Wearing Tails to a Keg Party
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
At a recent national tournament, a competitor asked me if I knew of a source of racquetball string in his home town. Because he teaches racquetball at his local YMCA, he feels it's important to set a good example for his students. But try as he might, he just couldn't find racquetball string, so he was having to make do with a popular brand of tennis string.
He had been having his racquet strung by a well-known sports retailer who makes a big deal about how sophisticated and knowledgeable he is about stringing and equipment in general. This retailer concentrates on tennis-he even has the word "Tennis" in his name-but he also services the racquetball market to an extent.
I know the retailer, because he buys a fair amount of Ashaway tennis, squash, and badminton string, so I called him after the tournament. He said it was purely a question of economics: because of the small size of the racquetball market, he couldn't justify carrying inventory just for that sport. I argued that customer service and marketing concerns should override pure economics in this case. I explained the differences between tennis and racquetball string, and pressed him on the importance of selling the right equipment for each sport. If he wanted to support his claim of being sophisticated and knowledgeable, I told him, he owed it to his customers. Ultimately, he agreed to add racquetball string to his orders. I haven't been back in touch with the competitor at the tournament, but I hope he's getting good service now. (A reminder: the USRA receives a portion of the proceeds of every Ashaway racquetball string sold.)
Here's a summary of the points I made with the retailer:
Racquetball is the keg party of racquet sports: it's rough, informal, and fun. Tennis is the fancy-dress ball: it's gentler (no physical contact), refined (lots of control shots), and formal. String is engineered differently for the needs of each game, so dress your racquet appropriately. Playing racquetball with tennis string in your racquet is the equivalent of wearing white tie and tails to a beer bash. Loosen up - we're a T-shirt-and-jeans crowd.
- While power, control, and durability are important in both sports, racquetball places the main emphasis on power, while tennis emphasizes control. The strings for each sport are therefore designed to deliver a different balance of properties.
- Racquetball racquets are usually strung at 30-40 lb. for maximum power, while tennis racquets are strung at 50-70 lb. for control. The type of fibers that make up the strings, and the way the materials are processed, differs for each sport, to optimize the secondary properties at their respective tension ranges, while maximizing the primary properties.
- In tennis, nearly every shot involves some spin. In racquetball, spin is usually confined to a few ceiling shots and an occasional serve. Putting spin on the ball causes the strings to "saw" back and forth against one another, so tennis strings are designed with tougher jackets, to resist being sawn in two. This makes the string stiffer, however, which robs them of some power. Racquetball strings don't require the same level of protection, so they can be made a little more flexible.
- Although string gauges overlap considerably, racquetball strings are often thinner than tennis strings. In general, thicker strings are stiffer, while thinner strings are more powerful. Racquetball strings range from 16 through 18 gauge, with 17 being most common. Tennis strings range from 15L through 17, with 16 being most common. 15L is too stiff for racquetball, while 18 too flexible for tennis, and not durable enough. Racquetball players still get the control they need, however, because thinner strings bite a bit deeper into the surface of a ball.
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.