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What does lead tape do on tennis rackets?

If you have watched some professional tennis, then you must have seen it: although small and stretched out, these shiny strips are common items among the gear that professional tennis players use every day. You think it might look cool, but not have thought much about it. Strangely enough, these tiny lead adhesives are actually ‘the magical tape’ of tennis and in this article, I’ll explain you why.

Basically, lead tapes allows you to alter the factory settings of your racket by applying weight in ‘strategic’ places on your frame, which then influence the total weight, balance point, swing weight and sweet spot of your racket.

Pretty straight forward

Tennis is actually a pretty straight forward game in terms of scoring system and tactic principles. I’ll assume here you got the scoring system figured out and as for a summary of the the main tactics: you’ll win a tennis match by A) hit the ball with your racket, B) higher than the net and C) within the main court lines and D) far away from your opponent. That’s it! I am exaggerating here of course just to make my point and that is: basically, tennis is not a complicated game.

Tennis and physics

But you’d be wrong. That is, once you decide to read more about tennis. Tennis is a great deal of physics. I actually think tennis is so much about physics, that it leaves us with a great mystery of why Albert Einstein wasn’t a great tennis champion. Now, physics is a great field of study but it comes of course with it’s own set of rules and one that has to be studied for quite some years to be called an expert in. Let’s just make clear: I’m not. I actually liked Physics as subject during high school, but the truth of the matter is that I really wasn’t that good at it. I did take some extra lessons to be honest, just to get through it.

Ready for a challenge?

But let’s not put us of by the rules of physics just yet. I tried to look reading about tennis and physics as a challenge. A challenge that at least might clarify some things we can just take as a practical tip with us on court. In the end, I did find quite a few. One of the prominent features of tennis racket frames is swing weight and it’s best described, in my experience, as the feeling you have of swinging away a racket. In that regard, a heavier frame will cause you more trouble than a lighter frame. A lighter frame of course will be easier to swing. However, swinging is just one part of that basic principle of tennis that we spoke of earlier. Another part is getting that ball to move away from your opponent and a way of doing that better is with a heavier racket. Why? Because more mass behind the ball actually means that it will require less muscle mass to move that ball at the same speed. That’s why one of the most basic rules I actually give to customers in my shop: always choose the heaviest racket frame you can still play relatively easy with.

Playtesting different frames

Ok, so that leaves you with the somewhat cryptic challenge to start finding that sweet spot of having a heavy frame that you can swing around for, potentially, three sets long. How can you even do this, you might ask, if you don’t want to be switching racket frames for the coming six months? Or spend a grant each month? Well, one thing I recommend in any case, try to find a place, being a retailer or a club trainer, who would be willing you to test rackets. And not to test two frames. No, you want to play test dozens of them. Here in Holland, we have a couple of different places where you can go to play test frames. Some are complete free of charge (but might require you to wait a couple of rounds before you can get your hands on a frame) and other parties might charge you with the shipping or restringing costs. Please keep in mind though, you’re not finding your ideal racket right away. That’s not the point of this exercise, but it is to give you more insight in to what swing weight does to your game. So my advice would be to not even take a look at the swing weight of your new stick, but to play with it first, write down your findings in an Excel sheet or something similar and then afterwards take a look at the numbers and probably, you’ll be surprised by the results.

Finding that perfect frame… or not?

Of course, you could find your perfect, preferred frame of choice between those test models. If you pick that one to be your next tennis racket and go play with it right away, who am I to tell you shouldn’t. However, chances are that you play tested quite a couple of models that you did like, but just wasn’t to sure about them. No worries.

Why to add lead tape

Racket technology, as I mentioned in other articles too, comes down to a couple of factors that combine to your preferred feeling or setup. But here’s the deal: with lead tape and some basic calculating you can mimic almost every racket out there on the market. Say what? Yes, you perfectly can! Now this is of course something manufacturers and retailers aren’t too happy to share with you, but it’s the truth. Applying lead tape at certain points in your frame will change the total weight, the balance point and your swing weight. That’s almost every aspect of racket handling! One thing to keep in mind though is that one aspect lead tape can’t really alter is frame stiffness. This frame stiffness is really an aspect of the frame material (being measured in RA values) and varies of course as frame materials and fiber setups vary among different rackets.

How to apply lead tape

So, how do you work with lead tape anyway? There’s really nothing much too it actually. Basically, you apply small strips of about an inch or 1.5 centimeter on both sides of your stringbed and on left and right at preferred positions (on the inside) of your racket head. The most common positions are 3 and 9 ‘o clock and 2 and 10 ‘o clock. Just keep in mind that moving the lead tape up, towards the top position of your racket head, will make your racket more head heavy each time. No problem if you want to increase your balance point and swing weight, but if you want to just upgrade the total weight of the racket while keeping the balance point in place, you have to add the similar weight to the handle, being lead tape underneath the replacement grip or in the but cap. Most racket tuners however, use a method of applying silicon kit in the handle, because this is a neat and clean way of hiding the added weight.

Still a bit unclear about what lead tape can do for you? Take a cup of coffee and watch the following video from Harry Tong and Tennis Spin. It really covers a lot. I just recently stumbled upon his video’s on YouTube but I really like his explanation.

Harry Tong from Tennis Spin explains adding lead tape to your racket.

One thing I don’t perfectly agree on with Harry though is his tip for starting out by adding the least amount of weight. His recommendation is to put it at the top (12 ‘o clock), like Federer and Nadal do. Yes, this will for sure add the top weight but you want stability too (especially recreational players). So my personal recommendation is to start by putting at it at 2 and 10 because it will give you both the benefit of heaving a higher sweat spot with added stability, while also having a head heavier racket. Harry explains this as doing a ‘Tennys Sandgren’.

Go out and try

One thing I definitely agree on with Harry is: go and try it for yourself. That’s basically the beauty of applying head tape to your racket. There is no right and wrong and you can start over anytime. My final tip is just to take some time to test all of your options before moving on to the next one. As with testing anything with regard to your gear, it’s easy to get excited and start testing all day. That’s only good news if you can evaluate the results: how does this really effect my game? If you just hit some basic rallies, try out some games. Like your first play test? Move on and try to play a full set. Next, move on again and try to play a full three set match. I actually missed that last step a couple of times only to find that during the last phase of the match, I couldn’t really swing away as easy because the frame was loaded up to heavy and missing on that basic rule: play with the heaviest racket you can still play with quite easy.

What about you?

So, what about you? What are your experiences with applying lead tape to your racket? Did you like some methods better than others? Please let me know by sharing your experience in the comments down below and help some other players with your knowledge. Also, if you have any questions, please put them down below and I’m happy to do my best answering them.

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What is the difference between a tennis grip and an overgrip?

Now and then customers come rushing into my shop, often already dressed up to step on court in a few minutes, asking me: “I need a new grip, what’s the best one?”. Although I have my favourites of course, I always have to slow them down and ask them a few questions in return. For example, did they mean replacement grip or overgrip? You’ll be surprised by how many customers frown their eyebrows, seemingly not knowing the difference. So in this article I’ll walk you through the difference between tennis replacement grips and overgrips and why you want to know a bit about them.

Basically, a racket is nothing more than a blown up and heated graphite tube. To hold this graphite tube manufacturers produce a pallet handle, made out of polyurethane, and glue this to the frame. This results in a frame that you’re able to swing, but without much comfort of course. So here’s where the basic grip, or replacement grip comes in. Replacement grips are recognisable by their somewhat thicker format, often with some cushioning underneath. You’ll also find an adhesive strip there. On top their is a rubber texture, sometimes perforated to allow for some moisture to slip away. That’s basically it!

