You Get What You Pay For: Tennis Warehouse Edition

I recently re-strung a racket for a client who bought the racket from Tennis Warehouse. As most avid tennis players know, if you buy a racket from TW and buy string for it, they will install the string for free.

For example, you can get Luxilon 4G installed by TW for $17.95. A player who bought the 4G from TW and brought it and the racket to me would pay an additional $15.

Of course, as is often the case in life, you get what you pay for. I was surprised to see terribly tied knots on the free string job from TW pictured below. I was under the impression that many (most?) of the stringers at TW were United States Racquet Stringers Association Certified Stringers or Master Racquet Technicians, but apparently not. Or, if so, then the USRSA certifier in San Luis Obisbo is not doing his/her job well. Or, perhaps the stringers there are just rushing to crank out rackets. Whatever the case may be, poorly tied knots can often be symptomatic of poorly installed strings, so it is not surprising that this customer had to have the racket restrung so soon after getting it.

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The Pre-Packaged Poly-Poly Hybrid

Courtesy of Head and the United States Racquet Stringers Association (USRSA), I received a sample pack of a new string from Head recently. Actually, Head Gravity is not a “new” string, per se, but a new combination of strings, which is what caught my attention. It is a pre-packaged “hybrid” that contains 22 feet of a 1.25mm (17 gauge) triangular co-polyester monofilament and 18 feet of a 1.20mm (18 gauge) traditional round co-polyester monofilament. (As the string lengths suggest, the triangular poly is designed for the mains and the round poly for the crosses — on only a few of the rackets I string could I do all of the mains with only 18 feet of string.) By the way,Head Gravity is reviewed in the February 2015 issue of Tennis Industry Magazine.

Head Gravity

What caught my attention is that Head Gravity is a “poly-poly” hybrid. As I note on my “additional string information” page, hybrid stringing capitalizes on the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of different types of string. Typically, a hybrid string job will use a polyester monofilament on the main strings for firmness and durability, and a synthetic gut, multifilament, or natural gut on the cross strings for power and feel. These mains and crosses can also be reversed, though, for a different effect. Roger Federer and some others, for example, do use natural gut on the main strings and a monofilament on the cross strings for more feel and power — and obviously the reduced durability of a such a set-up is not an issue for Federer.

The fact that not all polyester monofilament strings are made the same makes the “poly-poly hybrid” a good option for those who want the durability of a monofilament string but a bit more “pop.” For example, with Wake Forest’s men’s tennis team, we have taken advantage of the range of Pacific’s monofilaments to provide the players with optimal poly-poly combinations. Pacific’s Poly Power Pro is one of the softest monofilaments we have found (stiffness rating of 222 according to the USRSA), and we hybrid it with Pacific’s stiffer Poly Force (294 stiffness) and X Cite (271 stiffness) strings.  Poly Power ProBecause Poly Power Pro is a monofilament, we can use it as a main string for better feel and power without sacrificing much in the way of durability. This has been a popular option for players using rackets with 18 mains and 20 crosses (a tight string pattern), with 17 gauge Pacific Poly Force in the crosses. Poly Power Pro also makes a nice compliment in the cross strings when using Pacific X Cite in the mains.

When someone says “hybrid,” I do still think of someone who combines a monofilament string with a synthetic gun, multifilament, or gut, but Head’s Gravity reminds us that as monofilament technologies evolve, we should all consider the poly-poly hybrid as an option.

String Check: USTA National Clay Courts 12s

Last entry I discussed the rackets that some of the best 12 and under tennis players in the United States used at the USTA National Clay Courts. But as my friend Tom Parry of Pacific has often said, “rackets are just string holders.” So what types of strings did we see? Through the first three days, it looked like this:

All Multifilament –23.5%

All Synthetic Gut –12.0%

HYBRID –35.3%

All Monofilament –29.0%

These string combinations are listed from “hardest” to “softest” in terms of the feel of the string and the amount of shock that is transmitted to the players arm. (Operationally, the United States Racquet Stringers Association defines the “stiffness” of a string as the pounds of force per inch necessary to move the string. This ranges from the softest gut at 88 to the stiffest Kevlar at over 500. Most multifilaments are in the 180-200 range, synthetic guts are in the 200-220 range, and monofilaments range from 220 to over 300.)

The stiffness of the player’s stringbed is a big concern. I know many people who have developed wrist or elbow tendonitis from using strings that are too stiff. I worry about the long term consequences on a kid’s arm of using very stiff strings from a very young age. I advise my customers – regardless of age actually — to use the softest string possible, and only move to harder strings when they begin to break strings more frequently than they can afford.

I was happy to see, therefore, that less than a third of the players were using all monofilament string jobs and slightly more than half were using all multifilament or all synthetic gut strings. The largest group of players were using hybrid strings (stiffer monofilament strings on the mains and softer strings on the crosses), which is a good compromise for people who play and break strings frequently.

Interestingly, one of the tournament sponsors, Babolat, gave each player a free pack of RPM Blast 17g. That is 128 sets in total, which is quite generous. I am not certain, however, that it is a good idea for 10, 11, and 12 year olds to be using all-RPMs. I often hear people characterize RPM as a “soft poly.” It is actually a very stiff sting (rated at 280 pounds). What people react to, I believe, is that it is more elastic than other earlier generation monofilament strings, giving it better “feel.” But the fact that it has more elasticity doesn’t mean that it won’t transmit a good deal of shock to the arm of a 11 year old kid. I just strung a Babolat Pure Drive with RPM at 62# and wonder about the long term effect of that on the player’s physical well-being. He did complain about shoulder pain after one of his matches and said (joking perhaps, though perhaps not) that he was going to drop 10# on his rackets after the tournament.

Speaking of tensions, almost one-quarter (23.5%) of all of the players we strung for were at 59# or higher, though some of those were stringing with all multifilament strings. The same proportion were stringing at 54# or lower, which I think is a good ceiling for most players (sting low!). No player strung below 50#, though. The majority of players strung between 55# and 58#, with the single most popular tension being 55#. In general, I found the string tensions reasonable in combination with the types of strings people were using.

In the end, I would say the “typical” racket being used by the players at this tournament was a Wilson with hybrid string job at 55#.

The most unique request was for a 9 year old player using a Wilson K-Blade junior model. The mother dropped off the racket and said she didn’t know the tension range, so I was going to string it at the middle of the range with a Gamma multifilament. She came back a moment later and said the kid’s coach texted her the tensions for the racket: 51.5# on the mains, and 50.5# on the crosses!