"Zero Poly" Monofilament Trend Gains Momentum
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
While it is certainly premature to proclaim the demise of polyester and co-polyester monofilament strings, I think it is certainly fair to say that the tide is against them, and that a counter trend towards "Zero Poly" monofilament strings is gaining momentum among tournament and other high-end players. Now you might expect from all the reports about the stiffness and high impact shock of poly strings and the injuries that result, that this would be what is telling against them. But it is not. Curiously, what is undermining poly is the same thing that started the poly craze in the first place: performance. More and more high-end players are coming to realize they can get equal, if not better performance from newer zero poly alternatives, along with better feel, better playability, and reduced risk of injury.
|Ashaway's popular MonoGut® ZX family of tennis strings offers players versatility and a range of playing characteristics. Used alone or as part of a hybrid combination, MZX strings are of 100% Zyex® monofilament construction, which provides exceptional dynamic stiffness and arm-friendly gut-like playability. Black and natural in color, MonoGut ZXs strings are available in 40-ft (12 m) sets, and now in both 360-ft (110 m) and 720-ft (220 m) reels. Recommended stringing tension is up to 60 lbs. (27 kgs).
So it's not the negatives of polyester strings that are taking them down, but the positives offered by the alternatives.
What evidence do we have that this is the case other than our own sales figures for our zero poly MonoGut® ZX which continue to grow? First, let's look at the frequently cited number one benefit of polyester string: spin. We discussed spin at length in a recent column on the Ashaway website, entitled Polyester, Polyketone and the Dynamics of Spin, which was based on research conducted by Rod Cross and Lindsay Crawford for Tennis Warehouse University. This research concluded that polyester strings do indeed generate more spin: on average, about 25% more than nylon and 7% more than natural gut. However, it is also true that:
1. The player has by far the larger role in generating spin. Racquet head speed, angle of racquet, and angle of swing basically trump all other considerations. Other non-equipment factors include incoming ball speed, angle, and amount of topspin.
In other words, even though poly strings generate spin, they don't have the dynamic stiffness to snap back as quickly as other materials. This means that unless you're a really powerful player, you probably can't take full advantage of poly's spin potential anyway! No wonder so many players try to modify their poly string setup by stringing at lower tensions or going to a hybrid design.
2. While string material, tension and stringing pattern do play a role, the key factor in generating spin is lateral string movement and snap-back. Being more "slippery" than nylon or gut, polyester simply moves laterally more easily and thus produces more spin.
In fact, the best spin ever was generated by the famous "spaghetti racquet" string setup invented in the '70s by a German horticulturist named Werner Fischer. In this stringing pattern, the mains were not interwoven with the crosses and were tied together with twine so they were not only free to move laterally, but moved laterally as a unit, thus imparting greater snap-back. The spaghetti racquet generated so much spin that the ITF deemed it unfair and banned them from competition in 1978 (for an interesting article on spaghetti racquets, see this article on Tennis.com)
3. Ironically, polyester generates less power. In a companion report, String Movement and Spin, Lindsay points out that, "because polyester string is stiffer than other strings, it deforms the ball more, which loses energy, and this results in less power for the same swing. Because the ball had less speed, players swung faster to get more depth. But swinging faster (at an angle to the ball) causes more spin, so they could swing faster again, and so on - more speed, more spin, more speed, more spin."
Enter the Zero Poly monofilament alternative, in our case MonoGut ZX. Here is a material that, 1) is nearly as slippery as polyester, and 2) has much better dynamic stiffness. This means it can generate almost as much spin as poly, but with more power. Not to mention that it plays softer and offers much better feel. This is a combination people are beginning to notice.
But that's just the technical side of the issue. To get a feel for what's happening on the court, we reached out to John Gugel, one of the game's leading stringers. His take, naturally, is different from ours, but equally telling.
"I do get a lot of complaints about poly," he said, "but mostly about the tension they're using. People who are addicted to poly will use poly even if their arms fall off. They say, 'All my buddies play with it.' Well maybe their buddies aren't having arm problems, maybe their buddies are better or stronger players. So the complaint is just that it's tough to play with, so they want lower tensions. I'm stringing poly at 38, 40, 42 lbs. But when you do that, the dwell time goes way up, so you have to concentrate a lot more on control, on how you're stroking the ball. Instead of being on the racquet for 4.5 milliseconds, it's going to be on there 7.5 milliseconds, and what happens is the ball doesn't go where they want it to go.
"The thing is, to get the benefit of poly you have to hit the ball really hard. That's when the string bed becomes non-linear and becomes much stiffer. You can see it with professional players. They hit the ball just about as hard as they can every single time. And there are unintended consequences to that.
"What I stress is 'stay in the game.' By that I mean, minimize the potential of danger for pain. Stay in the game means you can play longer.
"So, the story with MonoGut ZX is that it lets you stay in the game because you're not going to injure yourself -- stay in the game because the string bed tension is going to last for a longer period of time. Most of the players that I introduce MZX to are a little bit skeptical of what it can do. However, after hitting with it, it is the consistency of string bed stiffness that they like. They find the spin as good as polyester and some find it better. But it's all subjective. Unless players have a bunch of scientific equipment, they have no way to quantify how much spin they are actually generating.
"What they see with MZX is that they can play with higher tension, get better playability, more control, and as much spin without risking arm pain and discomfort."
"One of the best combinations going right now is natural gut in the mains and MZX Pro in the cross strings. It's fantastic. They are very complementary. For the high-end player that's the best combination going on. On the other hand, I've got a lot of juniors using 100% MonoGut ZX and playing at a very high level.
"But," John added, "people have to realize that MZX is not going to be given away at tournaments in bushel baskets. It's a premium string. It's not inexpensive to make like polyester. But it's worth it if you want to get a better string."
And from our perspective, a lot more people are doing that.
Zyex® is a registered trademark of Zyex, Ltd.