Now a replacement grip can be sufficient for beginners or intermediate players at normal to regular levels of play intensity, but I still would not recommend to play with only a replacement grip. Here’s why: once you have found a good replacement grip, you can ‘protect’ it by installing an overgrip. The overgrip takes all the damage, while the replacement grip will stay in place and left unharmed. So, basically, you’ll install a replacement grip for the cushioning effect of your grip, determining a big deal of impact on your hand and underarm. In addition, you’ll install an overgrip for the actual grip.

Now overgrips come, naturally, in a lot of variants. You’ll find that a lot of different players play with, well, a lot of different overgrips. Perfectly understandable, as no player really has the same grip. Overgrips mainly fall into three categories: regular overgrips, which mimic the features of a normal replacement grip and have an emphasis on comfortability. They tend to be even a bit thinner than the rest of the overgrips. Secondly, there are so called tacky overgrips, which will have a special coating to them, making them feel stickier than other overgrips. Naturally, they will really grip better, especially during first games of play. But beware! That’s does not make for the perfect match, as I will explain a bit later on. Finally, there are absorb overgrips that, well, as the name suggests, absorb any moisture from your hand during play. They tend to feel a bit like if you would grip a towel around your racket (much like the overgrips of badminton rackets), resulting in a slightly weird feeling but being actually quite effective in terms of grip.

I can only speak from my own experience (and a bit from my clients) and I’m afraid that I belong to the group of players who will actually need an absorb overgrip to complete a proper tennis match. I sweat quite a bit, even when I’m just warmed up. No Nadal intensity sweating luckily, but still something I need to prepare for. That’s why I have tested quite a few absorb grips during my time. These grips often are designed in blue, modelled probably after the famous blue (original) Tourna absorb grip. It was the grip that Pete Sampras and a lot of other pro players felt most comfortable with on court. Tourna for me still is one of the best grips out there, just in terms of feel and durability. But when you take costs into account, there are really some good alternatives and I haven’t even been testing so much last couple of years. So a couple I like in terms of price/quality ratio are the Signum Pro and Artengo absorb overgrips.

You might be thinking that I might be exaggerating this importance of an absorb overgrip but let me give you an example of something I noticed last summer while playing an important semi-final over my local open tournament. I reserviced my racket completely with a fresh set of new strings and decided to play with only a new, ‘absorb’ replacement grip by Artengo. I really like the look and feel of this grip, thinking it would get me just as far as my normal absorb overgrips. For the first few games I got so much grip out of it, and with the confidence of my level and gear, I actually dominated the first few games againts a much younger, talented player.

From 3-2 ahead in the 1st, things started to change. I did take a quick look at the weather forecast the day before, only hoping that rain would not be a factor. Luckily it was not, but because the sun was actually heating up the rainy grounds, it turned out to be very humid. Combined with some high intensity sweat, my grip started slipping early on and I was actually almost throwing my racket out of my hand at times. I did not have any other absorb overgrips in my back, so I knew it would be a challenge to overturn that slippery feel. Thing just got worse from there.

Now let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I woud have lost this match with or without the proper grip. This youngster was just to good (and amazingly consistent for a 14-year old!) but I just could not put my best tennis out there, which left me with a unsatisfied feeling and to me, that’s all there is to playing tennis at my age and level. I play to play my best and nothing less, so I want to be prepared as good as I can. It’s just a waste of time if I don’t prepare the things to the best of my knowledge.

So, to conclude, if there is anything you can take away from this article, is this: make sure you try out quite a few of the replacement grips and overgrips (or even different combinations of both) out there and then: stick with it. Make sure you have everything in stock, long enough before your tournament or match starts and make sure you have everything gripped well before your match too. You don’t want to be stressed out, gripping everything on court while your opponent is getting frustrated (or: if that’s your preferred tactic, go ahead!). If anything, you don’t want lose even just a couple of points because of something minor like a worn grip, when that’s something you can perfectly prepare for a match. The margin for error is just to small…

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The brains behind the balls: what are the best balls for tennis?

In this article I’ll take a sidestep from your ideal string setup and discuss another rather important part of the tennis game: the tennis ball. Without one, there will be no play! And without joking, because the ball and strings collide into each other, it really benefits you to know something about tennis balls and how they impact your game.

How are tennis balls made?

Let’s say you have just picked up your very first racket and you are a total newbie to the game. Congratulations first of all, tennis is the most beautiful game (in my modest personal opinion) and you’ve just joined the show! Let’s say that you actually don’t know anything about tennis yet, but I’ll bet you’ll know you need a can of tennis balls, right? Right, everybody has seen them probably once in their life, easily recognisable due to their flashy yellow colouring.

But do you know what makes a (modern) tennis ball and how tennis balls are actually made? Probably not, but no worries, you’ll read it al here.

What are the best balls for tennis?

While there are many ways of defining the best balls for tennis, I have found in my own experience of playing and observations that most people find the Wilson US Open the best balls for tennis in terms of price/quality.

Which tennis balls bounces the highest?

This is a tricky question because I have definitely not test all tennis balls out there on the market, but speaking from my own experience I have found that the Dunlop Fort (Max TP) tennis balls bounce the highest.

The bouncing effect is amplified if the pressurised can is being opened (with the famous isshing sound) just before starting a game. While this gives the best bounce on your balls, it is somewhat of an unwritten rule to open the cans the evening before play.

How many tennis balls come in a can?

Tennis balls are sold in tin or plastic cans. The cans are sold in 3-ball or 4-ball quantities, with the latter one of course being slightly more expensive. My recommendation is to buy a good set of 4 because chances are that you’ll lose a ball out of sight (regardless of your playing level) and having at least three balls to play with will not keep you collecting (2) balls all the time.

If your budget allows it, you can also order tennis balls in great quantities.

How long should tennis balls last?

This is also a tricky question, which ties in with how long your strings should last. It all depends on your frequency of play, playing level, hitting style and outdoor circumstances. Of course, if you hit long with harder groundstrokes, you’ll find your tennis balls to last a shorter time. In addition, if you play on gravel, which is considered to be the most intens surface for tennis balls, the tennis ball felt will deteriorate rather fast too. And last, some tennis balls might withstand the first few drops of rain better than others, but in general you’ll want to protect them at any cost from rain, because normally you can throw them away after becoming wet.

But let’s say you play two times a week, on average level and you have bought a durable set of balls, you play (mostly) on gravel and don’t let them lay around in the rain. My estimate would be that you are able to play one month without noticing any drop in quality. The second month you’ll find that the pressure in the balls drops quite noticeably.

Which tennis balls last the longest?

This is also a tricky question to answer, but I can only speak from my own experience and have found that, in order (most durable first), the Tecnifibre X-one, the Head ATP Tour and Babolat Team (clay) tennis balls last the longest.

What tennis balls do professionals use?

Professional tennis players hit with a great amount of pace and a lot of precision. Of course, they can keep this up a longer amount of time than almost anybody on court. That’s why pro’s normally only play just seven games with a set of tennis balls before the umpire asks for “new balls, please”.

However, there is not a definite set of tennis balls the professionals use. Most often, big tournaments have contracts with big brands and almost all the big brands produce a line of tennis balls that the pro’s can play with. To make things a bit more easy on the eye, I’ve made this table down below with all the tennis balls that are being used at the biggest tournaments.

