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San Francisco Tennis Center Championships

In October I had the pleasure of having my new Pro Staff Six One 100 fitted fully with L-Tec threads by the one and only TennisThis.com guru, Javier. After only a few rounds with the new strings I could feel what an amazing difference these strings provided to my game. Accuracy and increased spin were something I desired in my heavy spin lefty game and these new strings gave me both.

After a few months of play peppered with many victories, I decided it was time to get in a tournament. This would be my FIRST singles tournament ever and the first real competitive tennis I had played besides USTA Team play. I entered the 3.5 Men’s Singles Tournament at San Francisco Tennis Club on February 2-4. SFTC is my home club so I thought this would be a great place to get my feet wet.

After receiving a bye in my first round I found myself matched up to play against an opponent I had previously met up with in a final of a Flex League about 6 months prior. We had both gone 7-0 in the Flex before meeting in our 8th and final match. It was an all out war for the honor of winning Flex League Champion. In that match I lost the first set. Won the second. Went up in the third before running out of energy to be overtaken and sadly lose the match. Needless to say this was some excellent fuel for my first rounder in this first tournament I was about to play.

This time I took the first set. My confidence in my new strings by now had months to build and I was nailing placements like a headhunter serving Ivy league candidates. I was slicing bacon sizzlas, firing off heat seekers, delivering tornado spinners and making a concerted effort to head to the net for a multitude of bazooka bomb blasters. Before I knew it my opponent was flat lining and heading for the showers to defibrillate. Read the rest of this entry

What is the best tennis string for my racquet?

Which is the best tennis string?

So many tennis strings…so little time.

As a stringer, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been asked, “What is the best tennis string for my [insert Babolat, Head, Wilson, Dunlop, Prince, or other racquet here]?” There are, literally, hundreds of strings on the market, with dozens of companies constantly developing new strings. To make it worse, there are different materials, construction, and thicknesses. I can’t let you forget, the string tension also adds another variable with the string you’ve selected.

I have playtested tons of different strings and I have found some great strings, as well as some not very good strings. It has taken me a long time to find the best tennis strings. I personally found that the L-Tec tennis strings are the best for me, that is of course installed with the JET method (I am a JET stringer, FYI). Although, before I was introduced to L-Tec, there had been a few others that I liked very much. I’m positive that, in the future, there will be many other strings that will be brought to market that I will like very much, as well as strings that are not a favorite.

Read the rest of this entry

The strings that are changing tennis

John Elliot stringing L-Tec using JET

If I were to tell you that if you could hit a ball as hard as you can, while maintaining a ball height of no more than 2 feet above the net, from the baseline and not hit it out on the other side, would you believe me? Of course you would not, how could I possibly make that happen? Oh and did I mention the equipment being all monofilament at a tension no more than 52 pounds of tension (23.5 kilograms) in any tennis racquet of your choosing?

It all sounds too good to be true, although, it is a reality and I know from first hand experience. How is all of this even possible? I mean, how can stringing a tennis racquet at a lower tension going to keep tension longer of two or three times or more and keep the ball in play no matter how hard you hit it, and finally a string that will not break in that time all the while keeping the same playability of when the string was freshly strung? It all has to do with the tennis strings and way they were installed into your tennis racquet. It has everything to do with a new tennis string that has recently been introduced to the market, though it has been around for quite some time, just not commercially. Enter L-Tec, a revolutionary tennis string that stands for Low Tension Energy Control. Read the rest of this entry

Dead Tennis Strings

Just the other day, when I was hitting with a friend, I noticed that my strings felt different. I immediately knew what was going on…I completely forgot that I hadn’t changed my tennis strings and the strings were now in the “dead zone.” The liveliness of a tennis string has a general lifespan, however; the biggest factor of life loss in a tennis string is loss of tension.

There are plenty of obvious signs when a set of tennis strings are ready to be cut at and laid to rest in the trash can:

  • The tennis balls are not grabbing or pocketing on the stringbed like the once did.
  • No matter how hard you swing, you get no pace.
  • Spin is hard to come by – you get general spin from your swing, but nothing extraordinary.
  • The sounds is different, ball contact with dead strings is not a “popping” sound, it’s more like a “thud”.
  • Your arm starts to hurt – this happens because the tennis strings are not absorbing vibration like they once did and the jarring intensifies because of this.
  • Your feelings get hurt – you begin to lose feel of the tennis ball when going for touch shots.

