TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.
Hello, Justin. I play with a Wilson Pro Staff Six.One 90, and the question I have for you is about power pads (or leather pads). What are they used for? And how do they work?—Giorgos
Power pads, Giorgos, are small pieces of leather that separate the string from the outer halves of the grommet strip. Typically, power pads are installed on the center main strings, in the throat of the racquet. While their usage is scarce these days, a number of high-profile pros, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer included, have strung up their sticks with the leather strips. (Here's a photo of Federer’s p. pads in action. Notice the small brown squares at the six o’clock position.)
So what’s the point? Well originally, power pads were employed to protect natural gut strings against premature sheering and breakage. In the yore days of wood, remember, racquets didn’t have open throats but rather solid, wooden ones. This design presented a problem for the center mains, because it forced the strings to enter the woodies’ sharp, splinter-prone grommets at extremely acute angles—a hazard for gut's fragile construction. Hence the power pad, which pulled the string away from the frame just enough so that it could thread the grommet at a straighter, safer slant.
Gut preservation is still a function of power pads, albeit a secondary one, what with all the advancements in racquet and grommet construction. (Racquets now have open throats, and plastic doesn’t sheer strings quite so readily.) Today, it seems, players use pads primarily to alter the feel of the stringbed. As expected, lodging a piece of leather against a string will reduce its vibration upon impact, which many players say dampen the stringbed's feel. Some even claim that power pads, by elongating the main strings, lengthen the sweet spot—although, given how slight the change is, this claim seems rather dubious.
Power pads can be purchased from several online retailers. Or you can even make your own by slicing up leather grips or strips. To install them, simply place the pads between the relevant grommet holes (in the throat), wrap the string around the pad, and pull the tensioner. Work carefully: If the leather is misaligned or not the right size, it could slip out.
Good luck. And to all out there who have given power pads a try, leave a note. Comments are always welcome.