Gear Q&A: A Fair Exchange

by: Jon Levey | May 07, 2020

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Tags: The Pro Shop

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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 @levey_jon.


I’m a longtime polyester string user. I recently had to play a match with a multifilament instead, and noticed my shots seemed to have more pace and depth. I didn’t really notice much difference in spin and the feel/comfort was much better. The only area that suffered was I made more errors than usual, which is probably why I lost. Since it seems better players are all gravitating toward polyester strings, would I be taking a step backward if I switched to a multifilament?Anthony K.

Anthony,

There’s nothing mediocre or outdated when it comes to multifilament strings. If it suits your game, and feels superior to polyester then it’s essentially a no-brainer. Just because advanced players and professionals prefer polys doesn’t make it a wise choice for everyone. In fact, more recreational players would benefit both in terms of their performance and physical well-being to steer clear of polyester strings.

It is true that a large majority of tour players use either a full bed of a poly-type string, or as part of a hybrid. (Often that hybrid includes natural gut, the multi-est of all strings.) That’s because they’re capable of capitalizing on the benefits of polys. Because the strings are inherently stiff, the ball pancakes at contact, loses more of its shape and thus retains less energy return than a softer string. Hence, why an experienced tour stringer I frequently consult calls polys “anti-performance” strings. 

That generally translates into a firmer feel and less power. Which most players would abhor. However, the upshot is greater command, allowing pros to take fuller advantage of their blistering swing speeds. Plus, as strings move during contact, the low friction of polys allow them to snapback faster to produce more spin on the ball. Pair a dead poly with a stiff, powerful frame, add significant racquet head acceleration and you’ve got the ingredients for heavy, controllable ground strokes. 

The caveat to the equation is the racquet needs to be humming. Otherwise the strings won’t flex or move in any direction, and shots will lack much pace or action. And if contact is off-center—a more frequent occurrence for recreational players than pros—it can feel boardy and uncomfortable. A multifilament will pocket more on contact, which not only helps energy return, but soaks up more vibration. That’s why it’s the better option for arm health.

Since polys are so tough, they’re also quite durable. Which is a main attraction to string-breakers not looking to enrich their stringers. Yet, because it stretches and loses tension much faster than a multifilament, it has a smaller prime playability window. Which is one of the reasons many pros use freshly strung racquets at every ball change. They rarely, if ever, test the string’s longevity. On the other hand, rec players typically play with polys well past their best-by dates, which can also lead to arm troubles. 

A similar debate over performance versus feel is often considered with racquets as well. I tend to side with perception over reality. No matter how well I may play with a frame, if it doesn’t have the right feel at contact I generally can’t stick with it. Since on-court winnings aren’t an issue, I prefer try to grow and improve with a racquet I enjoy playing with, rather than one that can offer better immediate results but objectionable feedback. However, I appreciate this stance may fall in the minority. Score is kept for a reason, and there’s no shame in siding with equipment simply because it results in more chances at victory.

But in no way does the composition of the string you choose indicate anything about your prowess on the court. Ultimately, it’s a balancing act between what matters most to your game. Do you prefer the added feel and energy return from the multifilament, or the restraint and precision of the poly? There is no wrong answer. 

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