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Thin (String) Is In

Babolat VS Natural Gut

Not so long ago, a tennis player’s string choices were limited to natural gut and nylon-based synthetics. There were no polyester or polyurethane-based strings and, since most players couldn’t afford expensive natural gut, they were left to choose between different gauges of nylon string. Fifteen-gauge was considered too thick for all but the serious string breakers, and inexperienced stringers didn’t want a customer complaining about breaking the much thinner 17-gauge strings prematurely. So, 16-gauge string became the most popular choice.

But with current technology, thicker (i.e. 15 and 16-gauge) string is not always better. Thin string can provide several benefits including improved playability, increased comfort, better spin potential, and shorter string life (that may not sound like a plus, but please follow along).

Each time a player strikes a ball, the strings stretch back as it enters and recoil to power it across the net. Even sitting in your tennis bag, the string tension is stressing the fibers. Strings which have gone past their useful life will not have enough resilience left to properly propel the ball, making you work harder to provide power. In addition, strings will absorb less shock, increasing the stress you feel on contact.

This can be a particular problem with long-lasting polyester-based strings. Though they provide increased power and spin for advance players, these ultra-low elongation strings will turn very stiff and could lead to elbow and/or shoulder problems if left in for too long.

Technifibre Black Code 16

Babolat RPM Blast 18

Players who rarely break strings often continue to use 16, or even 15L-gauge, when they could be experiencing increased feel with 17 or 18-gauge products. Also, using a thinner gauge could promote breakage over time, necessitating replacement and the benefits of fresh string (rather than continuing to use strings that are too “dead” to be of any benefit).

As we better understand how strings react, the old adage of “string as many times per year as you play per week” has become obsolete. If you can’t remember the last time you broke a string, do yourself and your game a favor by reducing your string gauge. Players who don’t break poly strings quickly would also be well served to try a thinner gauge. Many poly strings are available in 17 or 18-gauge at Tennis Express, including Babolat RPM Blast, Tecnifibre Black Code and Luxilon Timo.

Tennis Express has many synthetic strings available in 17-gauge like Babolat Xcel Power, Wilson NXT, and Gamma Live Wire XP. There are also several very nice models that come in 18-gauge like Wilson NXT Tour, Tecnifibre X-One Biphase and Prince Premier LT. Several different brands of natural gut strings, including Babolat VS, are also available in 17-gauge. Make an “upgrade” to a smaller gauge the next time you restring, and see the benefits. Wilson NXT 17

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