Best all-around tennis upgrade: Restring your racquet
Most recreational, club and league tennis players wait until they break a string before restringing their racquet. For many, that might take years, keeping them from enjoying and improving their game without ever realizing it.
A general, but not scientific "rule of thumb" is to consider replacing strings yearly as many times as you play per week (i.e., play tennis twice a week, restring twice per year). Restringing is one of the most underrated ways to improve and enjoy your game.
Strings naturally lose tension with use, but might loosen from lack of use, too. And, as the tension lessens, so does the performance.
Regular restringing can keep your racquet playing with comfort and consistency like a new one all over again, so that every time you play it feels exactly like you want it to feel (the reason you bought it in the first place).
Although currently there are more than 950 different types of string to choose from, they can be divided into four main groups:
Natural gut (made from animal innards). Considered to have the best playability, but least durable, and most expensive (yikes!).
Nylon based (most widely used strings). These synthetic guts are more durable, less expensive and can approach the comfort of natural gut.
Polyester based and the newer co-polymers (provide more power, spin potential and tension retaining capability).
Aramid based (very durable, very stiff, used mainly by hard hitters who are prone to breaking string often).
Another option, used widely by many pros, is called "hybrid" stringing. This method combines string materials, one type for the main strings (going up and down) and another type for the cross strings (going side to side).
After choosing the string material, two other parts of the stringing equation are string thickness (gauge) and string tension. Here's how they figure in:
Higher gauge numbers equals thinner strings (e.g. 17, 18); lower equals thicker strings (e.g. 15, 16). Sixteen-gauge strings are likely the most widely used for overall durability and playability. More advanced players prefer thinner gauges for enhanced feel and performance.
Racquets have recommended string tension ranges printed on them and usually are strung in the middle ranges. Increasing the tension provides more control, while decreasing tension gives more power.
Some racquet stringers will talk to you or even watch you hit to determine which stringing options will work best for your individual game. Others might let you try out a few racquets with different strings.
How often you restring and what type strings you use makes a difference, and a knowledgeable, professional racquet stringer does, too.
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio & Youth Tennis Coach who lives, teaches and provides racquet service in the greater Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. lwmarino @hotmail.com