Tennis String Theory

Tom Marshall

You’ve been playing for a while now, have taken a few lessons, and you are starting to feel like you need something more out of your racket and strings. You want to hit a few more balls in play or put some spin on the ball … or maybe you are wondering if you should restring your racket.

How often should you restring your racket? What kind of string should you get? Do you want more power or more control? What strings will be more comfortable for an aching elbow? Are there strings that can help you control the ball with more power and help your aching elbow?

The United States Racket Stringers Association (USRSA) recommends you restring your racket once a year for each time you play a week. If you play four times a week, restring your racket every three months. Also, if you haven’t played in a year, you should probably restring your racket. Like us, just sitting around doesn’t keep us from aging.

There are thousands of different strings available today. There are gut strings from animal intestines, synthetics like copolymers (nylons), and polyester. There are different gauges (thickness), monofilament and multifilament, round, and shaped strings. So, how do you decide?

Gut comes closest to being the “everything” string but will cost $50 or more. Synthetic strings today meet most of your needs. Only five of the top 50 men’s pros use gut strings anymore (Top 50 ATP Players Strings, Many pros use polyester monofilament, giving them a crisp feel for control and a lot of spin, but they aren’t particularly powerful and can be hard on the arm (stringing at 10 to 15 pounds looser can help). However, the crisp feel and spin only lasts about 10 hours of play. Pros don’t care because they restring multiple rackets every match. You can improve comfort by using poly on the mains and synthetics for the cross strings.

That leaves most of us with multifilament synthetics. They emphasize power, control, durability, or comfort, depending on materials and how the string is made. Strings come in 16, 17, and 18 gauge (higher is thinner). The thinner the string, the more power, spin, and feel, while sacrificing durability and control. Round strings are common, but some have shapes that can help increase spin slightly.

String tension is also variable. The racket usually has the recommended tension marked on it, or your stringer can recommend something for you. Lower tensions (to a point) will give you more comfort and power, higher gives you more control. Durability usually isn’t an issue for most senior players.

Most string manufacturers have a lot of information and reviews on their string’s design goals. Try a few different strings until you find what works best for you. See you on the courts!