Tournament Surface Ball brand Type
Australian Open Hard court Dunlop Dunlop AO Open
Roland Garros Clay Wilson Wilson x Roland Garros Clay Court
Wimbledon Grass Slazenger Slazenger Championships 2021
US Open Hard court Wilson Wilson US Open Extra Duty

What do numbers on tennis balls mean?

The numbers on a tennis ball represent the ‘set’ they belong to, helping you not to mix up the tennis balls from your court with the balls from your neighbours court. Many people think the numbers are indicators for a durability level of some sort of the balls, and while tennis balls can be classified in certain types, these numbers are not the ones you’ll find on tennis balls.

Let’s say you our playing with those good Wilson US Open Extra Duty balls you’ve just bought and want to take them for a test run… only to find that the players on the court next to you are playing with the exact same balls! Well, now you know, not exactly the same balls, because the numbers under the branding are different on each set. So, just check the numbers, next time your neighbour tries to ‘lend’ your newer set of tennis balls.

Why are tennis balls kept in the fridge?

Tennis balls are kept in the fridge, mostly court side, at big tournaments to preserve the internal pressure of the ball. The internal pressure of the ball is the main factor for ball bounce so you can understand why this is a very important factor at the world’s greatest tournaments.

And what about you? Do you have a favourite brand and type of tennis balls? Please let me know in the comments so I can update this article on a regular basis. Also, please don’t forget to mention the surface you play on and your playing level.

 

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My personal thoughts on using a vibration dampener in your racket

It surprises me every time when a customer comes to me and ask whether they should use a dampener in their racket. While it is a good question, it seems like they already know the outcome of what I’m about to say and assume they should probably play with a racket dampener. Well, wait a minute! No, or yes, but in any case, don’t be so sure until you have read this article and then decide for yourself!

What does a racket dampener do?

As the name of course implies, the intention of placing a racket dampener is to dampen the vibrations of your racket strings. However, vibrations occur in the frame too, all the way down to your arm.

Because the vibrations also create the famous “ping” of your stringbed, using a vibration dampener in your racket will also result in a lower “ping”, depending on the size, material and placement of your racket dampener.

Are racket dampeners good?

Because vibrations radiate throughout your racket frame (in 365 degrees), using a dampener technically dampens only a small bit of the vibrations. While this may definitely allow for a bit of a ‘smoother’ touch, the effect that we’ve attributed to using a dampener is a bit overdone in my opinion.

First, let’s touch on the main reason for installing the dampener and that is to allow for a softer feel of the frame, while swinging away. It is good to mention in this context that frames all have different stiffness ratings (RA-values) and that comparing these values upon buying a frame, will give you the best option to choose a smoother swing. Just like choosing a different choose for your ski’s or snowboard (and comparing stiffness values), you should pay attention to a racket’s flex.

Sometimes manufacturers even have built-in dampening features to prevent as much vibrations reaching your handle and arm as possible. Especially during recent years as the tennis game has evolved in a much more power driven game, this has been the case.

In addition, one of the most important factors that influence your stringbed stiffness is of course the stiffness of your strings. So choosing a more flexible string may be a way better (and logical) solution to having less vibrations, or feeling less vibrations, on impact.

Does using a racket dampener prevent tennis elbow?

No, there is (too) little evidence to support that using a racket dampeners prevents a tennis elbow.

Do tennis pros use dampeners?

Yes, there are actually quite a few tennis pro’s that use a dampener, although many use a different form of dampener. The most known player with a dampener in his racket must be Rafael Nadal. He plays with a a small, ‘button’ type, Babolat dampener.

Other pro’s may use longer form dampeners that actually do dampen quite a bit more of the main, center strings. A regularly seen example is pro’s using a quick and easy fix to dampen their strings by weaving a rubber band through the strings and tying them up. Andy Roddick used to do this in his Babolat Pure Drive.

Where do you place a vibration dampener?

According to ITF rules, players can place vibration dampeners anywhere outside the pattern of the cross strings. This means that they can be placed anywhere on the outer edges of the stringbed (left, right, bottom and/or top). Normally you will see them placed at the bottom of the racket where the center main strings and first cross string meet. While there is no strict limit on how many dampeners you can install, many players will just use one since there is little to no affect on using multiple dampeners (source: tennisexpress.com)

Types of vibration dampeners

You can buy two types of vibration dampeners. One is shaped like a “button” you’d find on a shirt, fully made out of rubber. These are placed pretty easily but only cover about two main, center strings. The effect of these button type dampeners is therefore also less.

The other main type is the “band” type dampener, either in the form of a prefabricated rubber that easily allows the main strings to be covered by the dampener or in the form of an elastic band (either an “wormlike” solid band or an postal elastic band). Because they are woven through the main strings and normally cover more than two main strings, the effect of these bands are a bit greater than of a button dampener. On the downside, they are a bit more difficult to install.

Conclusion: should I use a vibration dampener?

Now that you have all the information, you should be just really test some dampeners and see if it is something that fits your game, or better yet, your ears… As mentioned in this article, the actual dampening effects on vibrations through the use of a dampener in your racket actually is quite small, but a dampener can definitely take the pitch out of your “ping”. If that’s something you’d be interested in, go for it. If not, you are probably better of just by taking a bigger interest in your string setup.

What about your experience? Do you personally play with a vibration dampener? And why? Did I miss anything in this article? Please let me know down in the comment section.

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How to pratically select the best gauge of string for your racket

Selecting the best strings for your racket is one of the most important tasks when it comes to taking care of your racket. Not only are there quite a few different materials to choose from, they are available in different sizes. Racket strings are made in different thicknesses, called gauges. The thicker the gauge, the more durability and control, while the thinner the gauge, the more power and comfort. In the end string gauge is a personal preference with various advantages and disadvantages on both ends of the spectrum, which I’ll explain further in the rest of this article.

Basic gauge sizing for tennis rackets

To start things off, let’s take a look at all the gauge sizes out there, with their respective international indicators. As you can see, it’s not the most logical way of putting things in order, so take a moment to study the different labels and diameters.

U.S. International Diameter (mm)
13 12 1.65-1.80
14 11 1.50-1.65
15 9.5 1.41-1.49
15L 9 1.33-1.41
16 8.5 1.26-1.34
16L 8 1.22-1.30
17 7.5 1.16-1.24
18 7 1.06-.1.16
19 4 0.90-1.06
20 3.5 0.80-0.90
21 3 0.70-0.80
22 2.5 0.60-0.70

Because some gauge labels can overlap with respect to their diameter (mm), we tend to stick with the diameter (just as ERSA does) as the best way to describe and classify different string gauges. However, on packaging materials, you’ll normally find the U.S. labels.

Common gauges and recommendations

We’ll take a deeper dive into string gauges in the rest of the article, but I wanted to see if I could simply things a bit at the start here. Now there are no one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to racket gear but here are the most common gauges and who I’d recommend each for.

  • 15/1.40mm: Thickest gauge; best for advanced players looking for maximum durability and control. However, these strings might be considered so durable that the trade-off with ‘feel’ and spin potential might be a bit too much.
  • 16/1.30mm: Medium-thick gauge; best for heavy hitting competitive players who break strings frequently.
  • 16L/1.28mm: Medium gauge found in Luxilon strings; best for competitive players looking for a blend of power and control.
  • 17/1.25mm: Medium thin gauge; best for beginner, intermediate and all-round players who are looking for power and comfort.
  • 17L/1.20mm: Thin gauge; best for players looking for increased touch and feel and don’t mind spending a bit more on restringing.
  • 18/1.15mm: Thinnest gauge; best for players wanting maximum touch and feel and will have to restring very often.

