Most players will spend weeks, even months, researching and finding the perfect tennis racquet for their style of play. However, when it comes to choosing the best string and tension, it’s often an impulse decision that’s made in a matter of minutes or left to the stringer to decide.
Success in tennis comes from the best ‘marriage’ of the player, racquet and string. A stiffer racquet may need a softer string for balance and a more flexible racquet may easily accommodate a firmer string type. Get it right and you’ll enjoy comfort and control. Get it wrong and you’ll end up with tennis elbow.
Tennis strings are the engine, the soul of the racquet and have a huge influence on the way that the racquet plays. Using the right strings at the correct tension is vital to improving your game. But choosing the best tennis strings can be a difficult and confusing process.
Tennis strings have evolved enormously over the last 20 years with new materials and technologies bringing unprecedented levels of power, spin, and control. There are a vast array of string product variations available from over 40 global manufacturers from the Titans, like Babolat and Wilson, to tiny niche players, like Gosen, Kirschbaum and Weiss Cannon.
Manufacturers develop collections of strings that get extended with different gauges, colors, and textures. US string gauges can go from 13 (thickest at 1.8mm) to 22 (ultra-thin at 0.6mm). Most people use 16, 16L or 17 (1.34mm to 1.16mm). Typically, the thinner the gauge means you can generate greater spin (as the strings stretch more, grab the ball and snap back) with enhanced feel, although they will break more often.
In addition to string types, each string will have a specific profile (round, octagonal, square, etc), and can be constructed in different ways with one or more materials given a texture to a certain gauge (thickness) and color (that can also affect the playing characteristics).
Our goal here is to help understand the differences between each type of string and how they can improve your game.
Types of tennis strings
Essentially, there are five ways to string a racquet: natural gut, synthetic, polyester, multifilament or hybrid stringing.
Natural Gut Strings
Natural gut strings are made up of natural fibers from cow intestines that undergo a complex process to be transformed into tennis strings. The fibers are woven together and then enclosed in a special coating to help protect the strings.
Natural gut strings deliver the highest level of power, comfort, feel and tension maintenance – all at a high cost. A full set of natural gut strings are typically $35-$50 plus stringing costs. Professional players often use natural gut in a hybrid setup often with gut in the mains and a polyester or multifilament in the crosses.
Natural gut needs to be protected from the elements – heat, extreme cold, and humidity all can affect its performance and durability. Tennis bags with heat resistant compartments are strongly recommended if you string with gut to protect your investment.
This is the optimum string for players, who don’t break strings, that are looking for the ultimate levels of power, comfort, and feel.
Top-rated natural gut strings: Babolat VS Touch 16, Babolat VS Team 16, Luxilon Natural Gut 1.30, Wilson Gut 16.
Synthetic Gut Strings
Synthetic gut (nylon) strings are constructed with a solid core and outer wraps. Synthetic gut strings are renowned for all-around playability and are not exceptional in any one area. They are often used in junior racquets and off-the-shelf racquets in big box stores.
These strings are low cost so offer great value to beginners, juniors and other occasional recreational looking for a low-risk string with decent performance.
Top-rated synthetic gut strings: Babolat Synthetic Gut 16, Dunlop Synthetic S-Gut 16, Wilson Synthetic Gut 16.
Polyester strings are typically constructed from a single strand of material (called a ‘monofilament’) extruded into a specific shaped profile. Chemical additives and heat treatments are used to adjust the properties more comfort and feel.
These strings are lower powered and stiffer than other string types. Polyester strings let players swing big while delivering control, spin, and durability to players that can generate all their own power. These strings can feel stiff and jarring to less experienced players with under-developed strokes.
Top-rated polyester strings: Babolat RPM Blast 16, Luxilon ALU Power Rough 16L, Solinco Hyper-G 17, Tecnifibre Black Code 17, Volkl Cyclone 17.
Multifilament strings are an alternative to natural gut that has been created using synthetic materials and manufactured in a similar way. Multifilaments blend lots of little fibers woven or twisted together sometimes around a solid core or cores.
Multifilaments generally offer good power, comfort, and feel. Typically, multifilaments offer good levels of comfort particularly suitable for players who experience tennis elbow.
Multifilaments are great for players with shorter, slower strokes who want power, comfort and feel and don’t have the budget for natural gut.
Top-rated multifilament strings: Babolat Xcel 16 String, Tecnifibre NRG2 16 String, Wilson NXT 16, Wilson Sensation 16.
Hybrid stringing means using different string types for the main strings and crosses to deliver custom levels of power, spin, control and durability across all aspects of a players game.
A ‘hybrid’ can be as simple as using different string gauges between the mains and crosses to using entirely different types of strings to blend qualities and fine tune the playability. In a hybrid, the main string dictates the overall feel and attributes of the racquet. The cross string will influence the characteristics. Gut or multifilament crosses on polyester mains will provide a softer feel. Or a polyester string in the crosses can add more control and spin.
The tension between the two strings is critical for the overall set-up. Typically, main strings are strung 2-3 lbs tighter than cross strings to increase the size of the sweet spot.
Top-rated hybrid stringing: Babolat RPM Blast 17+ Babolat VS 16, Wilson Champions Choice 16 (Wilson Natural Gut + Luxilon ALU Power Rough), Wilson NXT Duo II Hybrid (Luxilon Adrenaline 17 + Wilson NXT 16).
What tennis strings should you use?
Ultimately, selecting the right string is down to what works best with a specific racquet and a player’s individual playing style and preferences.
For players looking for premium power and control, pure natural gut strings or, in a hybrid, can be a guilty pleasure at some cost. If you don’t have any arm issues, like tennis elbow, then polyester strings can provide exceptional control and spin. And multifilaments are ‘safe bet’ for all players.
Selecting the optimum string setup for your needs is critical. That’s why we’re developing Stringuru (STGU), to make finding the right string a for your game a breeze. Launching in 2019, STGU will use a combination of AI and crowdsourcing to help you make the most informed decision for your game style and racquet.