WATCH: Unstrung—Serena's Upcoming Retirement


Got a gear question? Email or tweet Jon Levey @levey_jon.

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.


That’s a good question, with a not-so 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. Recently, a picture of the stringers board at the Atlanta Open made the rounds on social media. In addition to pulling back the curtain on some surprising stringing preferences—John Isner strings at 35 lbs.?!?!—it showed several players who employ this setup. It was a mixed bag whether the player had natural gut or poly in the mains.

To complicate matters further, the string tensions were all over the place. Some players strung the poly looser than the gut; others kept them both the same. Some players preferred their tensions in the 60s; others in the low 40s. There was about as much consensus as the GOAT debate.

Which leaves personal preference as the primary arbiter. Having played with both setups, I favor having gut in the mains, with a round poly strung about five pounds looser in the crosses. This is the setup that Roger Federer often gets credit for popularizing. 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 superior 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 unless playing in extremely humid conditions or with a very open string pattern, I’ve never felt I haven’t gotten my money’s worth out of a set of gut.

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.

Putting poly in the driver’s seat offers up a firmer, crisper response. From my perspective, it provides slightly improved 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 nylon multifilament. The opposite configuration falls short for me. There’s just something unique to gut that feels better, promotes more reliable snapback—the regular multi sticks to the crosses much earlier and more frequently—with longer playability. 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 its trademark control, spin and durability.

Another option to consider instead of natural gut or other multifilament is using a thinner, softer poly strung loosely in the crosses to complement a sturdier poly in the mains. This hybrid is gaining traction as it offers better spin and control than adding a multifilament into the equation. It will play more like your current setup, and the additional flex in the string bed may give just enough relief to your arm.

Hope you’ve got plenty of frames in your bag; with all these stringing possibilities you’ve got some experimenting to do.