Please keep in mind though that this is a basic overview and that a lot of players tend to deviate from this, for their own specific reasons (whether that is in their benefit or not).

A bit of theory on string gauges and their “ping”

When you string two identical rackets with different gauge of the same strings and perform the palm test (meaning you use the palm of your hand to ‘clap’ your racket and hand together) with the strung rackets, the thinner gauge will have a higher “ping”. Most people would logically assume the thinner string is tighter.

Even though little difference is found when measured statistically (i.e. RA test), the racket with the thinner gauge may feel less stiff in play, due to a greater elasticity of the thinner string. Generally a 17 gauge string will be about twice as elastic (100%) as a 15 gauge string, all other factors being equal. This increased elasticity results in lower dynamic stiffness (meaning the strings will feel more elastic) during ball contact.

A player changing to a thicker string (for greater durability, for example) may complain the that the “ping” isn’t the same as with his thinner gauge string. However, increasing tension to reproduce that harmonic pitch would probably result in a stringbed stiffness too hard for his liking. So the main takeaway here is: string for feel, not for the “ping”. Don’t focus too much on sound…

String gauge and performance

Of course, knowing string gauge isn’t all that helpful if you’re not clear on how the thickness of a string impacts performance. There are three main factors players usually consider when selecting a string gauge: durability, spin potential, and feel.

Durability

When comparing different gauges for the same string, the heavier the gauge or thicker the string will be more durable and long-lasting.

When you play tennis, your strings produce friction at the cross-sections where they overlap each other. Over time you’ll notice that your strings cut into each other and begin to notch, so naturally, the thicker they are, the longer they’ll last. Thicker strings can also withstand greater impact, which helps extend the life, too.

However, when it comes to durability, keep in mind that a wide variety of factors can influence the longevity of a string, including material, construction, tension, and a string pattern’s density.

All else equal, thicker strings are more durable, and it’s a great rule of thumb to use when evaluating strings.

Spin potential

Beyond durability, players also rely on their string gauge to influence their racket setups for generating spin. The thinner the string, the more potential for spin, while the thicker the string, the less spin potential.

Thinner strings bury themselves deeper into the ball, and as a result, “grab” the ball a bit better, which results in more spin. A thicker string has less “bite”, resulting in a lower potential for spin.

However, just because you have thin strings doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to generate massive spin. It’s one of many factors that can influence spin. However, your grip, technique, and racket head speed will have the most significant influence over spin. Also, keep in mind that when players step on the court with the idea of having a string optimised for “spin”, they tend to hit the ball with a lot more spin themselves, which actually generates more spin (but from stroke technique, and not from the string itself).

Feel

Another area where you’ll notice changes with different gauge is the feel of the strings as many players report enhanced feel with thinner strings. Of course, this is a personal matter per definition.

I happen to love the sensation of a 16L gauge string, even in a more durable option like polyester, I tend to break them fairly easily, so 16 is the lowest gauge I typically string.

Which string gauge should you use?

Every player’s needs and preferences are different. With this in mind, you can keep in mind a variety of factors when evaluating strings and determining which is best for you.

Types of string

The type of string your using frequently has an impact on the gauge that you choose. Here’s a brief look at the different types of strings:

  • Natural gut: high power, comfort, tension maintenance, exceptional feel, prone to breakage, and susceptible to moisture
  • Synthetic gut: mid-range tennis strings offering well-rounded performance across the board, typically lack durability
  • Multifilament: the synthetic alternative to natural gut, these strings offer power, comfort, and hold their tension well
  • Polyester: low powered spin-friendly strings that are stiff and durable, but tend to lose their tension quicker than other strings
  • Kevlar: the most durable strings that maintain their tension well

As you read the descriptions, it might begin to make sense why you might consider a higher or lower gauge for each. For example, you might string with a lower gauge (thicker) tennis string if you’re using synthetic or natural gut to help increase the durability or life of your strings. Whereas, if you’re using polyester strings, you may opt for a higher gauge (thinner) option to help maximize spin.

Budget

If you can’t afford to string your racquet frequently, I’d recommend you string with a thicker or low gauge string to help avoid breakage and increase your strings durability. Racket stringing can be expensive (though here at our platform we try to provide every customer with a fair price), especially when you take into consideration the labor to string your racquet. You can go thicker, but 16 will usually do the trick while helping maintain solid playability and spin potential.

If you want to play with a thinner gauge, but budget is a limiting factor, you may want to consider using string savers to get the benefit of a higher gauge without breaking the bank. However, personally I do not recommend using them as they might limit ‘snapback’ from the strings.

What about your own experiences with string gauge? What is the size you play with? Are there any combinations you’d recommend out of your own experience? Please let me know in the comment section down below.

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My personal do’s and don’ts on how to measure your racket grip size

One of the most asked questions in my shop is: how do I know what grip size to choose when buying a racket? Now this is a great question because determining grip size for your racket is essential for playing. But the question is unfortunately only asked by somewhat half of the people; the rest just walks away with a racket, resulting in me running them down and explaining grip size…

Now why is choosing the right grip size essential for playing? Determining the correct grip size for your racket can prevent

  1. arm problems
  2. losing points

Pretty relevant to the game, right? So let’s dive in and check those grip sizes.

How to measure your tennis racket grip size?

There are two ways that people measure grip sizes and I would say one is the quick and easy one, and the other is the more sophisticated form of measuring. Let’s start with the first option.

Now grab your racket like you would give somebody a hand and then fold your fingers around the grip do the same with your thumb but then point your thumb in the direction of the top of the racket, so that your thumb is parallel to the frame. You’ll notice a gab between the top of your fingers and the start of your hand palm (if not, skip the rest, you’ll most likely have too small of a grip size already).

If you can place a pink to a normal finger in between that space, you’ll know that you have roughly selected the correct grip size. However, when in doubt, always go for the smaller grip size because you can easily up that size by half a grip size by using an overgrip. If you’d wish to go up a full size, you can even ask a stringer to place a shrink sleeve.

The second method to measure grip size is more of an exact science. You’ll need a ruler or measuring tape for this one and start by placing the ruler against the top of your middle finger and place it so that it follows a straight line down the middle of the finger, all the way down to the second hand line. The number that you’ll find will correspond with your ‘perfect’ grip size.

I use quotation marks here because I have seen a dozen of customers finding a number that actually surprises them because they have been playing for years with another grip size. Sometimes this actually explains some of the difficulties that they have had with their grips, but sometimes they seem to have had no issues or difficulties. It seems that some players have adjusted grips that make up for choosing a ‘incorrect’ grip size, so that cramping or slipping do not become and issue.

How to measure your badminton racket grip size?

Basically, the correct way to measure your badminton racket grip size follows the same principle as for any other racket. So start by wrapping your hand around the grip like you would give a person a hand and focus on the space that follows between the start of your fingers and the start of your handpalm (at the thumb). When you see a space of roughly the size of your pink or a normal finger in between, you have approximately found the correct grip size for you.

Now while the principle of measuring is the same, the actual measurements differ from tennis rackets. Badmintonracket grip sizes are not measured in (US) ‘L’ sizes, but in ‘G’, followed by a number. Now, as opposed to tennis racket grip sizes, larger badminton racket grip sizes are indicated by a smaller number. So basically, a G4 grip is smaller than a G1 grip. I’ve placed the complete breakdown of grips for badmintonrackets in the table down below.

