The Softer Shape of Strings to Come
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
Sometimes new products are developed in response to a trend or perceived need in the marketplace. Other times, advances in technology yield new products for which the market then discovers a need. Occasionally - and this is the best of situations for both market and manufacturer - the two coincide: new technology allows us to make a product for which there already is a growing need in the market. That's happening right now with tennis strings.
Zyex performance polymers have been used in Ashaway strings for a number of years and are known for their resilience and tension holding properties. However, recent advances in material technology have produced Zyex filaments that are even finer and stronger than before. Ashaway has used these to produce a new multifilament core (below) with increased linear density and thus, more cross-sectional strength.
The trend, or need, is the increased demand for thinner, softer strings, and we're seeing it on two fronts. One is among competitive players who find that thinner strings increase 'bite' on the ball, and give them better overall control and an ability to 'cut' and slice the ball and increase spin. For these players, added control gives a little extra edge to an already excellent game. However, it's an edge that thin strings alone cannot provide. Without a corresponding increase in strength, powerful players can blow through thin strings like cobwebs.
The other group angling for thinner, softer strings is the increasingly active senior set, players whose power is not what it once was and whose bodies no longer move as quickly or deal quite as effectively with the rigors of the game as they once did. These players are also looking for that extra edge, the "English" that thinner strings can provide, but in addition, they want a string that plays softer and is more forgiving to tender joints and muscles.
Both groups seem disenchanted with today's high-tech, high-end strings, and are increasingly turning to softer playing, more economical alternatives such as multifilament and synthetic gut strings. Until recently, however, thinner multifilament strings were neither soft nor durable. But now, technology enters the picture, specifically Zyex® fiber technology. Zyex fibers are not new, of course. They have been used in racquet strings for a number of years, and are known for their resilience and tension holding properties. However, recent advances in material technology have produced Zyex filaments that are even finer and stronger than before.
We've been experimenting with these in our R&D lab, developing ever thinner multifilament core packages with increased linear density and more cross-sectional strength. The result is thinner, softer, lighter-weight strings which provide superior feel, more power, and improved ball control, yet still offer the well-known Zyex playing characteristics and tension holding properties. We plan to introduce a new line of multifilament Zyex strings, called Dynamite® Soft, for tennis this year. We're working on several different gauges - and perhaps even a revolutionary one.
We've had string sets out for play testing among a range of recreational and advanced players, and so far, the response has been uniformly positive. Recreational and competitive amateurs have been impressed with the string on a number of counts. First was the power. The ball, in the words of one, has "a lot more pop. It literally explodes off the string bed." But they also report more control. "These thinner strings bite into the ball more than thicker strings," said another. "You get more feel, more grip, and can do more with the shot."
Advanced players, seniors, and teaching pros have also been enthusiastic. "The string is awesome!" said one. "It's hands down the best string I've ever played with." Several have been impressed with the way the string maintains tension and playability. And across the board, these players report more power - "The ball seems to really jump off the strings..." "Even with the softer playability, I've noticed a lot more power...," etc. - and better control due to the string's rougher texture. "Compared to the stiffer monofilaments, you get a really soft feel and are still able to put a lot of spin on serves and ground strokes."
We'll be releasing details about the new strings in the coming months, but as you can probably tell, we're all very excited about the capability of this new Zyex material technology. We believe it makes a significant step in string evolution, and we think you're going to be excited, too.
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.