Gear Q&A: Pull The String

by: Jon Levey | October 24, 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.


Is there a general recommendation for frequency of restringing?  I’m 62, pretty fit and play in Australia so don’t have a ranking, but I guess I’m about a 4.0. I play 3 or 4 times a week, social mainly, but weekly matches during our summer (starting soon) and weekly match practice. I wouldn’t call myself an aggressive power-striker but more a consistent striker using reasonable pace and placement more than pure power.
Currently I have a synthetic gut string at 53lb, in a Babolat Pure Aero, six months since last restring. I quite like them but wonder if that’s a little loose and I might be losing some control. I’m currently injury-free but have a history of elbow and wrist issues.  A pro in my local tennis outlet suggested Wilson Sensation as having good feel, fairly soft, and injury-friendly. Any thoughts on that?—
Peter Humphry

Peter,

The conventional wisdom regarding racquet restringing frequency is to replace your strings over the course of a year the amount of times you play in a week. In other words, since you play 3-to-4 times per week, you should restring your racquet 3-to-4 times per year. As it has been six months since your last restringing, your string bed is probably a little long in the tooth and in need of freshening up. Even though they may not look damaged, the loss of tension and elasticity over time has probably robbed your strings of playability.

While this is a good rule of thumb, it’s a somewhat broad blanket to cover all types of players. Amount of court time is certainly a factor, but there are other considerations that should alter the rate players get their racquets restrung. Obviously, repeated string breakers will adjust as necessity dictates. But just as a jogger leisurely circling a cushioned track for an hour will degrade his shoes to a much different degree than a serious road-runner pounding pavement for the same amount of time, aggressive ball-strikers with long, spin-laden strokes will abuse strings much faster than flat-hitting doubles specialists with tempered swings.

In those circumstances, sometimes an eyeball test is more helpful than a calendar. You mentioned getting a recommendation of Wilson Sensation, which would certainly be a worthwhile choice if you’re seeking a soft, comfortable, arm-friendly multifilament. If you use a full bed of it, or combine it with another string in a hybrid, there’s also the chance of noticeable fraying after some court time. When that happens, regardless of how long the strings have been in your frame, it’s probably time for a restring. While it's still usable, its  performance is compromised. Along those same lines, polyester strings that constantly need realignment because they’ve lost their snapback ability, are likely due for replacement.

Polys, on a whole, present a tricky restringing dynamic. Many models are remarkably resilient and difficult for recreational players to break. However, they’ve got a short playability shelf-life; all strings gradually lose tension due to time and play, but polyesters are reputed offenders. Plus, they break down unevenly—more or less stretching like a piece of plastic—creating dead spots in the string bed, which can lead to erratic performance. (It’s not great for joints, either). But because they’re so durable, players often keep them in their frames well past their use-by date. For this reason, it’s often recommended to replace polys every couple of months at the minimum to maximize playability and preserve arm health.

Ultimately, though, restringing can boil down to personal preference and “feel” about a racquet’s performance. Some players relish a freshly strung racquet; others desire the response after a break-in period. I happen to fall in the former camp, so, regardless of how long the strings have been in use, I will always restring my racquet before an important match, or several of them ahead of a tournament/sectionals weekend.

But even if I’m playing in casual competition in the off-season, I’ll take inventory of certain characteristics: Am I working harder to create pace and spin? Are the strings biting the ball, or is it sliding more frequently across the string bed? Is shot placement and predictability starting to waver? Is there still a “thud” sound at contact?

Usually when I even start to entertain these questions, it means it’s time to restring. If only to reaffirm my confidence in my equipment. Depending on the strings and playing frequency, this can take as little as a week, or as long as a few months. It’s clearly not an exact science, but I'd always rather replace strings too early rather than too late.   

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