A New Phenomenon: Cross - String Breakage
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
String breakage used to be almost entirely confined to the main strings (the vertical ones); the problem virtually never affected the cross strings (the horizontal ones). But since the introduction of new racquets with oversize faces and unusual stringing designs, cross-string breakage has become a problem for some players. And it's a conundrum for stringers (and string manufacturers, too), because even the pros aren't sure what's going on. So this column is actually a request for help, as you'll see below.
In a past column (Racquetball Magazine, March / April 1997), we discussed the four typical causes of string breakage. "Sawing" or "cutting" occurs when the mains and crosses shift and pound against one another, so that eventually the crosses cut right through the mains. A particularly hard smash-especially if it's a mis-hit outside the sweet spot and close to the frame-may stretch the string beyond its tensile limits and cause "catastrophic" breakage. Cracked grommets may cut through the string right near the frame. And frequent wall-bangers may abrade the string where it passes outside the head of the frame, but only if the racquet's bumper strip is absent. Only the first two causes are common.
At this point, information about cross-string breakage is still mostly anecdotal, and we don't have enough data to even understand where the strings are breaking most often. One stringer tells me that it's occurring in crosses three through five (from the top), close to the centerline of the racquet. Another reports that it's mostly confined to crosses two and three, close to the frame. One finds it affecting a variety of strings, while another says it mainly shows up in Kevlar / nylon hybrid sets.
They all agree, however, that thinner strings are more susceptible to the problem, so there's your "easy" answer. If you don't care why it's happening, shift from a thin 17 gauge string to a thicker 16 gauge one. Be forewarned, however, that you will trade off some playability.
For those of us who care, here are some speculations as to why. The bigger the racquet, the more "open" the string pattern. In other words, the string spacing is wider. (This is especially so in racquets with a "fan" - shaped pattern, where the mains radiate out from a point near the handle.) This seems to allow the strings to shift around more against each other, but why it should suddenly represent a problem for the crosses, as opposed to the mains, is still a mystery.
Along with making racquets larger, the manufacturers have (amazingly) made them lighter as well. Light weight means players can swing the racquet faster, to hit the ball harder. If we're really hitting harder than before, that might explain an increase in breakage. But again-why the crosses? Could players be swinging so hard now that they're losing control, and making more mis-hits? Or maybe the larger racquet heads encourage mis-hits in some other way?
The Kevlar® aramid is a fairly abrasive material. In hybrid sets consisting of Kevlar and nylon strings, the Kevlar is always the main string. This seems to explain why the crosses are breaking in these hybrid sets, but it doesn't help us when it comes to all-nylon string jobs, or other hybrid combinations. You might try changing the tension of your strings, or using different tensions for the mains and the crosses in hybrid sets, and see if that has an effect.
The survey form that was originally published at the conclusion of this article has been disabled.
For providing valuable input for this article, my special thanks to: Don Barrington of the River Bend Athletic Club, Peace Dale, RI; and Rex Lawler, Lawler Court Products, Terre Haute, IN.
Kevlar is a registered trademark of E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. Inc.
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.