Grip Indication Length (in mm)
Extra small G5 83
Small G4 86
Medium G3 89
Large G2 92
Extra large G1 95

How to measure your squash racket grip size?

Unlike tennis and badminton rackets, adult squash rackets are not sold in different grip sizes. There are different models for young children, junior’s and adults but this sizing of course applies to the complete frame, instead of just smaller or bigger grip.

So with that being said, there are definitely some principals to take in mind when working on your squash racket grip. Basically, squash players build up or shrink down their grips using a combination of replacement grips and/or overgrips.

Start with taking the racket in to your hand as you’d swing away on a ball and then firmly wrap your fingers around the racket (just as you would on tennis or badminton frame). Now, focus on the top of your fingers touching the base of your thumb (the start of your hand palm). If the fingers can slightly reach and touch it, your grip is ok. If you can press in your thumb too much, your grip is too small.

While using a combination of replacement grips and overgrips is fine for testing purposes, usually it’s best to ask a stringer or racket technician to custom fit a shrink sleeve to your frame if you definitely want to go up one full grip size. This is because the application of a shrink sleeve is a much more solid build than wrapping two replacement grips on top of each other.

What is the most common tennis grip size?

The most ‘common’ tennis grip size is (L)2. However, this would be the median of men and women’s grip sizes. Women usually play with a grip size 1 or 2, and men in most cases choose 2 or 3. These numbers are based on observations of selling hundreds of rackets to customers throughout my retail experience.

Can you change racket grip size?

Yes, you can definitely change the grip size of your racket and there are some ways of doing it. Some are more durable than other and increasing your racket grip size is always easier than reducing your grip size.

How do I increase my tennis grip size?

You can increase your racket grip size the ‘quick and easy’ way or the ‘slow and steady’ way. My quick tip for anyone really looking to do a basic grip size upgrade is too look out for one of the thicker replacement grips on the market. Not all replacement grips are created equal and some are definitely more thicker than others. Leather replacement grips for example are probably the thinnest replacement grips on the market. With a reason, because they allow for the best ‘contact’ of your hand with the frame. Some players prefer this feeling, which means their grip size is closest to the original frame grip size. If you notice you have a thinner replacement grip, try wrapping a thicker one one for a change and see how you like it.

Next option is to add overgrips. Now I don’t recommend adding overgrips without reason, so make sure the finish on the overgrip is one that you like or need for your playing style. For example, I tend to sweat in my hands while playing, especially on those humid, sunny days. I just need an absorb overgrip for that. I’ve tried a lot of different grips during the years, but I just can’t find anything that prevents my hands from slipping any better than an absorb overgrip. So to make the grip thicker I could just wrap around another overgrip, right? Basically, yes. But the problem is that you keep rounding up your grip each time you overgrip so you’ll definitely loose a bit on the ‘connection’ to your frame. So my advice is to never wrap more than a maximum of two overgrips on top of each other.

If you want to have a more durable solution for increasing your racket grip size, you will want to buy a set of slink shreeve material. It is a commonly used material in electrical wiring repairs but does have a slightly different function on a racket’s frame. Because you can slide the flexible shrink sleeve over your current racket grip, heat it up using a heat gun, and then let it shrink to become a solid sleeve on top of your frame, with this solution you can be sure that you’ll have a stable base for rewrapping your replacement and overgrips.

How much does an overgrip add to grip size?

Placing an overgrip normally adds about half a size to a racket’s grip size. That’s why it is a good idea to, when in doubt about whether to choose a smaller or larger grip size, always to choose the smaller grip size because you can test if you approximate your ‘perfect’ grip by adding half a size using an overgrip.

How do I reduce my tennis grip size?

Reducing a grip size is quite a bit more of a challenge. Of course, if you have followed increasing your grip size using one of the methods described above you can just reverse order the actions described and reduce your grip size that way. On the other hand, let’s say you just bought a used frame of Ebay in an actually bigger grip size and wonder what to do next, there is one option left and that is sanding down the polyurethane grip bezels. It’s a tricky one but it can definitely be done with a bit of patience. Now this is something I’ll create another article for anytime soon, where I’ll fully document and photograph the proces of doing that the wright way.

Conclusion

While racket grip sizes and increasing or decreasing them definitely is not an exact science, there is more to it than you might think. Just like wearing the proper shoes can save you a lot of trouble down the road with your feet and legs, will proper grips act like a solid base for your racket game. So my advice would be not to overthink them too much, but just take the tips mentioned in this article, apply them quickly and start testing what grip size and grip works best for you.

What about your experiences with grip sizes? Have you been playing too long with too small of a grip size? Resulting in any arm injuries? Or maybe you have too big of a grip size resulting in a lot of slipping and lost points? Let me know in the comments and help each other out.

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A small historical lesson on why Babolat rackets are so popular

When I watch old tennis video’s, it always amazes me that a lot of the world famous tennis brands are already there, but one… Dunlop? Yeah, been there for a while. Wilson? Yep, sure, one of the oldies. For sure, even Slazenger, Wimbeldon’s favourite, has been around for a long, long time. But Babolat never seemed to be there on the old pictures or clips. I couldn’t understand it actually, as Babolat rackets were all over the place when I was growing up and playing tennis. So in this article, I’ll take you through a bit of history to explain you why Babolat has gone from a relatively ‘unknown’ brand to one of the most popular brands in racket sports.

What country is Babolat from?

Babolat is a French tennis, badminton and padel equipment manufacturer, headquartered in Lyon, which is situated in the south of France. The brand is now well-know for it’s strings and rackets, but also makes a lot of other racket sports accessories.

Is Babolat a good tennis brand?

Babolat is definitely one of the greatest tennis brands (or better yet: racket sports brands). The equipment produced by Babolat is being used by recreational and professional players around the world. Pierre Babolat, the founder of the Babolat brand, created the first strings out of natural gut back in 1875. Since then, the company has started to optimise the production of racket strings. It wasn’t until 1994 that Babolat shifted it’s focus from only producing racket strings, to becoming a “total tennis” company by also selling racket frames in Europe. It soon expanded it’s sales to Japan and in the early 2000’s to the United States. Since then, sales of Babolat products have rapidly increased. In latest years, Babolat has become a pioneer in connected sport technology with the production of it’s first connected racket in 2014 and a connected wrist-wearable with it’s PIQ in 2015. The Babolat Pop, one of the most popular sensors on the market, is being used worlwide.

Why do people like Babolat rackets?

People like Babolat rackets because their playing characteristics appeal to a relatively large number of players, they are made poplar through sponsorships with professional players and their racket frames are well researched, designed and developed.

While Babolat produces a variety of tennis racket frames, it’s focus is on producing manoeuvrable, head light rackets with midplus head sizes has made the brand popular among spin generating, powerful, attacking players. Because of the playing characteristics of these frames, they are also popular among beginners of the sport.

Why are Babolat rackets so expensive?

Babolat rackets are so expensive because they need to be in order to recover costs for sponsorship deals, research and development and of course design. From a manufacturers perspective, we know a good estimate of the productions cost of modern day rackets (which we’ll cover in another post). While they can vary from brand to brand, they usually do only for the top models. However, Babolat prices their beginner rackets also on the higher end of the spectrum. This is possible, because of their brand reputation and loyal customers.

How much does a Babolat tennis racquet cost?

Babolat rackets are sold in the mid range to higher range of the racket price spectrum. The cheapest model I have sold was priced at 50 euro’s and the highest was 200 euro’s. However, not taking into account sales or discounts, I would estimate that the average Babolat frame would be sold around 120 euro’s.