So how do you know when to change your tennis strings and how often? There is a general rule of thumb for tennis players, you should restring your tennis racquet as many times per year as you play in a week - example: if you play tennis 3 days per week, you should change your tennis strings 3 times per year. Which to me does not seem often enough. I typically restring a couple of times per month, however; my situation is different – I’m constantly reviewing tennis strings or I break strings quickly. Professional tennis players restring between their tennis matches, after practices, and sometimes even during a tennis match – I’m not saying you should restring after every time you play (though that’s entirely up to you)!!!

My general rule of thumb for how often you should restring your tennis racquet is…as often as you feel like. It is as simple as that. Hate the tennis string you have in your tennis racquet? Cut them out and replace them with something different.

Here’s a guideline for different types of tennis string durability so you can gauge what will last longer:

  • Natural Gut: Typically doesn’t last as long as other types of tennis strings. Since it’s a natural material, the wear is quicker and will more likely break before you’ve lost that loving feelin’.
  • Synthetic Gut: Better than Natural Gut, but not by a lot. Basically synthetic is an engineered version of the natural stuff. Tension loss and bland play is obvious a little later in the life of the string, but holds good playability.
  • Polyester: Known for durability and tension maintenance, by far the most commonly used string. The poly keeps life longer than the aforementioned strings and at a better price too!
  • Kevlar: The grandfather of all tennis string lifers. Kevlar is by far the most durable tennis strings on the market, it takes a lot to get them to reach the “dead zone”. I’m certain that your arm will begin to hurt long before you feel like you need to change the strings. *Do not use kevlar strings if you have arm problems.

I know that not all of us can afford to string as often as the pros, I certainly can’t, nor do I encourage you to change your strings every week. The longer you play, the quicker you will be able to pick up on when your tennis strings are in the “dead zone” and need to be replaced.

Babolat RPM Blast A Love & Hate Story

We have all heard John McEnroe talk about how Babolat’s RPM Blast is the best string ever created in the history of tennis. I don’t quite buy into the hype though, I’ve tested the strings, more than once, and I’m giving you a better review (read my previous review here) of the hyped black tennis string.

What is the hype of this string anyway? Well basically when Rafael Nadal first started using it last year at the French Open, there were claims that he was able to spin the tennis ball much more when replacing his previous string (Babolat Pro Hurricane Tour). Just a reminder, this was only a claim. Pretty much, Johnny-Mac called the matches and he really publicized how great this string was and how much more kick Nadal was getting – all thanks to the RPM’s. It can’t be, a single set of tennis string can make a player play better tennis? IT CAN’T BE!

The truth of this argument is that it is just a tennis string, it’s the placebo effect that makes people think they’re hitting a better ball. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on this string 100%, it does have it’s good qualities and capabilities.

I’ve broken down my detailed review into different sections, stringability (how it strings), power, spin, durability, and arm friendliness:

  • Stringability: Stringing the RPM string at 55 pounds was pretty easy actually. I enjoyed stringing this polyester string better than some of it’s stiffer rivals. One set in particular really bothered me when I strung it, I was pulling tension on the crosses, and for some reason the string snapped. I was pretty concerned that I was stringing at too high of a tension, but it turned out I had a bad set from Babolat; they did replace the set. Knotting off the ends was a snap since the RPM was malleable enough to tie out and tighten easily. Oh and weaving the crosses was extremely easy on the fingers.
  • Power: Honestly I didn’t really feel all that much additional power when using the RPM, I tried the string at different tensions to gather this data – 50lbs, 55lbs, and 60lbs. At 50 pounds the RPM felt extremely loose and left me feeling as if I was not getting the best contact since the strings were moving all over the place. At 55lbs, I felt like I was hitting the strings perfectly which allowed me to take some bigger cuts at the ball while keeping it in the court. At a high tension, it was almost worthless, I could not generate pace from the baseline without having to overexert myself on simple groundstrokes. I figure that somewhere in the middle of the tension spectrum is an ideal way to go.
  • Spin: This is the part that everybody reading this is waiting to know about. Does the Babolat RPM really generate all that spin? Well yes and no. If you can hit the ball perfectly in the center of the strings every time and you make an effort to spin the ball, you will get the additional spin. However, if you hit off center or tend to hit flat, you won’t get the additional spin that you would probably expect. Yes, it’s good when you hit the ball clean and have the right swing to get the spin you want, yet it’s not automatically going to give you the tremendous amount of spin that Rafael Nadal gets on his groundstrokes.
  • Durability: One aspect of a tennis string that I always consider is the durability. I’m not a professional tennis player so I have to buy my tennis strings with my own money, so the longer a string will last the better. I noticed that the RPM’s do last a little longer than some of the other polyester strings out there. However, this string looses tension faster than some so to say that it’s durability is awesome would be an overstatement. Yes, it’s durable as in the string will not break after many hours of use, however, you will not get the same performance because the tension does not hold long enough to perform all the way through those hours of play.
  • Arm friendliness: Because this is a softer poly string, I didn’t feel the jarring I normally would with a stiffer string. After many different string jobs, at different tensions, and different testing conditions, my arm felt really good. It did not send the shock all the way up and down my arm when making contact so that’s always a good thing.

