The Ultimate Guide to tennis racket strings: Unravelling the mystery
Many experts would say (and we agree) that your tennis racket strings have perhaps the most influence on the outcome of your shots, but why?
Firstly, the reason tennis racket strings effect the ball so much is because they are the material that actually touches the ball. It’s the same as a Formula One race-car where the tyres are constantly analysed and changed depending on the conditions because they are the touch point between the car and the track. Your car is your racket and your track is the court so in theory you should spend maximum money, effort and time on making sure your strings are the way you like them.
It’s really no surprise to see professional tennis players constantly adjusting their racket strings, tapping their racket to feel the strings and then every seven games they change their racket so they have new strings.
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Tight tennis racket strings will give more control (less power), while looser strings offer more power (less control). Thinner strings will give more feel (but will break more often) while strings with a thicker gauge (width) will last longer but won’t give the same feel. Strings that produce more power will also absorb more shock load at impact. Softer strings, or strings with a softer coating, tend to vibrate less and a stiffer string-bed tends to produce more spin.
Why do strings break?
Don’t get annoyed when your strings break. It’s a good thing. The strings have worn out and their job is done.
The longer 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 in the string, which inevitably snaps. Players that hit with lots of topspin will break their strings more often because that topspin causes more movement in the strings therefore more wear and tear.
A ball hit near the frame may also break the strings, no matter how old or new they are, and some break simply because they’re damaged goods or because they rub against cracked grommets (the plastic bits the string thread through in the frame).
If you play on clay courts then you are more likely to break your strings because the loose granules of clay are picked up by the ball and then left on your strings when you strike the ball. These granules then work their way between your strings and cause more friction and snapping.
Why and how often should I change them?
Tennis racket strings lose their elasticity and tension over time resulting in them going ‘dead’ – a lack of feel and power. Try to restring your racket at least double the number of times during a year that you play in a week. So if you play twice a week you should restring your racket four times per year
Always test your strings before you play with them and if they feel loose then get them re-strung. If you go on a long-haul flight then your strings can lose tension on the flight because of the extremes temperatures they will be exposed to in the hold of the plane.
Where should I go for a restring?
If you play at a club then hopefully they will offer a racket stringing service or the club coach might be able to restring your racket. If not there might be a few club members moonlighting as racket stringers. You can visit a specialist racket sports shop for a restring, but if you visit your local sports shop ensure that they have a reputable racket stringer on staff. There are also some online stringing services available where you can send them your racket through the mail.
Can I string my own racket?
Investing in your own machine can be a money saving idea – especially if you’re getting a restring every few weeks, but machines don’t come cheap. It could also turn into a nice little earner for you by charging your friends to restring their rackets.
Should I go natural?
Natural gut was the only string worth talking for many years until the introduction of quality, man-made fibres that appeared alongside the growth of graphite frames. While nothing synthetic yet matches the resilience and elasticity of natural gut, it is highly prone to breaks and loses tension once wet. Nowadays gut is most often used for the cross strings in hybrid string jobs with something more durable used for the main strings.
Natural gut is very expensive costing around £25/$30 per racket not including the cost of the labour to restring the racket.
The majority of recreational players now use synthetic strings – aramids, polyesters and nylons. Aramids have the polar opposite characteristics of gut. Highly durable – the material is used in bulletproof vests – these strings will last the distance, but on their own feel like playing tennis with piece of plywood. If you find yourself being offered synthetic gut strings, you’re dealing with nylon. A nylon string comes closest to replicating the feeling of natural gut, as it is very flexible and fairly resilient. Polyesters strings resemble aramids in terms of durability, but are a little more forgiving when it comes to feel. There are also multi filament options which are a synthetic gut string but made softer to resemble natural gut. These do break quickly but are nowhere near as expensive as natural gut.
Keeping strings alive
Strings are mortal, but measures can be taken to lengthen their lifespan. ‘String savers’ are small plastic discs that slide between intersection points between mains and crosses. The idea is that they keep notches from deepening and snapping, and can apparently double the life of a stringing job. To increase the durability of your strings you shouldn’t expose your racket to extreme heat, cold or humidity. Try to keep it in your bag in your house when not playing. Do not leave your racket in your car as this will expose your strings to very cold or very hot temperatures. Tape along the top of the racket can help too – it’ll stop strings snapping when the frame is scraped against the ground.
An open string pattern (14 or 16 main or vertical strings) will help you put more spin on the ball, while a denser pattern (18 mains or more) means a more solid strike of the ball.
Tension and gauge
Nearly every racket will have a recommended stringing tension range printed on the frame (typically around 50-65 lbs). The gauge of a string refers to its diameter, and the higher the number the thicker the string. Typically, strings are available in five different gauges: 15, 15L, 16, 16L and 17. As a rule, the larger a string’s diameter the greater the durability, but at the expense of feel.
String facts and stats you (probably) didn’t know…
- Rafael Nadal goes on court with six newly strung rackets and will often have another couple strung during a match.
- Around 40km of string was used on more than 3,400 rackets during the 2019 Aussie Open.
- Bjorn Borg’s rackets were said to be strung higher than anyone else’s on tour – at around 80lb. They were so tight they used to snap in the night.
- It takes about three cows to produce one set of tennis strings. It used to take about six sheep.
- A shortage of sheep gut following World War II forced manufacturers to look for other natural gut alternatives.
- The first rackets in the late 1800s were strung with the stretchy outer skin of sheep intestine known as serosa.
- Between 11 and 12.2 metres of string is needed to string a tennis racket.
- A common misconception is that ‘gut’ string is made from cats – it isn’t.
What else you should buy at the same time
- Strings – Our expert buyers guide
- Racket bag – View a full range of great tennis bags
- Shoes – Find every tennis shoe you’ll ever need
- Balls – Buy the best balls in tennis
- Overgrips – Full range of grips
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