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Steve Crandall's Racquetball Stringing Tips

String and the Environment

By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings

Melted Racquet Dear Mr. Crandall:

Like many club players, I play racquetball after a full day at work. That means I frequently leave my racquet in the trunk of my car. In Miami, that trunk is very hot. I would like to know what impact, if any, this has on the strings of my racquet and how it may affect play. Thank you for your help.

W.A., Miami Shores, Florida

Dear W.A.:

Your letter raises a good question-one that concerns not only your fellow Miamians, but also club players in Anchorage, and everywhere in between. The climate in which you live, and in which you store your racquets, does affect string performance and life.

Leaving a racquet exposed to extreme heat will cause the string to stretch out and lose tension. As with virtually all other materials, string expands when it's hot and shrinks when it's cold. But cooling the racquet back down won't restore all of the tension that was lost. This is because the polymeric molecules of which the string is composed are permanently stretched out of shape if exposed to heat when under tension.

Humidity, too, can cause a loss of tension, although this may be temporary. Nylon, the most common string material, is somewhat hygroscopic-in other words, it absorbs moisture from the air. During periods of high humidity, it may be helpful to keep your racquet in an air conditioned environment, where the air is dry.

Leaving your racquet in the trunk in hot weather is bad enough, but leaving it on the car's rear deck, without a cover, is even worse. Prolonged exposure to UV light will degrade most string materials, causing a loss of strength.

Cold climates have their hazards as well. Every time strings shrink from the cold, the tension rises, then falls again when they return to room temperature. These repeated changes have the effect of stretching the string, eventually causing a permanent loss of tension.

If the racquet has been sitting in a cold car, the string may be so tight and brittle that it pops on your first good killshot. Usually, by the time you've signed in, changed clothes, and made your way onto the court, it has warmed up sufficiently so this is not a problem. But if you arrive at the club already dressed to play, you might want to wait a few minutes to allow it to reach equilibrium.

How to avoid or minimize the problems? Thin strings are more sensitive to environmental effects more than thick ones. Kevlar and Zyex strings appear to be less affected by both heat and humidity than nylon, but none are entirely immune. The use of a padded racquet cover provides only very short-term thermal protection: in cold weather, for instance, it will protect the strings from shrinking while you carry the racquet from your warm car into the club. But it won't do any good if you leave the racquet in the trunk for hours: within just a few minutes, it will be the same temperature inside the cover as outside it. So the best way to avoid negative effects from the environment is simple: don't leave your racquet in the car. Bring it in to work if you can, or leave it in your locker at the club if you have one.

I hope this is helpful. Thanks for your letter.

Sincerely yours,

Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings

This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.

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