Types of strings
String tension and gauge
For a tennis player, choosing your strings is even more complicated than choosing a racket.
Today I’d like to go into the fundamentals of tennis strings. (* I’ll leave the details and more in-depth strings talk for another day, as there is much more ground to cover than with rackets. )
In general, there are four different types of strings (although these days you’ll find ones that lie somewhere in-between). 1) Natural gut 2) Monofilament 3) Multifilament 4) Polyester
In addition, there are a variety of string gauges, but most are either 16-gauge (1.30 mm) or 17-gauge (1.25 mm). If you practice daily and your strings last for at least a month, thinner 17-gauge (1.25 mm) strings are the best fit for relatively under-powered Japanese players.
Types of strings
Natural gut strings used to be made using sheep intestines, but these days many are made using cow intestines.
The price, (including the price of stringing) can run you between 4,000 and 10,000 yen, but all intermediate and advanced players are encouraged to try them out once.
Natural gut is superior in almost every way to synthetic strings: feel, grip, power, and tension holding capability, not to mention that it is said they put less strain on your wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
However, they do have a downside: they are sensitive to humidity and dirt, so they must be handled with care.
●Natural gut string picks
Monos are nylon strings that are well balanced. They are low priced and suited for players of a wide range of levels.
They are very durable and won’t break easily, but nonetheless I recommend restringing every 3 to 6 months.
●Mono string picks
Multis are a type of nylon string that is composed of a number of smaller strands wound together. They have a natural gut-like feel when you make contact with the ball.
Although they are less durable than monofilaments, they have good power and grip, and are suited for intermediate and advanced players.
Polys are single-structure polyester strings.
There are polys that are good at imparting spin on the ball, and there are also polys that are especially durable. They have a range of characteristics.
Compared to other types of strings they are very stiff, so I do not recommend them unless you are an advanced player or competitive player that trains regularly.
Because many pro players use polys, I often see beginners or middle school and high school players stringing their rackets with polys. To them I say that not only will you not improve, you will very likely hurt yourself. Casual players are advised to stay away.
●Polys picks for spin (* The thinner the gauge, the more spin you can impart)
●Picks for best all-around poly (* Thicker gauges are more durable, and thinner gauges give you more power)
For hybrid string setups, the most common setup is to have a poly for the mains and natural gut or a multi for the crosses. However, many pros—most notably Roger Federer—have natural gut for the mains and a poly for the crosses. Word is Nishikori Kei is experimenting with both setups.
Osaka Naomi, who recently won the U.S. Open in September 2018, uses a hybrid setup: Yonex Polytour Pro 125 in her mains and Yonex Rexis 130 in her crosses.
●Hybrid setup picks (* These come prepackaged by the string manufacturer)
String tension and gauge
As a rule, the higher the tension of your strings, the less power you will have; the lower the tension, the more power you will have—the further the ball will fly.
As for how tension affects spin, there are a number of theories, but the bottom line is that it all depends on the characteristics of the strings and what kind of swing the player has.
For example, if you want to string a Babolat Pure Aero with Babolat RPM Blast strings—which have an octagonal profile—and are the type of player who likes to take a full swing at the ball, then the higher the tension, the more spin you will get.
Conversely, if you strung a Wilson Pro Staff 97S—equipped with Spin Effect Technology—with Tecnifibre Red Code Wax strings, which are infused with a wax additive to reduce friction, you will likely find that you get more spin with a lower tension.
Since returning to the pro tour after recovering from a wrist injury, the Japanese player Nishikori Kei appears to have switched his strings from Luxilon 4G to Luxilon Element, and he seems to be getting more spin with a lower string tension.
The performance you get out of strings is also affected by the season and weather, so the issue of tension is an extremely complicated one. For advanced players and competitive players, the question of tension is a tricky one.
One thing that concerns me is that recreational players seem to be stringing their rackets at a very high tension.
If you look at product catalogs from the major manufacturers, you will see a recommended string tension listed under each racket—often in the range of 50-60 lbs. You would think that means the average player should go with 55 lbs, but for the average Japanese player, I would argue that 45 lbs is the ideal tension. This is especially true if you use polys—I recommend a lower tension.
Recent rackets tend to be very stiff, so in general my thinking is that a lower string tension will allow you to hit the ball more cleanly.
The majority of strings available on the market come in a number of gauges (string thickness).
The most common are 16-gauge (130 mm) and 17-gauge (125 mm) (the bigger the gauge number the finer the string), but you can find polyester strings that are 18-gauge (120 mm) and thinner.
Lower gauges are more durable—but while durability means the strings don’t break easily, it doesn’t guarantee the strings retain their tension.
From the moment a racket is strung, the strings start to deteriorate (as they are being stretched). It is a good idea to restring your racket(s) once every three months if possible, or at the very latest, once every six months.
For Japanese players who have a correct swingpath, even thinner polyester strings should last you—as long as you’re keeping it to about two hours or so a day.
In general, thinner strings impart more spin, have more power, and better touch. Whether you choose monofilament, multifilament, or polyester strings, I recommend a higher gauge.
If you are a tennis pro or a serious college-level player—someone who trains hard for between 6 and 8 hours a day—choosing a lower gauge has its advantages.
●Picks for thin gauge strings for soft feel
In the next series of articles, I’ll be writing about the most popular rackets from the major racket makers.
SPORTS & CULTURE #004
Tennis for Beginners (3) A Primer on Strings