So many variables can influence your performance on the tennis court, from health and physical fitness to weather and skill level…but what seems to get overlooked the most are the racket strings. Although this might seem like a minor detail, you’d be surprised at how much of a difference a small adjustment in string tension can make, or how choosing the right gauge (thickness) can noticeably boost the responsiveness of your racket and improve your game. You wouldn’t want something so seemingly innocuous as your racket strings to hold you back, so keep the following points in mind to ensure that your string setup will work in your favor.
When choosing the type of strings you want to use, there are three main factors to consider: Material, gauge, and tension. Let’s break each factor down one-by-one:
- Material: Without getting too technical, tennis strings loosely fit into one of two categories: Natural gut or synthetic gut. As the name implies, natural gut strings are actually made from the intestines of a cow (very appealing, we know). Natural gut strings are a popular choice for professional players due to their stability and elasticity; however, they are also quite pricey, and therefore not often recommended for recreational players. Synthetic gut, on the other hand, is much cheaper and can be made from a wide range of materials including nylon, Kevlar, and polyester, and comes in a variety of textures as well. For the average recreational player, a multifilament synthetic gut is the best choice due to its versatility and playability.
- Gauge: This is the diameter or thickness of the string, which typically ranges from about 1.00-1.10 mm (19 Gauge) to 1.41-1.49 mm (15 Gauge). Notice that as the gauge number goes up, the thickness of the strings actually gets smaller. Gauge plays a big part in terms of producing feel and spin, and as a general rule, thinner gauges tend to deliver more power, control, and playability. The most popular gauge size for recreational players is arguably 16, but if you want to try a different size, it is recommended that you err on the thinner side instead of going for thicker strings.
- Tension: This is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in terms of how your strings can affect your game. String tension is measured in terms of the pounds of pressure that must be applied in order to stretch the strings (much like a hunting bow), with the typical range being anywhere between 40 to 70 pounds. A lower level of string tension actually provides more rebound for the ball, which translates into more power and range for your strokes. The trade-off is that you will sacrifice a little bit of control over your racket. A high level of string tension offers you more control of the speed and direction of the ball due to minimal string movement. Keep in mind that when your strings are tighter, they will absorb less impact from your strokes, which means that the shock will be transferred to your arm. This can produce soreness or injury over the long run, especially if you are prone to tennis elbow. So, the bottom line is that if you want more power, choose a lower string tension; if you want more control, choose a higher string tension. The typical beginner or recreational tennis player can benefit more from a looser string tension, as it gives them the ability to produce power for their shots without having to swing too hard.
Discovering the best tennis string setup for you is largely a personal choice, and it is much more an art than a science. Keep the above information in mind to help you make an informed decision, and be sure and talk to your coach or tennis professional if you’re still unsure. Once you make the appropriate adjustments to your strings, it just might give you that edge you’re looking for out on the court!