The arrival of polyester strings has been one of the major developments in tennis in recent years. It took a while for all professionals to change over from natural gut, but now nearly every professional player uses polyester in their string setup. This may be as a full bed of polyester or in hybrid with natural gut.
To a professional player, a person who is training everyday and who hits the ball with incredible power, the benefit of polyester has been increased control and greater potential for spin. It has helped bring their game to a new level.
For the club/social player the benefits are not the same. The majority of club players do not understand how polyester performs and are generally using it for the wrong reason or through bad or lack of advice.
Polyester strings are advertised and sold as a string that gives you more control, more spin and excellent durability. All of these things are true, if the player is capable of playing at the level required to achieve these benefits.
What we don't hear, too often, is that polyester is powerless, that you are more prone to injury, that it can be expensive and that its performance level (loss of tension) drops the quickest of all strings.
I definitely see the benefit of polyester, but what this piece is about is to help players 'Understand Polyester'. To weigh up the Pro's and Con's of the string and then decide if it is the best choice for you or not!
Here are some points to consider:
- Why do the pro's use it?
- How does it perform?
- What happens at impact and afterwards?
- Durability versus Playability
The pro's use this string to achieve maximum control and spin. Because these athletes train everyday and work to increase their strength and swing speed, their bodies can absorb the impact from polyester and benefit from the control. They create enough racket head speed to cater for the loss of power from the string.
How the string performs is straightforward. Polyester is so stiff that on impact with the ball, the ball deforms on the string. This takes away the energy of the ball, which means the ball stays on the string a split second longer enabling the player to direct the ball easier.
On impact, there is an initial shock sent through the racket into the players arm. This is followed by vibration. As I mentioned earlier professional players can absorb this shock and vibration because of their fitness programmes. Club players and particularly juniors and women cannot.
The popularity of polyester strings has spread into the club players game and continues to grow, for various reasons:
- The pro's use it, so it must be better!
- The manufacturers spend a lot of money advertising"their No.1 string"
- It is a durable string and ideal for the regular string breaker (or is it?)
- Players don't know any better, because of a lack of education from the stringing brands, from coaches and in some cases from their racket stringers.
The durability versus playability issue is one of the most important ones. Polyester is a string recommended to the regular string breaker because of its durability. This feature will definitely appeal to tennis parents who constantly have to pay for new strings, as tennis can be an expensive sport when you consider coaching fees, travelling to tournaments and the latest gear.
I have a problem with the durability side of things.
The regular string breaker is probably a performance player who plays a lot of tennis each week. So now to cut down on cost they are given a more durable string, however this string loses its tension quicker than any other string. With this loss of tension comes a drop in performance and also an increased risk of injury as the player is now having to swing harder to try and generate the same power. Remember 'dead' strings are not the same as strings strung at a low tension!
Therefore for the performance player to maintain their performance level they should in theory be changing their polyester strings more often to compensate for the loss of tension. So you have to wonder is Durability worth the loss of Playability.
What the club player doesn't always know, and this statement comes from the string manufacturers, is that they agree 'polyester is not usually the best choice for club players'. Club players, generally, do not create enough racket head speed to get the benefit from the string, for which it was made, ie. control and spin.
The spin is created by the snap back effect. This is where the string moves with the ball on impact and then snaps back into its original position, therefore creating the extra spin. This can only happen if the swing speed is fast enough.
When you play in hotter climates, on fast indoor courts or at altitude there is definitely a need and benefit for polyester but you may not always need a full bed of polyester, a hybrid setup may suit an awful lot better.
A large number of professional players, both men and women, are using a hybrid set up. The most important thing to know about a hybrid set up is that the Main (vertical) strings dictate the playability of the racket.
Therefore if you require more power you would put your natural gut or multifilament in the mains and if it is more control you want, then you would put the polyester in the mains. (String gauge and tension also affect this.)
Hybrid stringing is becoming more popular and a lot of stringing brands are now pre-packing their hybrid suggestions and others, most notably Luxilons new natural gut, are also marking their strings with a half way mark expecting that it will need to be cut to be used in a hybrid setup.
Along with Understanding Polyester, players also need to understand their games and be realistic in their analysis. Are you really as powerful a player as you think you are? Don't be too proud to try something new.
Education plays a very important part in understanding, not just polyester but, all strings. Manufacturers, coaches and racket stringers play an important part in this. Manufacturers know that polyester does not suit the majority of players so should therefore be advertising either hybrid set ups or multifilaments that are more suitable to the general public.
Coaches are the ones in the best position to assess a players game and need to knowan awful lot more about both rackets and strings. Subsequently Coaching Associations really need to include an Equipment Section in their coaches training manual. Start with a basic level of training in the first coaching level and increasing the information as the coach looks to qualify in the higher grades. There are plenty of racket technicians and stringing associations that would be more than willing to get invovled.
Finally, for now the racket stringers are the ones who need to ensure the players are using the most suitable strings, or at least are being advised on the most suitable strings. Making sure the players understand how they perform and what the pros and cons are. It will always be the player who makes the final decision but without the correct information this decision becomes more difficult.
This article was written by:
USRSA and ERSA
Master Racket Technician
For more articles, please check out his site, www.racketrestringing.ie