Most tennis players choose a tennis racquet with great care, but many do not realize that their racquet strings may have a more profound effect on their game than their carefully chosen frame. So, if you are reading this text now, you are doing the right thing then :) However, picking a string can be confusing and overwhelming. There are hundreds of strings to choose from and you must also choose a gauge and a tension.
While there are some manufacturers that offer pre-strung racquets in their less-expensive models, Tennis-Depot selects and offers mostly top quality high-performance brands and models, which come unstrung (junior versions of these racquets are usually pre-strung). This allows you to choose and tailor the strings to your game and to customize string configuration and tension according to your playing style. Again, as with the racquets, the two primary considerations in selecting tennis strings are power and control. The additional factors to consider, aside from the price, are durability, comfort, and feel.
The key parameters you need to understand before selecting your strings are: 1) composition, 2) gauge, and 3) tension.
1. String composition
The material used in tennis string can significantly affect their performance. The materials vary in terms of elasticity, durability, rebound efficiency, tension holding capability, and cost.
Natural Gut strings are produced by drying fibers extracted nowadays mostly from cows gut in a complex and expensive process. Gut strings are very popular among professional players as they have better tension retention than any other material, providing the most energy return. Gut strings remain soft at high tensions while other materials tend to dramatically stiffen. This allows stringing tightly for rebound efficiency (power) while simultaneously improving the ball control and decreasing impact shock (which can hurt the elbow and other joints). Gut strings are more expensive, not very durable and are sensitive to moisture. At the same time, some advanced players, who hit flat shots and hit the sweet spot consistently, find high-quality gut to be more durable than many other types of strings due to its outstanding tension retention. Natural gut is usually offered in coated form and is often used in hybrid stringing.
Synthetic Gut are all non-natural gut strings; however, it is often used as a name for a category of strings made of nylon or polyester with textured coatings and colorants, composed of a single thick strand filament (hence, called "mono-filament"). Synthetic gut mono-filament strings are made of a wide range of artificial materials, making them cheaper, more durable, and easier to manufacture than natural gut. Their most important qualities are their cost and excellent lifespan. The disadvantage of these synthetic gut mono-filament tennis strings is that they lose their flexibility quicker and provide you with less power and feeling than some other artificial or natural gut tennis strings.
Multifilament are strings that have more than one filament and are composed of several (up to thousands) of smaller strands. They are most commonly made of nylon, but can incorporate other materials such as polyurethane, polyolefin, Zyex, Vectran, Kevlar, and other materials. They are not as durable as the mono-filament synthetic gut strings and not as soft as the natural gut; however, multi-filament strings offer high elasticity and major ball acceleration compared to single-filament strings with much closer approximation of natural gut's performance and great overall playability. These are great category of strings when you are looking for arm friendly strings with power and control.
Nylon strings are the most basic, low cost choice strings. Some models offer wear-resistant coatings. They are reasonably durable with balanced power and control, hold tension well and have a crisper feel compared with multifilaments.
Polyester & Kevlar are among the stiffest and most durable string material. Both strings have poor tension holding capability and could be very damaging for your arm and wrist; however, due to the reduced potential for unwanted string movement, players are able to apply heavy topspin to balls while maintaining control, making them very popular among professional tennis players. Kevlar particularly has to be often strung at a low tension and as a hybrid with another string, in order to combine both strings' qualities, as Kevlar by itself feels too stiff, especially when combined with a stiff racquet.
Polyolefin & Zyex are soft synthetic string materials. These types of strings have low durability but offer gut-like dynamic stiffness and more rebound efficiency and may be a good alternative to natural gut and multi-filament strings. One of the most arm and joins friendly strings.
2. String gauge
Gauge is basically the measure of string thickness. Most tennis strings range from gauge 15 (1.44 mm) to gauge 18 (1.10 mm). The higher the gauge number, the thinner the string and vise versa. Half-gauges are represented by the letter L, for "light". A 16L is between a 16 and 17 gauge.
Generally, the thicker the string, the more durable the string is. Thinner strings offer greater feel, more resiliency, power, and spin potential than a thicker string of the same material and construction. Thinner tennis racquet strings tend to have a better playability and to bite the ball better which helps if you like to hit spin.
3. String tension
The power generated from the strings depends on the elasticity of the strings and how much the strings “deform” when the ball makes contact with the strings. Tighter strings allow less string deformation and generate lower ball speeds, while looser tensions yield greater string deformation and higher ball speeds. However, lower tension may result in a loss of control.
4. How to choose your tennis strings
First, determine what type of tennis player you are: are you a big hitter or are you a touch player? Do you break strings often? Do you have elbow problems? Do you need more power in your game, or do you need more feel and control?
Picking a composition
Choose a softer string, like natural gut, multi-filament, or polyolefin if you are prone to having elbow soreness or tendonitis or need more feel or comfort. Select a polyester string if you are a big hitter. If you like to hit hard with control and do not want to worry about the expense of constantly restringing due to breakage, this would be an excellent string choice.
What is a hybrid?
Hybrid stringing consists of using different strings in the main and cross strings of a racquet. Hybrid stringing can be as simple as varying string thickness between the main and cross string, to using completely different string materials. By selecting different hybrid combinations of string, you can fine-tune the playability, comfort, durability, feel and control offered by the stringbed. String your racket with a hybrid string if you use a racquet that has a wide string pattern. A hybrid string should consist of a durable main string coupled with a more playable cross string. A hybrid string will give you durability, but still allow you to have some feel for the ball.
When choosing a hybrid, note that the mains string will dominate the overall feel and playability of the two strings. For example, if you are seeking durability, then the more durable of the two strings selected should be chosen as the main string. Think of the cross string as having an influence on the main string. For example, a soft and forgiving cross string, such as natural gut or multifilament synthetic, can soften-up a stiff and durable main string, such as polyester.
Picking a gauge
To summarize: thicker strings (15, 15L, 16 gauge) provide less spin, elasticity, comfort and feel but are more durable; thinner strings (16L, 17, 17L gauge) are less durable but provide better spin, elasticity, comfort and feel.
Picking a tension
Most racquet frames come with manufacturer's recommendations on string tension, measured in pounds; for example 52 to 62 lbs. Within the recommended tension range, lower tensions offer more power, durability, feel but significantly less stress on the arm; higher tensions offer significantly more control and slightly better spin but less power, durability, comfort and spin. As a general rule, higher tensions of the range are only recommended for experienced players. For most other players we recommend you to start in the bottom third of the manufacturer's recommended range.