Your strings contribute in a number of ways to the feel of the ball on contact, power level, spin, comfort etc. The string is therefore just as important to your game as racket selection.
Lets begin by briefly looking at the major categories (materials) of string and the pros and cons of each.
The original tennis string. The string is made of natural materials, specifically the intestine of the cow or in some cases sheep.
- Power: Due to it elastic properties natural gut is the most powerful string available.
- Feel: The softness of natural gut allows for great ball pocketing, providing maximum feedback to the player.
- Comfort: Natural gut is very flexible and remains comfortable, even when strung at high tension. It is therefore no surprise that natural gut is often recommended for sufferers of tennis elbow.
- Expensive: Being a natural product that requires processing to refine, a good quality natural gut string is the most expensive option.
- Weather: Despite more modern natural guts being coated, playing in high humidity and rain will ruin the string.
- Durability: Compared to a poly string a natural gut string will generally break a lot quicker. Though in some instances durability is often better than synthetic gut or multifilament strings. Over time the string will appear to fray, though playability is not overly impacted by this.
- Spin: The ability to generate spin is lower than with a poly string.
Synthetic gut strings are generally made from nylon fibres and are the cheapest of all the string alternatives.
- Price: These are the cheapest of all the string options.
- Power: Due to its elastic qualities synthetic gut is a very powerful string.
- Durability: Synthetic gut is the lest durable of all of the string options. Big hitters would not expect to get more than a couple of hours out of this string.
A multifilament string comprises hundreds of very thin strands. These strands are spiral wound and then coated to form a bound/solid string. These strings are the closest playing alternative to natural gut.
- Comfort: These strings are much softer than poly strings and are often recommended for suffers of tennis elbow (and general arm issues) as an alternative to the more expensive natural gut.
- Power: The power level of a multifilament is generally higher than a poly string so can benefit some players.
- Price: While still an expensive string vs. a synthetic gut it is a much cheaper option to achieve some natural gut like characteristics.
- Durability: Once friction has worn through the outer casing the individual filaments will begin to break, eventually being very obvious fraying of the stringbed.
Polyester (Poly or Co-poly)
Poly strings are also referred to as monofilament strings. They are a made of a single core of polyester material.
- Durability: Given their monofilament construction poly strings are the most durable of all the string compositions.
- Control: Poly strings are low powered. This enables the player to confidently take aggressive full swings at the ball.
- Spin: Poly strings are generally smooth, which allows for string movement and snap-back. This encourages mechanical spin on the ball. In addition to this natural spin many poly strings are shaped (square, hexagon) which further encourages spin on the ball.
- Comfort: These strings are a lot stiffer than other string options. They are therefore not recommended for players with arm issues.
- Power: While listed as a con this is not the characteristic a player is seeking when choosing to play a poly string.
As you’ll see from the summary above each string has different aspects it can bring to your game. By mixing strings, in a so called hybrid, you can bring the best attributes of each to your game. As an example many tour players use a natural gut in the mains and a poly in the crosses. Now their string only needs to last until the next change of balls so this might not be the best option if cost is a significant selection criteria. Using a multifilament and poly together may allow a combination of both comfort and control to be achieved, while also being more powerful than a poly alone.
The gauge of the string refers to the cross section thickness. The thicker a string the less powerful it will be, but more control will be delivered, along with greater durability. Conversely a thinner string will be more powerful, produce more spin, but have a lower durability.
Typical string gauges:
- 19: 1.00 – 1.10mm
- 18: 1.10 – 1.16mm
- 17L: 1.16 – 1.20mm
- 17: 1.20 – 1.24mm
- 16L: 1.22 – 1.26mm
- 16: 1.26 – 1.33mm
- 15L: 1.34 – 1.40mm
- 15: 1.41 – 1.49mm
- Men: Start with a 16 gauge string. If a very tight string pattern (i.e 18×20 in a 95 square inch racket) then consider a 17 gauge.
- Women: Consider a 17 gauge string. If using a very open pattern (i.e. 16×18 in a wide-body racket) then consider a 16 gauge.
Simply this is how tight (or loose) the string bed has been strung/tensioned. A tighter tension will be less powerful, delivering more control. A lower tension will be more powerful. There is conjecture as to which will deliver more spin potential. There are many factors to those single characteristic (frame, string, tension, swing plane etc.) so we’re not going to attribute it to tension alone.
Unless you have a specific “go to” tension start out in the 50 – 55lb range and refine from there based on results and preference.
Tension maintenance is a reference to the ability of the string to hold its tension after being strung. Consider that a racket will “relax” after being strung and naturally some tension loss will occur. Additionally once the string has been hit for a few hours it will also stretch and settle, resulting in a loss of some tension.
Tension maintenance can vary by individual string, as its a design/manufacturing characteristic. But generally consider this as a guide:
- Best: Natural gut
- Better: Multifilament
- Good: Poly