Gear Q&A: Split Decision

by: Jon Levey | June 01, 2018

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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’ve been a full polyester string player for many years. However, I’ve been suffering from arm pain and my stringer suggested switching to a hybrid may help with the problem. I read that many pros use hybrids, mostly a natural gut/poly configuration. I’m thinking of trying it, but am wondering which string works best as the main and which should be the cross? What are the differences between the two setups?Jeff S.


Good question, less of a straightforward answer. While the gut/poly tandem has proven a popular choice on the pro tours, there’s far less agreement on which one should take the main role. For instance, frequent contributor, Kin Roseborough, is head stringer at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, SC, host of the Volvo Car Open. At this year’s tournament, they had 25 players using a gut/poly hybrid; 13 put gut in the mains, while 12 went with poly—a virtual split down the middle. Some dropped the tension of the cross string, others kept it the same. 

Kin also strung for several of the players at last year’s Winston Salem Open. Most of his assigned players used a full polyester string bed, but there were six guys using poly main/gut crosses, and three with the inverse setup. The tensions on the crosses were also all over the place. So, while a small sample size, it seems that even among the most discerning players in the world there’s no consensus on which setup is the obvious one.

Which leaves personal preference as the primary arbiter. Having played with both setups, I favor having gut in the mains, with a poly strung about five pounds looser in the crosses. In my experience with hybrids, while both strings contribute to the overall feel and performance of the string bed, the main string is generally the alpha. With gut center stage, I find better comfort and easier power, with plenty of touch and surprisingly good access to spin. While not as durable as poly, it’s also tougher than its reputation. Yes, it’s expensive, but I’ve never felt I haven’t gotten my money’s worth out of a set of gut.

Putting poly in the driver’s seat offers up a firmer, crisper response. From my perspective, it seems to offer slightly better control and permits bigger cuts with less risk, but little difference in terms of spin production. Players who put a premium on string longevity will probably prefer this setup, as will those accustomed to a stiffer feel. However, some of that will be dependent on the type of poly, as traits like shape and gauge can factor in to durability and response.

Oddly enough, if gut isn’t handy—or if it’s simply too expensive to use regularly—I would actually recommend using poly in the mains with a standard multifilament. The opposite configuration just doesn’t work as well for me. There’s just something unique to gut that feels better, promotes better snapback—the regular multi sticks to the crosses much earlier and more frequently—and it lasts longer. But used as the cross string, a multifilament can soften the string bed somewhat to ease shock on the arm, while still allowing the poly to exhibit some of the control, spin and durability it’s known for.

If that doesn’t work, another option to consider instead of a multifilament is using a thinner, softer poly strung loosely in the crosses to complement a sturdier poly in the mains. This arrangement will play more like your current setup, and the additional flex in the string bed may provide some arm help. 

Hope you’ve got plenty of frames in your bag because you’ve got some experimenting to do. Good luck.

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