False Economy By Tennis Players
‘Have your racket restrung every three months,’ says the coach at a club. A number of good standard hobby players shrug their shoulders. He’s probably got a contract with the local stringer, they think to themselves.
My strings are fine for another few months – I paid good money for them, they’re lasting, so what’s the problem?
The problem is that a failure to change strings often enough can damage a player’s game and health. ‘Most people underestimate the effect that a restring has on their game and on their body,’ says Dennis Fabian, the global business manager for HEAD’s accessories department.
The syndrome is simple when it’s explained, but few players
are aware of it.
‘Whatever strings you use,’ says Fabian, ‘when you string a racket, both the frame and the strings are under strain because of the tension of the stringing. This tension gradually diminishes, but the elasticity of the string also diminishes, which reduces the ability of the string to protect the arm from harmful vibrations. This happens regardless of what strings you use.
‘It means that after a certain amount of playing time, the string is “dead”, often long before it breaks. Many club and parks players don’t think a string is broken until it snaps, but in reality the string is at the end of its life long before that point, because it’s lost its elasticity and other features it offers the player and the player’s game.’
Fabian’s rule of thumb is that you should change your strings as many times in a year as you play in a week. In other words, if you play three times a week, you should have your racket restrung three times a year. But once a year is an absolute minimum, and serious players should really get new strings at the start of the summer and winter seasons, even if other commitments mean their annual playing average is slightly under twice a week.
But it’s not just the restringing – the type of strings can make a massive difference to both the effectiveness of shots and the health of a player’s dominant arm.
‘Polyester strings are currently very popular among leisure tennis players,’ adds Dennis Fabian. ‘And that’s unfortunate, because while they might seem good value for money, they are often not the best for the twice-a-week club player.
‘Polyester strings came on the market about 20 years ago. They really helped players like Gustavo Kuerten to bring their game to a different level, but the elasticity of a polyester string doesn’t last as long. For the top players who change their strings every day this isn’t a problem, but it is for the club and parks players who keep their strings for much longer. If it lasts a long time without breaking, customers get the impression it’s good – durable is good because I can save on restringing, the customers think – but that’s not necessarily good for the player’s wrist, elbow, shoulder etc.’
And here comes another rule of thumb – make sure a stringer, or a sports store that offers stringing, has at least six different types of string. If it only offers two or three, that doesn’t give a good impression as it implies a stringer or retailer is getting a good deal on a couple of strings and isn’t focusing on offering the breadth of choice that a player really needs. And it’s important that players have the chance to chat with someone who knows what strings and tension are right for them.
‘Tennis players are not all the same,’ says Fabian. ‘Anyone selling rackets and strings should ask: what does this player want? Many players want more power, others want more control, spin or feel, while those who have had injuries may be more concerned about comfort. You can get a lot of information out of players if you ask the right questions, and players must be willing to find someone who can talk to them so they end up with the right racket, the right type of strings and the right stringing tension.’
The problem is that is isn’t always easy to find someone, which is why HEAD schools its dealers, setting out basic levels of advice-giving that are required. It is also working on a certification scheme for racket and strings dealers, which will be launched next year.