Are Babolat rackets made in China?

Yes, Babolat rackets are manufactured in China (like many other rackets from well-known brands). However, a lot of counterfeits of these frames are also produced in China and trickle their way into the market. Please make sure to check you’re buying with an authorised dealer who buys directly from the Babolat brand, which designs the frames in France and coordinates production in China.

Which Babolat racquet is best?

The best Babolat racket, in my opinion, is the Babolat Pure Drive. Of course, different racket frames may suit different types of players better and in that regard, there is not really one best racket. However, through feedback from customers and my own personal playing experience, I would state that the Babolat Pure Drive accommodates the largest group of players of the modern game. It is very manoeuvrable, head light, powerful and well suited for spin, generating players. Even control oriented players will be able to play a decent game with the Babolat Pure Drive. Of course, the Babolat Pure Drive comes in three flavours: the Pure Drive Lite (265 grams), the Pure Drive Team (285 grams) and the (original) Pure Drive (305 grams). This build up in weight is very traditional for all brands and accommodates the beginner, advanced and expert phases of the tennis technique learning curve.

Is Babolat better than Wilson?

Babolat is definitely not a better tennis brand than Wilson, rather, I would argue more or less at the same quality level as Wilson. Also, it is very difficult to compare the brands as they traditionally focus on different player profiles of the tennis game. Whereas Babolat focuses more in the production of it’s frames on spin generating, attacking players, Wilson focuses more on control oriented, all round tennis players. However, a recent trend has become apparent in the (professional) game where the buildup of points and games becomes more and more based around powerful groundstrokes and serves. This change of style (as opposed to the more control oriented 90’s and early 2000’s)

Is Head better than Babolat?

This comparison is for sure harder to answer… The short answer, of course, is: no. A Head racket is not per definition a better racket than a Babolat racket. However, when you compare these brands in terms of their product ranges, then things become a bit more complicated. How do you actually define a better brand? Does it mean creating more, high quality products? Well, I wouldn’t know for sure if Head makes more, but I would guess Head beats Babolat at this point. However, Babolat is a great specialist in strings and racket accessories. They are know for their history and strings and the Babolat RPM Blast is one of the best selling strings on our platform. Then again, grips are quite essential to players and Babolat does not have a dedicated absorb overgrip, while Head does have one. You get where I’m going with this… beauty is definitely in the eyes of the beholder, I guess. If you would ask me, I would back up Head in this comparison because they have produced great products in the past and are also known for their great product lines in other sports, like winter and more recently padel.

Conclusion

Babolat is one of the great brands in tennis and racket sport history. With their French roots in racket string production, it has grown from a local business to a multinational company, sponsoring great athletes of recent years, like Carlos Moyà and Rafael Nadal. It is a quality brand, that puts great emphasis on playable design.

What about you? Do you have experience with playing with Babolat and if so, what do you think about their products? Please write it down below in the comment section and let me know.

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Babolat Aero 112 4 3/8″ (#3)
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  • COMFORT AND SHOCK ABSORPTION: Because observation of the game and its movements is our core expertise, we have designed the KPRS-X system to protect your heels from impact throughout matches and training sessions. Its EVA foam insert has been placed and sized to protect you effectively at each heel attack.
  • SOLE DURABILITY: By combining our expertise with Michelins, we offer players a dedicated sole for each court with an adapted rubber formulation.
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A short introduction into different types of string for rackets

When it comes to getting a new string for your racket, the majority of players who step into my shop with some basic level of confidence in their preferred tension settings. When I tell them that this can be a great number to string with, depending on the type of string they would want to buy and install, things get a bit more confusing. As with the tires and tire pressure on a car, you’d ideally want to first choose your string and then adjust your tension accordingly. So in this article, we’ll be covering the different types of strings for rackets so you have a good idea of what to choose from once you’re in the shop. We’ll also explain the differences in string types for each racket sport.

Strings come in many materials and constructions ranging from a single monofilament to multifilament strings composed of thousands of separate filaments. Strings with more filaments tend to be softer but less durable, whereas a monofilament would be stiffer and more durable. Some strings are constructed with a center core of one to several larger filaments and with one to three layers of wraps around them for durability. Players choose soft strings because they have less shock on impact and a bit more power. Stiffer strings are chosen because they add control and many players like the “feedback” of a “crisper” feedback.

There are four variables in finding the perfect string. These are material, construction, gauge and tension. With these four variables we can make thousands and thousands of combinations. Finding the perfect mix for you as a customer, is a stringer’s job.

Materials

There are five general materials used in string construction.

Nylon or synthetic gut

Most players play with nylon strings, or more commonly known as synthetic guts. There are different grades of nylon, with varying levels of feel, so don’t be afraid to try out a few. All in all, synthetic gut delivers a good combination of playability and durability at a great price. In fact, nylon multifilaments offer impressive comfort and power. Unlike the more basic synthetic guts (which have a single, solid core), multifilaments are comprised of hundreds or thousands of ultra pliable, elbow-friendly fibers and are bundled together with flexible resins like poly-urethane.

Natural gut

Back in the day however, almost every tennis player played with natural gut made out of the intestines of cows. It is made with the from the thin stretchy membrane known as the serosa which surrounds the intestine and which allows the intestine to expand and contract as a cow digests its meal. The intestine of a cow is long enough to string a tennis racket, but the serosa is too thin to make even a 0.8 millimeter string. So it takes three cows to make a thick enough string for one tennis racket. The process takes a few days of cleaning, twisting, drying and polishing: that’s why natural gut is so expensive. However, the result is a string that is more elastic than any man-made synthetic, and it holds its tension better than any synthetic. The main problem is that is not as durable and tends to break more easily, especially if it gets wet. It is a string that offers a maximum feel and control due to it’s ultra low stiffness and that’s why some players on the ATP and WTA (and on the lesser known tours) still prefer it.

Polyester

Since the beginning of the 90’s and the “graphite era” however, it seems that professionals are in less and less need of the soft feel of natural gut because they intent to play almost every ball as hard as they can and this has even become more so the last few years. Therefore, they like to play with polyester because polyester is stiffer than natural gut and is also stiffer than nylon but still gives a lot of control on powerful shots. The incredible stroke speed enabled by polyester also translated into higher levels of spin, which literally changed the trajectories and angles available to players. A lot of manufacturers of polyester strings have begun to develop technologies to create “softer” polyester strings and a few have noticeably done a good job in that regard. Another popular way to play with polyester strings at a comfortable level is to use a so called “hybrid”, a set up where polyester strings are installed in the racket’s main, vertical strings and a softer nylon in the cross, horizontal strings, to create what is commonly known as the “best of both worlds”. Due to it’s high stiffness and relatively low power, polyester is not recommended for beginners or players with arm injuries.

Polyester and tension loss

Polyester has a big downside and that is that is loses tension faster than any other string. Many players say or claim that polyester holds its tension better than nylon, but laboratory tests prove otherwise. If a racket is strung with a nylon string at a tension of 60 pounds, then the tension will have dropped to around 55 pounds by the time the racket arrives on the court. However, because the polyester is so stiff, the strings will feel stiff even when the tension is low. The reason is that the strings stretch a few millimeters when they are used to hit a ball, and hence the tension rises rapidly due to the extra stretch while the ball is on the strings. With natural gut or nylon the rise in tension due to the stretching of the string is smaller, and the feel of the string depends more on the tension before the string starts to stretch.

