Saturday School: Tennis strings and String tension

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Even before a tennis player learns to hit a ball from one side of the net to the other, the first thing that he or she works upon is developing and enhancing their tactile sensation. When a player hits a ball, the most sought-after feeling at that moment is contacting the sweet spot. A sweet spot generates when the ball is perfectly in contact with the racquet’s strings and also traverses the path that the hitter directs it in. Apart from the basic skill set that is expected from the player, a major part of the game involves having an all-round knowledge of your equipment.
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Tennis racquets have two string paths within it. The vertical strings (considering the handle as the long axis) are referred to as the mains while the ones going horizontally are known as crosses. A combination of mains and crosses results in the generation of tension within the racquet which acts as a key factor in the ball’s trajectory after the player has hit it. The tension developed also depends on the type of string used. First, we will have a look at the various tennis strings followed by the ideal string tension that is expected in a racquet.

STRINGS

NATURAL GUT 
The first ever tennis strings used were made from the gut of a cow. Today these strings are popular for their elasticity and ball control. These strings are made through complex processes making them the most expensive strings in the market. Due to their high cost, these strings are not used in racquets that are meant for recreational purposes. Unless you are a professional player, these strings are not seen often. Being prone to moisture and having lesser durability has reduced the usage of these type of strings greatly.
SYNTHETIC STRINGS
As the name suggests, these strings are made up of synthetic materials. Nylon, Kevlar, Polyester are three of the most common synthetic materials used in the fabrication of these strings. The biggest advantage of synthetic strings is that it gives the same benefits of natural gut strings but at a much cheaper rate.
Nylon Strings
Nylon strings are the most commonly used tennis strings. These strings are made from nylon fibers which greatly add to the durability of the strings. Nylon strings are made such that there is a solid core wrapped by an outer cover.
Another type of string construction used in nylon is multifilament. Multifilament strings are widely popular in players with arm injuries as it makes a soft surface on the racquet which can easily generate a lot of power. Tufts of nylon are packed together which makes it durable. Though, due to extremely thin nylon strings used in these strings, the individual filaments may tend to rupture.
Polyester Strings
Baseliners and power-hitters would usually opt for polyester strings. These strings are more durable than nylon strings but can adversely affect a player’s arm. They can be heavy on your hand during the shot making and hence are not used in athletes suffering from an arm injury. In its fabrication, polyester strings usually comprise of a single core which is known as monofilament, Rafael Nadal is one of those few players who use polyester strings on both the mains and crosses.
Kevlar
Kevlar strings’ properties are very similar to that of polyester. These strings are used in players who often tend to break their racquet strings.  The monofilament string construction is applicable to these strings as well. As a result, Kevlar strings are often accompanied with lesser hard strings to make the tension bed relatively softer.
Textured, Hybrid, and Composite strings
Textured strings are made such that the outer wrap of the solid core is indented with grooves to create a spiraling texture on the string. This results in more spin and power when the ball contacts the racquet.
Hybrid racquets comprise two types of strings. The strings that are used in the mains are usually hard and durable whereas the ones used in the crosses are softer and hence make the perfect equilibrium on the string bed. Roger Federer’s Pro-staff RF97 uses natural gut strings in the mains and polyester strings in the gut.
Composite strings use multiple synthetic materials in its processing. Nylon is one of the most common synthetic material used in the composition of composite strings. The common construction sees a single core with multiple wraps of different materials.

String Thickness – What is the ideal diameter?

There is no ideal diameter of string thickness. It all depends on your type of play. There is a range of string thickness that you can select from 15,15L,16,16L,17,17L,18,19. The diameter decreases from 15 to 19. If you rely a lot on your topspin, a string with a thickness of 18 or 19 will be preferable. If you are a hard-hitting player, a string diameter of 15 to 16L would be beneficial.

String Tension – What is the ideal string tension?

From hardest to softest, the strings are Kevlar, Polyester, Nylon, Natural Gut.
A hard string will have more tension compared to a softer string. If you are switching from a Nylon string to a polyester string, you may want to keep the tension lower as harder strings perform suitably better at lower tensions.
The ideal range of tension between strings is from 55 to 80 pounds. Once again, it all comes down to the gameplay. Strings with high tension (near 70 pounds) will increase the control of the ball but it will be difficult to generate pace from it. Strings with lower tension (near 55 pounds) will help in generating power more easily as the softer bed will allow the ball to recoil before heading back to the other end.

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