Picking The Right String For Your Racquet
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
All the "hype" you've heard and read about the new racquets is, for the most part, true. The current oversize crop, are in fact better than anything we've ever seen on the racquetball court. Stiffer, lighter, and more powerful than earlier models, oversize racquets help virtually every player perform better.
Larger racquets generate more power because they use longer string. The longer the string, the more it can stretch, so the greater the "trampoline" effect. But oversize racquets are also tougher on string, and require adjustment in stringing habits to bring out their best.
Small-headed racquets have relatively "dense" string patterns: in other words, the strings are close together, providing a lot of support for one another. In a well-hit shot with an older racquet, the ball would typically make solid contact with four main strings and four cross strings, all of which absorbed the shock and abrasion.
Oversize racquets have more "open" stringing patterns, with more space between the strings. This makes the string bed less stiff, and the greater resiliency adds to the racquet's power. But now, the same well-hit shot makes solid contact with just three mains and two crosses. Because fewer strings are absorbing the same amount of force, they tend to wear quicker and break more frequently. Furthermore, the open pattern allows the strings to move around more relative to one another. This "sawing" motion of the crosses against the mains also accelerates wear.
A long string must be strung tighter to obtain the same response and control that a short string provides. And while this will stiffen up the string bed and somewhat reduce the "sawing" action, it also increases the chance of "catastrophic" breakage at the grommets near the head of the racquet. The solution is to use heavier-gauge string, or a string designed for extra durability. So if you like the feel of a multi-stranded monofilament string, you could switch from a 17 gauge to a 16 gauge (e.g., from SuperKill(r) 17 to SuperKill II). Or you might switch to a hybrid string set that combines monofilament crosses for power and "feel," with Kevlar(r) mains for durability (e.g., Killfire(r)). If you're a chronic string breaker, and want the ultimate in durability, go for a really heavy, 15 gauge string with a Kevlar core (e.g., DuraKill(tm)).
You may have noticed that many pros use thin 17 or 18 gauge strings, because it provides more power. But also notice that these pros carry around a bag of five or six racquets, and restring frequently because of breakage. Even if you can afford it, it's not an ideal situation, according to Mike Johnston, the 1996 #1 doubles and singles champ in Michigan, and a major power player.
"If you break a string in the middle of a match and have to change racquets, it can knock you right out of 'the groove,'" Mike told me. Some players, he says, prefer the durability and reliability of a thicker string-even if it means giving up a bit of power. Mike, a sponsored player who could use any string he wants-and as much of it as he wants-strings his racquets with 16-gauge SuperKill II string. So go ahead and string thick if you want: you can tell your opponent it's because your swing is too powerful.
Just one more item for your consideration: some of the new racquets are so big that a typical string set is no longer long enough. For these, you'll have to go to a racquet stringer who buys string in bulk, and can cut it to length.
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.