Aramid

Kevlar, a Dupont product that has become the generic term for a category of materials known as “aramids” and is still the stiffest string out there. Therefore, it is usually combined with a soft nylon cross. Ultimately, Kevlar hybrids are the least powerful and least comfortable strings currently available. Players trying to Kevlar hybrids for the first time (switching from nylon strings) are recommended to reduce tension by 10% to compensate for the added stiffness. These strings are definitely not recommended for players with arm injuries.

Zyex

Polyektones or PEEK polymers are a newer class of material used in racket sports strings. Zyex offers low dynamic stiffness that allows it to deform and recover more completely than other synthetic materials. It can also be made to have exceptionally low creep under continuous tension, allowing racket strings to maintain tension and playability longer.

String construction

Monofilament

Polyester, co-polyester and nylon strings are extruded as a single strand. Traditional 100% polyester strings typically have higher stiffness values and are best for advanced players seeking maximum control and lots of durability. Co-polyester monofilaments are made with additives to increase elasticity and comfort, though they are still firmer than most nylon based strings. Many of today’s co-polyesters are constructed with low-friction coatings to enhance snapback which increases spin (and reduces breaking your string prematurely due to notching). Poly-based monofilaments are ideal for big hitting intermediate and advanced players who want durability, control and spin.

Solid core with single wrap

Most popular nylon string construction – majority of so-called synthetic gut strings are solid core/single wrap. Main benefits are tension maintenance and crisp feel. Quality of nylon center core, as well as size and orientation of outer wraps can influence the feel and comfort of the string.

Solid core with multiwrap

Provides additional playability and cushioning.

Multicore with multiwrap

Smaller multifilament core with one or more outer multifilament wraps. Offers similar comfort benefits to multifilament strings with added durability.

Multifilament

Bundles of micro synthetic fibers are twisted together, similar to natural gut. Nylon multifilaments are typically more comfortable than solid core strings due to the cushioning effect of hundreds or even thousands of micro fibers. Resultant effect is a soft and comfortable string, recommended for players suffering from arm problems who don’t want to pay the high price for natural gut. Normal use causes multifilament strings to fray, like gut, which can be alarming to players switching from solid core strings. With the exception of braided Kevlar, multifilament strings are generally classified as “soft” strings.

Textured

In recent years there has also been a tendency of manufacturers to start producing strings in a series of standard and textured versions of the same string. Textured strings can be found in nylon and polyester, giving all ability levels a way to get a little extra grip on the ball, or so it has been claimed by manufacturers. Nylon or synthetic guts typically derive their texture from an extra filament, raised ridge, on the surface. Polyesters typically derive their texture from a dented or rough surface. In each case these strings provide better friction, which is claimed to be enhancing spin but we’ll dive into that subject in another article.

Geometric

With the popularity of polyester strings, it is much easier to produce geometrical shaped strings, now available from three sided (triangular) to eight sided (octagonal) strings. The advantage of these strings are the sharp edges made grab the ball better offering more spin, or so it has been claimed by manufacturers. Some of the newer strings have five to eight rounded edges to allow for more snapback on the strings.

Conclusion

Nylon is still the preferred string of most recreational players because it is generally speaking cheaper and more durable than gut and is softer than polyester and Kevlar. As a side note, there is nothing in the rulebook to stop a player from using a steel string if he or she wants to, but it will feel really, really stiff and it will cut the ball to pieces. No seriously, do not mention this to your stringer or expect to be laughed at.

In fact, the International Tennis Federation’s rules don’t say much about strings at all. They state only that

“The hitting surface of the rackets shall be flat and consist of a pattern of crossed strings connected to a frame and alternately interlaced or bonded where they cross; and the stringing pattern shall be generally uniform, and in particular not less dense in the centre than in any other area. The racket shall be designed and strung such that the playing characteristics are identical on both faces.”

The rules go on to state that,

“The strings shall be free of attached objects and protrusions other than those utilised solely and specifically to limit or prevent wear and tear or vibration, and which are reasonable in size and placement for such purposes.”

So don’t worry, you can perfectly install a vibration dampener…

 

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An introductory bit of theory on why racket strings break

tennisracket bespannen

It is the moment many racket sports player fear… the breaking point of your racket’s string. Everybody who plays racket sports knows it’s part of the game, though it’s frequency varies from sport to sport. But then it also greatly can vary from player to player and that makes this question quite interesting. Why do some players have the fortune to play for longer period of times with one set of strings, while others seem to break them right out of the gate? Of course and as always, there are a lot of variables in the mix. To better understand this process and to check what we can do to prevent or minimise string breakage, we first need to find out why rackets strings do break in the first place.

Notching causes most racket strings to break

Notching causes most rackets strings to break. This is a result of the string pattern or weaves and the forces that are applied to it while swinging away (in an upward motion) to create spin. The vertical strings are often the first to snap after rubbing against the cross strings as a player puts spin on the ball. This rubbing causes a notch or a dent on the string, which eventually snaps. Players that play with a lot of topspin are more likely to break their strings more often because generating topspin causes more grip on the ball of the main strings, and thus movement in the strings and therefore more wear and tear. The same process applies to players who play with a minimal amount of spin, but playing with a lot of spin just fast forwards this process.

Mishits

While the main strings on a racket slide along the crosses during ball contact, the strings also stretch and deflect which create a trampoline-like effect on the ball. This deflection is most prominent in the rackets “sweet spot” since that is the area with greatest distance from the frame where the strings are longer and more flexible.

The closer the ball makes contact with the stringbed near the frame, the less the strings are able to stretch, absorb energy from the ball and deflect the ball. This is because the strings must enter the frame of the racquet through a grommet and make a 180-degree hairpin turn back through an adjacent grommet, which causes more resistance in that spot and less flexibility. This could cause an overload (or overstretch) that leads to the breaking of a string.

Mishits that occur toward the head of the racquet will more often break strings since the racket will tend not to twist (and thus, absorb less energy) like a mishit toward the left and right edges of the stringbed. If you, by mistake, hit your ball or shuttle in the top location or bottom location of the stringbed, the lack of cross strings will cause the main strings to bend back (and stretch) more than usual.

By doing that, the main strings are under more stress and that can make them break more easily. As with notching, the more powerful the shot, the higher the chance that breakage will happen. So, if you play a smash, the chances of breaking the string due to overstretching are higher than if you perform a drop shot.

Damaged or missing grommets

The grommets are a plastic element that is placed inside each hole where the string goes through. The grommets basically ensure that the string does not touch the frame directly. Since the frame tends to end up with sharp corners, the grommets ensure a smooth transition and an easier life for the string.

Over time, grommets will stretch and often tear, exposing the string to the sharp edges of the frame, usually where the paint of the frame is also diminishing. Grommets most likely to exhibit damage are in the 10, 2, 4, and 8 o’clock positions of the hoop where main strings make a 90-degree turn or are knotted, sometime through a shared hole with a cross string.

Excessive bumper guard wear at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions can expose string to the court surface. Stringers usually have tubing in stock to cut temporary tubings in order to finish the stringing process.

Weather

Extreme heat, cold, and humidity can severely weaken strings, especially when left in a hot vehicle for a long time. In addition, damp conditions like rain or a sweat soaked shirt in your tennis bag can have catastrophic effects on natural gut. Also, playing in rainy conditions with natural gut is a no go… the individual strains of the gut wil start to uncoil and create the perfect spot to break the string.

