Are you an avid tennis player that hasn’t thought about or researched your string set up in depth? Perhaps you’ve used the same string and tension for as long as you can remember (even as your game as evolved)? If so, we’ve written this blog post for you. 

When it comes to choosing tennis equipment, it’s all about feel, personal preference and the amount you are willing to invest. At the most fundamental level, one of the most important things to get right is choosing the correct strings and then applying the ideal tension. Tailoring your strings to your game style can considerably improve your performance and make you feel much more comfortable on court. 

Which attributes about strings should you consider when narrowing down your options? All strings can be rated in terms of power, spin, comfort, control, feel, playability duration and overall durability. Scoring high in one category necessarily means compromising in another (e.g. power versus control) so it’s worthwhile considering what variables matter most to you as a player. 

In order to kick things off, here is a list of broad generalisations that will serve you well when narrowing down your string choice and assessing your set up:

  • Lower string tensions generate more power (providing string movement does not occur)
  • Higher string tensions generate more ball control (for experienced players)
  • A longer string (or string plane area) produces more power
  • Decreased string density (fewer strings) generates more power
  • Increased string density (more strings) generates more control
  • Thinner string generates more power
  • Thinner strings tend to produce more spin
  • More elastic strings generate more power. (Generally, what will produce more power will also absorb more shock load at impact)
  • The more elastic the string, the more tension loss in the racket after the string job
  • Softer strings, or strings with a softer coating, tend to vibrate less

What are tennis strings made of?

If you’re looking a wall full of string options (or perusing page after page online), it’s easy to feel daunted by the sheer diversity of what you can buy. We will try to disentangle and simplify your main alternatives here. 

Modern strings are made up of one or a combination of the following materials: natural gut, nylon or polyester.

Natural gut is is made of parts of a cow intestine and is touted as having the best control, stability and spin of all string options. The downside? It’s both expensive and comparatively less durable. As a consequence, the use of natural gut is relegated to tour-level or highly advanced players, who often include it in a ‘hybrid’ set up (more about that later). Want to find out more about this relatively rare type of string? Check out this in-depth article by Tennis Warehouse.

Nylon – AKA synthetic gut – has more feel and durability than natural gut, but relatively less control. A common choice for beginner or intermediate players, it’s economical while being easy on your arm for those concerned about injuries. 

Polyester – AKA ‘poly’ – is the most durable variety of string on the market so intermediate and advanced players that hit frequently and break a lot strings gravitate towards options in this category. One of the downfalls of poly strings is the stiffness, so combining it with a gut string is a common tactic to add comfort.

What is a ‘hybrid’ set up? 

A hybrid string setup is defined by the use of two different strings in the mains and cross strings of a tennis racket. This can be as simple as using two different gauges of the same string but is more commonly done with two completely different string materials such as a natural gut being combined with a polyester. The popularity and demand for hybrids mean that many string manufacturers now sell prepackaged sets. Instead of needing to buy two full sets of different strings and cutting them in half, companies are putting half-sets in one package.

Hybrid setups are extremely common on the ATP and WTA Tours with players choosing a strong, endurance-type string in the mains like Babolat RPM Blast or Luxilon and pairing it with a softer string in the crosses such as natural gut or a multifilament.  Because about 80% of the playability in your racket comes from the main strings, these are the ones that are usually the first to break (when is the last time you recall breaking a cross string?!).  If you put polyester strings in the mains then that provides access to the enhanced spin and control that those type of strings offer. Coupling the durable string with softer strings in the crosses will decrease the harshness that you’d get with a full polyester string bed. An added plus? The poorer durability of a full bed of natural gut is mitigated. 

Interesting fact: Roger Federer is arguably the grandfather of the hybrid string setup as he’s been using it since 2002 with a combination of Wilson natural gut and Luxilon ALU Power Rough. Federer’s exact setup is known as a ‘reverse hybrid’ because he uses natural gut in his main strings and Luxilon in the cross strings. That setup gives a livelier feel on contact but also gives plenty of spin potential. Having natural gut in the mains means the playability is more comfortable because the emphasis is on the more forgiving strings. It also gives access to more power thanks to the properties of natural gut. The Luxilon in the crosses tempers the power of the natural gut and gives Federer access to more spin and control. (Insight provided by PeRFect Tennis). 

How does the gauge matter?

The gauge of a tennis string refers a measure of its thickness. String gauge ranges from 15 to 19, with 15 being the thickest available. As you increase your gauge, you will get more spin and power but sacrifice control and durability. The difference in thickness is subtle: 15 gauge strings range between 1.35 and 1.40mm while 17 gauge strings are between 1.20 and 1.25mm in diameter.  In general, the most frequently used string gauges are 16 and 17.

What should you consider when choosing strings?

Tennis strings are all about trade offs: if you lower the tension, you gain power but lose some control as a consequence. Increase the tension and you’re limiting power generated from the trampoline effect of the strings, but you’re gaining more control and spin potential.

If you’re a beginner, you should focus on selecting easy playing strings which are soft, forgiving and have a comfortable feel. Synthetic gut and multi-filaments (such as Wilson Synthetic Gut PowerWilson Sensation or Wilson NXT) will do the trick.  

Intermediate & advanced:
As you progress, you can start moving to more solid strings which are designed to give you more control and finesse. Polyester strings (aka “poly”) will be in your sweet spot at this stage. More intermediate and advanced players who have honed solid technique can sacrifice some comfort to gain more spin and control. Some popular options include Proxcima Intense Gear and Luxilon ALU Power Rough

Court surfaces are also a variable to consider when selecting strings.

The slowness of clay courts usually necessitates a drop in tension whereas players hitting on the quick pace of hard or grass courts benefit from a higher tensions and hence more control. Environmental conditions play a part too – specifically if you use natural gut which is common on the tour. Humidity impacts these organic strings much more than the synthetic ones and tension can be lost as a consequence.

Does your game style matter when selecting strings?

The short answer is yes.

If you’re a counter-puncher and elect to use the pace of your opponent rather than generate most of it yourself, it’s advisable to choose tighter strings. On the other hand, if you’re an aggressive baseliner and shotmaker, lowering the tension will assist you in hitting more penetrating shots. All court players should consider a hybrid setup designed to give you the best of all worlds: power, spin, control and comfort.

Which tension should you choose?

A great place to start is by looking at your racket. All high spec rackets will have a recommended tension range from the manufacturer typically visible on the inside throat of the frame. It’s usually a range of 10 lbs. For example, 55lbs +/-5 would mean 50 to 60 lbs.

Once you have ascertained the recommended tension, consider which string you’ve selected. If you’ve opted for poly, it’s advisable to start on the low end of the recommendation. For a synthetic gut, start on the mid to high end of the range provided. Because some strings naturally provide more power and others emphasize more control, you can control these factors by how tweaking tightly you string your racket. The physics to remember are quite simple when it comes to string tension: lower tensions have a subtle trampoline effect which propels the ball with more power while tighter strings require you to generate the bulk of the power yourself. 

How often should you get your racket re-strung?

If you don’t break strings while playing, you should consider cutting them out when they’ve lost their tension and playability. Once strings stretch out, they never snap back to their original form and each time you play, you lose a modicum of tension. The classic mistake that most (beginner and intermediate) players make is waiting for their strings to break before replacing them. 

There’s a simple rule of thumb about how often you should get your racket re-strung: the amount of times you play per week should be the amount of times per year you’re due for a re-stringing.

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