronic arm troubles you’re better off playing with a softer multifilament string. Any perceived benefits in terms of control or spin will be offset by the ensuing physical difficulties. A multifilament absorbs more shock and allows a player to swing easier to create pace, both of which take less of a toll on the hitting arm. If parting with poly is too difficult, then stringing at low tensions, using a softer model in a thin gauge, or pairing it with a softer multi in a hybrid are all things to consider if the desired outcome is a more comfortable string bed that promotes a healthier arm.

I'm not sure this answer was exactly what you were looking for, but I hope this broader assessment will help narrow your focus on your string search. 

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