Stringing mistakes

Dirty clamps, mishandled string, and improper stringing techniques at home or in the shop can result in string breakage on the court. Broken strings are part of tennis, and all strings, no matter the type or cost, will eventually break if not replaced on a regular basis. String breakage is hard on the racket due to the sudden redistribution of force and tension, so anything you can do to avoid breaking strings will result in a happier, healthier racquet.

Fabrication faults

While rare, sometimes string is damaged during the manufacturing or packaging process. If not closely inspected before installation, damaged string can prematurely break. Also, string that is being kept in stock but exposed to air, high temperatures and humidity over a longer period of time can prematurely break.

Some recommendations to minimise string breakage

  1. Inspect your string as much as possible. Slight notching and some fraying in strings are okay.  Deep notching and excessive fraying are indicators that your strings are nearing end of life. In fact, it is recommended to get a new restring when the tension has decreased by 20 percent. So invest in a tension meter or a recommended app on your smartphone to test this regularly.
  2. Restring your racquet on a regular basis. We’ve created a specific post on this topic. All things being equal, and on the lower end of the spectrum, we recommend changing your strings at least at the beginning of the new season.
  3. Avoid mishits.  Yes, they happen, but learning and improving on your technique will help minimise off center shots.
  4. Ensure your string setup is suited for your playing style. Players who frequently break multifilament string should consider switching to poly strings.  If you’re avoiding poly due to arm or comfort issues, consider a hybrid setup with poly in the mains and multifilament or natural gut in the crosses or string at a lower tension.
  5. Keep your racquets cool and dry. Some modern racquet bags come with insulated racquet storage, which is a worthwhile investment. Store your racquets and wet clothes in separate compartments in your bag.
  6. While you’re inspecting your strings, inspect your grommets and bumper guard too.  Not all stringers are meticulous about inspecting racquets prior to restringing them. It usually depends on the service level they provide whether they take care of this for you or not. Let your stringer know if you spot torn grommets or areas of your bumper guard so worn down that the string is exposed to the playing surface. Individual grommets can be repaired or replaced, sometimes with nylon tubing to protect the string. When more than 6-7 grommets are excessively damaged, your stringer might recommend replacing the entire grommet and bumper guard set.
  7. For home stringers, closely inspect your string and clamps prior to use.  You should get into the habit of physically and visually inspecting your string. Clean the jaws of your clamps with isopropyl alcohol and an old toothbrush to get rid of residual string coating and grit. Don’t make the (easy) mistake of adjusting your clamps to tight if your clamps are a bit greasy. This could damage the strings too much leading to premature breakage.

Your experience

What about your experiences? What can you tell us about breaking, and especially about saving racket strings! Please let us know in the comments. We, and other racket sports enthusiasts will be grateful for sharing your thoughts with us.

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How long can a racket last?

Racket sports fans generally are divided in two groups. The first group rather buys a new frame every season, inspired by the new frame of their favourite pro’s. This group is almost certainly certain that having the newest gear will help them win those decisive points and moments on court. The other group… well, let’s just say these players finally get ultimate confidence when their rackets just reached their 10th birthday! If they’d have an option to play with wooden frames, they’d do it… It’s just so hard to string a wooden frame properly, isn’t it?

Just kidding around… In the end, you probably know good players from both groups. So is there something safe to say about their gear? Can we objectively state that a racket has a life expectancy? How long can a racket really last?

In short, and all other things being equal, a racket for an intermediate, frequent player can last about two to three years. In this case we would consider the player player about two or three times a week and getting his or her racket restrung at least once a month. And especially this last factor influences life span majorly. That’s because stringing a racket practically means warping the frame a bit when applying tension to the strings and thus, the frame. Only when all strings are installed correctly, the frame will be in balance again and returned to it’s original shape. That means, in addition to hitting the ball with your racket, the total number of stringing jobs will in turn cause fibers to eventually lose RA or flex. 

Material makes confident

Brands are constantly developing rackets and materials and need to keep researching in order to win the majorly competitive sales battles in sport shops and on the internet. More importantly, most of us can definitely relate to a certain placebo effect when it comes to your own gear. If you have the idea that you’re playing with the best racket ever because it’s new, than chances are great that you are actually playing with a lot of confidence. We have to acknowledge that racket sports fall within the space of tough, mental games and whether you like it or not, how you step on to the court has a great influence in the outcome of your games.

Pro’s (almost) never switch

However, when we look at pro’s and their life long careers we can’t help but notice that during their careers they almost never switch their gear. Why is this? Well, first of all, it must not come as a surprise that all of these top player are top earners of the game. Their livelyhoods and those of their family members all depend on their ability to keep scoring points, week after week after week. So it’s completely understandable that switching a frame is a major deal for these guys and girls.

On the other hand, they also receive a great deal of their income by being endorsed by racket manufacturers and major brands. These sponsors want to sell their latest frames and that’s where tension starts to heat up. Just because brands update their paint jobs on frames, it does not mean pro’s are happy to say goodbye to their long trusted money makers. It actually rarely happens that pro players make an immediate switch, but most of the times do some testing and eventually, some times make a sudden switch because in the end they think they have found a tweak in their game.

A famous example concerns Roger Federer and his Pro Staff’s, where he decided to play with new frames of head size 97, rather than 90. They increase in power he got used to playing with eventually led him up the top rankings again. And this is exactly why I would advise you to always be careful when selecting rackets based on pro’s who tend to allegedly play with these frames. In short, they are not. And they are not playing with the frames that you buy in the store, because almost every model you see on your tv screen is what is called in the industry, a ‘pro stock’ version of the frame. Meaning it is customised specifically for this pro player. It could be something just as easy as placing some lead tape at certain places or regripping the grips to match a certain shape type (sometimes to match the grip mould of another brand).

As these tweaks are being researched and developed by brands and professionals specifically for these pro’s, chances are they you’ll see a player featuring a black out version of a certain type of frame. Sometimes this can even be another brand and the string logo is supposed to hide this fact. Well, well, well… so much for trying to put together an honest game, right?

Never change a winning team?

It’s understandable that a lot of club players eventually experience something similar in the fact that they have found the perfect match and they are happy to keep it this way for years. In the end, practice makes perfect, right? In fact, rumour has it that Pete Sampras was advised to make the same switch as Roger Feder, e.g. to step over to a bigger head size. As you can guess, he declined the advise but experts think he could have extended his career at least by a couple of years, benefitting from the increase of power in his shots.

In any case, there a tons of different reasons to switch or not to switch frames and it will always be a somewhat difficult discussion to win. The question we are posing here of course is a bit more scientific by nature. If we just focus on the more physical and technical aspects of a frame, will there an end to it’s life span? And does this differ per racket sport?

Do not throw it away

As we mentioned earlier, the number of stringing jobs is a major factor in the life expectancy of a frame. But it’s worth mentioning here, that this will definitely not mean that a frame will break while being in the stringing machine (although, it’s possible in the reality this rarely happens and normally only when the stringer makes an essential mistake). It just basically means that during the course of it’s life span of two to three years the stiffness of the frame, measured in RA value or flex, will gradually decrease. This means that the fibre structure with which the frame was build, will soften a bit and loosen up a bit. When you’ll be hitting the ball in a couple years from now, you would be able to tell that the frame does not match up to a newly bought frame. But as you normally don’t test it like this and the decrease happens so gradually, the vast majority of players can’t even notice this process. In fact, you’ll probably be adjusting your game accordingly without you even knowing it. That’s just how psychology of the game works… But of course, physic always has an absolute answer.

What is your experience with the life expectancy of frames? And do you notice differences between tennis, badminton and squash frames? Please let us know by leaving a comment and join the discussion.