Do I love this string or do I hate it? It’s hard to say, I love how easy it is to string and how well it plays when freshly strung, and I absolutely love the black color of the string – it makes it look powerfully fast. On the other hand, I absolutely hate the hype it gets, how it looses tension so quickly, and of course the cost – $17.

If the Babolat RPM were actually a game changer, every single tennis professional would have a full set of this string in their tennis racquets. The truth is in the pudding, if you feel like you’re getting more spin and power from this string, more power to you. I’m just giving you an honest review of this string, however much I don’t like it. Like I’ve said a million times before, if you’re curious about a product, just try it out. The more you experiment, the better off you will be.

Why Is It So Tense In Here?

It’s the age old question when it comes to tennis equipment, “What tension should I string my tennis racquet?” If you’ve read any of my tennis equipment recommendations, I heavily stress that every tennis player is different so there is no single answer that will be 100% right for everybody and that you should be open to experimenting with different racquets, strings, and tensions, please keep that in mind.

Back to string tension, let’s start with what it is; tennis string tension is the measurement of weight tension on the string within the frame of the tennis racket or, the pressure under which the strings are secured to the frame. I’ll put that in layman’s terms, it’s how tight the tennis string is strung, in pounds, in the tennis racquet. Are we all on the same page? OK, great.

Put simply, there are two polar opposite weights to consider when stringing a racquet, lose or tight:

  • Loose string tension: Will give you more power and pace, however; you will sacrifice more control. There is also a possibility of shanking the ball more often, since the stringbed is less reliable, the ball will come off the strings at a weird angle. The other thing to consider when using a tighter string job, the strings will move around a lot more that can cause the strings to “saw” themselves, which results in broken strings faster. Also, with strings that are misaligned, you will not hit the ball as clean. Bad shots = Bad tennis.
  • Tight string tension: Better control, but less power. If you have strength naturally, then this should not be an issue. I personally string my racquet a little tighter for added control, I mean, I have enough power to hit big from the baseline, but I prefer control. Another sacrifice from having a tight tension is lack of feel, especially a net. Since the stringbed is stiff, it acts like a springboard launching the ball away from the frame in an unpredictable manner. Oh and don’t forget, there is a possibility that a tight tension can give you the dreaded “tennis elbow,” from the vibration.
  • There is a third option: You can do a two piece string job, where you can have the mains tight and the crosses loose – power and control! I prefer doing this kind of set up with a hybrid string job, typically a natural gut string in the crosses and a polyester string in the mains.

“But how much tension should I use?” That’s a simple answer and one that can be directed to every tennis player on earth, look at your tennis racquet’s throat and it will show you the manufacturer’s recommended tension range – this is generally between 50 and 70 pounds of tension. It’s only a recommendation, you can go lower or higher if you need, just make sure you don’t go too high, you could very well end up cracking the frame of your tennis racket. One person who you can talk to about tennis string tension is your club/pro shop/neighborhood stringer, that’s where I learned about tensions and stringing, all you have to do is ask.

In conclusion, what is the best tennis string tension? That all depends on your ability and needs from your tennis racquet. Get a couple of sets of the same string and play with the tensions until you find the weight that is good for you. I personally like to string my racquets between 56 and 60 pounds, full poly. I’ve also found that many pros either string really low tensions – Roger Federer around 48 pounds of tension, where as Mark Philippoussis has his tennis racquet strung at 70 pounds of tension.

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