Understanding Polyester Strings
Not all teaching pros need to know how to string a tennis racquet, but each of us should have a basic foundation of knowledge when it comes to strings and tension. Our students look to us for advice and guidance with regard to stroke production, strategy, fitness and nutrition. At times making the correct decisions about strings and tension may become arbitrary. Matching a string and tension to a racquet and playing style is very complicated because the choices are endless. Tennis styles have changed dramatically over the past decades and it is only natural that tennis equipment changes as well. Racquets have become more powerful due to lighter and stronger materials and strings have fallen into three categories; synthetic gut, multifilaments and monofilaments.
There is a very strong trend toward stringing with polyester strings and, before we head in that direction, it is necessary to give some examples of strings in each of those categories. Prince Synthetic Gut with Duraflex, Wilson Synthetic Gut Power and Head Synthetic Gut PPS fall into the synthetic gut category. Babolat VS Touch, Wilson NXT and Tecnifibre NRG2 are examples of multifilaments. Lastly, we have the monofilament string which is made up of a single piece of polyester material. A few popular brands that fall into this category are Luxilon Alu Power, Babolat RPM Blast, Solinco Hyper-G and Tecnifibre Black Code.
Understanding ‘Poly’ is tricky because the different characteristics of these strings translate into different meanings for different styles of play. The main benefit of using a polyester string is that it will enhance any spin that the player already knows how to produce. At ball impact, tennis strings split or separate. Polyester strings have the best snapback (return to original position) than any string available, which in turn, increase the RPM’s of the ball leaving the string bed. This is a big advantage. Just ask Rafa Nadal! He uses a full bed of Babolat RPM Blast 15L. Therefore, for the player who has a large, aggressive and fast swing speed style, poly is perfect.
But is it really? Polyester strings also have some strong downsides. Poly strings lose tension faster than any other string. When a racquet is strung, the most tension loss occurs within the first 24 hours and the remaining tension loss flattens out over the life of the string job. Natural gut loses about 10% in the first 24 hours. Synthetic gut loses about 15 % and polyester strings lose a whopping 25%. In addition, the string resiliency of a poly is very short. This is why the term ‘my strings have gone dead’ is very popular with players who use poly. In other words, the life span of the string job is very short. This is the reason that touring pros change racquets at every ball change. They understand the short life span of poly as they seek optimal playability. Finally, polyester strings, in general, are not good for the arm. Poly is a very stiff string, (not forgiving at impact like a multifilament) and coupled with today’s technology of tennis racquets, can cause some serious consequences. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have had arm problems and have had to leave the tour for an extended period of time. This, very certainly, could be related to the use of polyester strings.
So how does this all relate to the teaching pro and their students? As teaching pros, we must evaluate our students playing styles and athletic abilities before recommending racquet stings and tensions. A 3.0 woman, for example, who plays strictly doubles, and has a short uncomplicated swing style, would not reap the benefits of poly. The proper choice would be a multifilament based on her swing style, swing speed and playing level. The under 10 player who has an incredible swing, high energy and great promise to be a high level competitor, should also avoid polyester strings. The teaching pro must realize that the quest for more spin and higher RPM’s must take a back seat to injury prevention. Therefore, a good synthetic gut or firmer multifilament string is recommended. All in all, polyester strings were designed for the player who has a larger, more aggressive swing style and plays at a higher competitive level.
An alternative to using an all polyester string bed would be combining two different strings to form a hybrid. Installing poly strings on the mains and synthetic gut or multifilament strings on the crosses, or vice versa, would potentially give the player the best of both worlds. This would offer the player more spin and possibly more durability from the poly. In turn, it offers more feel, more power and more comfort from the cross strings. The possibilities for making hybrids are endless, so be creative and be willing to experiment. Roger Federer, for example, plays with a hybrid made up of natural gut on the main strings and Luxilon Alu Power Rough on the crosses.
In addition to seeing players stringing with all poly or a poly hybrid, there is a significant trend toward lower tensions. Less tension provides more comfort, more power and more potential spin enhancement. The key is to find the right combination of racquet, strings and tension for a player and their playing style. Much can be determined by trial and error, but if the teaching pro already possesses a basic knowledge with regard to strings and tensions, the decision process will be less complicated for the student.
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