Qualitative analysis of tennis message boards, tennis twitter accounts, facebook pages, blogs and various discussions has convinced me that the vast majority of stringers are not well versed in the nature of poly and co-poly strings. As a result, many stringers, even those widely respected and much revered, do not install poly-based strings in a manner that optimizes their performance. In fact, it is not going out on much of a limb to estimate that 90% or more of stringers in the USA are UNINTENTIONALLY installing these strings in a manner which robs them of performance characteristics. I know because until late 2010 I was among this group of well-intentioned professional stringers who was unknowingly butchering these strings because I was not aware of how they needed to be handled.
First of all, and perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome, is to realize that poly-based strings are designed to perform best at lower tensions. We are talking a tension range in the 30’s – 40’s. The absolute top end of that range would be 52 pounds. Once you go beyond 52, you are entering the point of quickly diminishing returns. I realize this may represent a HUGE shift in thinking for many readers. In fact a majority of you are probably thinking of mailing me a care package of colorful Sharpies so that I can decorate the walls of my padded room, but it is not really that crazy. The fear of low tensions is loss of control. I can assure you from personal experience as well as experience with many local customers, that quality poly-based offerings, PROPERLY INSTALLED, give ample control at these low tensions. I PROMISE this is a true statement. In fact, when all elements are working together (strings/racquet/player) it becomes almost impossible to hit a ball long.
Installing poly-based strings requires one critical element that many stringers may find challenging. P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E! It is not possible to provide to a quality stringjob with poly-based strings using a rushed sequence. The 15 minute stringjob that may be just fine for synthetics and natural gut, just is not going to cut it with poly-based strings. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO RUSH THE STRINGING PROCESS WITH POLY BASED STRINGS. Some professional stringers may take issue with this statement. They will claim their stringing method is fine-tuned, precise and consistent. We take no issues with these claims. However, those elements without additional care are NOT good enough to produce the best outcomes for poly-based strings. What they produce is consistently mediocre (at best) results. We must remember that the majority of recreational and league players need their strings to last much longer than the pros who get a fresh string job every 9 games. They need to last for weeks and sometimes months.
Poly-based strings are oft criticized for being stiff, rapidly losing tension, contributing to elbow pain and failing to hold playing properties. Each of these claims can be true, except there is a huge BUT here that dwarfs even that of Ms. Kardashian. These statements are only true when the strings have been overtensioned and OVERSTRETCHED. When not overtensioned or overstretched poly-based strings are EXTREMELY COMFORTABLE, LOSE LESS TENSION THAN MOST SYNTHETICS, and HOLD PLAYING PROPERTIES for an extended period of time. (The last varies according to makeup of string).
How can this be? The literature, testimonials and even the USRSA data show that poly-based strings loose tension rapidly. Clearly the statement made in the above paragraph is nothing more than an outpouring of a deranged mind, right? Well, not necessarily. We are suggesting that all this data is gathered from and observed by individuals and groups who have overtensioned the poly-based strings…including the USRSA who test at 62 pounds! (This might give representative results with other strings, but it just ain’t gonna fly with poly-based offerings.)
Poly-based strings have a much lower level of resiliency than synthetics and natural gut. As such, when being installed, it must be handled with care. Even though it is a strong and durable string in the raquet, it takes a tender touch to install properly. The best analogy we have found comes from John Elliot. John compares poly-based strings to the spring that can be found in your average ball point pen. Just like the spring it offers resiliency and when properly used it will hold this resiliency for an extended period of time. However, just like the spring in the pen, it can be easily stretched out of shape if not handled properly. Once this stretching occurs, the spring is dead. It will continue to elongate, but will not retract back into it’s original form and shape. The exact same principle applies to a poly-based string. It CAN NOT be OVERSTRETCHED or OVERTENSIONED without suffering consequences.
Unfortunately in order to keep it in perfect form, there are 2 CRITICAL STEPS that must be taken during installation which are not necessary with strings of different constructions. These steps will without question slow the stringing process. However, it is necessary in order for the poly-based strings to give optimal performance.
1. If using a constant pull electronic machine, the machine’s pull speed needs to be set to the lowest possible speed. We use a Wilson Baiardo and the lowest pull speed is 30%. It is easily set to this level and this is where the Baiardo is most effective for stringing poly-based strings. The reason this step is necessary is because electronic machines overshoot tension and then back down to the desired level. The faster the pull speed the more dramatic and harsh the overshoot. Most machines will overshoot at least 10% – 18% over the set tension. (Remember we are trying not to exceed 52 pounds in order not to overstretch the string!)
2. Once tension is reached, the stringer needs to wait at least 5 seconds before clamping off. This allows the poly-based string to stretch PROPERLY. By failing to give poly-based strings this much time slack is not properly removed and the string will loose tension and the wonderous low-tension performance will never be realized.
By following this pulling procedure the end result will be a tighter stringbed that holds tension for a longer period of time than one with higher reference tensions not pulled with an eye toward end performance rather than speed. In the south we refer to this process as “Moseying.” You gotta take your time, mosey along and enjoy yourself while stringing poly-based strings. It’s really the only way to do it well.
At this point a summary is in order. To get the best possible performance from poly-based strings you need to make sure you or your stringer do the following:
1. Select a tension in the upper 30’s – 40’s. The tension will vary according to density of stringbed and head size. (Note: It can be easily adjusted through observational learning. We’ll cover this in a future blog entry.)
2. Set pull speed to lowest possible setting when using an electronic constant pull machine. If using drop weight, lower bar slowly. If using a crank machine once machine starts to resist crank very, very slowly until it locks.
3. Allow string to sit under tension at least 5 seconds before clamping so that it has sufficient time to properly stretch.
Keep an open mind, give it a try and you will be AMAZED at the results.