When it comes to choosing tennis equipment, it is all about feel and personal preference.
One of the most important things to get right is your strings and tension. Tailoring your strings to your game style can considerably improve your performance and make you feel much more comfortable on court.
Wondering what strings suit your game best? Have you played with synthetic gut at the same tension for as long as you can remember? You’re not alone.
We know there are loads of avid players that haven’t had time to research their options and just defer to the pro shop staff to make decisions on their behalf.
We’ve written this post to help you out. Professional stringer Smitti Chai (who strings for the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams) gave us the rundown on what you need to consider when you’re getting your racket re-strung.
An added bonus? If you’ve ever wondered which string and tension the top players use, Chai divulges their preferences...
For a steady stream of fascinating string-themed content, follow @mainandcrosses on Instagram.
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 Power, Wilson Sensation or Wilson NXT) will do the trick.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most professionals use polyester strings. The only question is "how much"?
Rafa Nadal uses polyester strings and a thicker gauge than most other pros. Why? The amount of power and topspin generated when he strikes the ball would result in strings breaking constantly if he choose thinner gauge and finer material.
Roger Federer unsurprisingly takes a different approach to Nadal. He uses Natural Gut on his mains and Luxilon Alu Power Rough on his crosses. His target tension is 26 / 24.5kg (57 / 54 lbs) with pre-stretched strings.
Serena Williams uses Luxilon 4G and Wilson Natural Gut at 29 kgs (64 lbs) on both crosses and mains, which is about 5kg (11 lbs) tighter than Madison Key’s go-to tension on a mix of Luxilon Alu Power Rough and Natural Gut.
Frances Tiafoe chooses Polyester strings with 22kg (49 lbs) on both crosses and mains.
The most surprising tension comes courtesy of doubles legend Daniel Nestor who likes to play with 6 / 5kg (13 / 11 lbs) on a mix of Natural Gut and Polyester strings.
To understand the huge impact Poly strings had on the professional game, check out this great article.
Jack Sock's string and tension choice at the 2017 Stockholm Open
Different court surfaces and variable temperatures are major factors in how pros string their rackets at a given tournament. For instance, when Smitti was stringing Jack Sock’s rackets at the notoriously hot Citi Open a couple of years ago (temperatures on Centre Court were routinely above 100 degrees), Jack had to increase his tension to cope with the liveliness of the ball. The hotter conditions cause the strings to loosen, so adjustments need to be made to help the player adapt to their environment.
While Chai emphasises that speed shouldn’t be the goal for a quality string job, he admits he has been able to string a 16x15 racket in 10 minutes, 16x18 in 12 minutes and 18x20 in 14 min (!!).
In his experience, the average professional stringer on tour finishes a racket in 15 minutes. To put that in perspective, the average club stringer normally takes ~25 minutes to string a racket.
In summary, the more tennis you play at a higher level, the more often you break strings. It’s as simple as that. The better you get, the more nuanced your setup will be, so simply grabbing any substitute racket when you’ve broken your strings is a non-starter for intermediate and advanced players.
Recognising this, we’ve designed the Epirus racket bag collection to hold at least 2 rackets in each bag style. This way, you always have a back up when you need it and you can finish your match or practice without skipping a beat.