How to Minimize String Breakage
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
Thin is in for racquetball strings these days. Players of all stripes like the added control and playability thinner strings afford, and manufacturers are busy combining the latest high tech materials and ingenious construction techniques to offer the thinnest, strongest, best playing string ever. But while these new thin strings can be made stronger than before - and some even stronger than thicker competitors - at some point there is always a compromise in durability.
So how can players enjoy these new thinner strings and extend their longevity? If anybody knows, it's long-time stringer and senior champion Tom Travers. Tom was one of the original play-testers for an 18 gauge Zyex® string we're developing for racquetball. He recently won the National Senior Doubles championship (beating none other than Ruben Gonzalez along the way), and has also been selected as one of three master instructors for USA Racquetball's newly revised Instructor's Program (see the Instructor's Program page at http://racquetball.org).
We asked Tom first how he likes the new thinner string, and second, what he recommends for players who want the benefits of thinner string but also want to minimize breakage and increase their longevity.
"I think the best testament for the new 18 gauge Zyex string is that I won the National Senior Doubles with it!" he said. "But more interestingly, I took three rackets to the tournament and only used one of them. And I'm still using the same racket right now, a month after the tournament."
He likes the playability, the control and the power of the thinner string. However, as a senior player he finds the Zyex a bit stiff. "The composition of the Zyex string bites the ball very well, which is good for control, and it's very lively so it generates a lot of power. But it doesn't give that much. I like a softer playing string."
What Tom does - and he says he would not recommend this for younger players - is use the Zyex 18 gauge for his mains, and a softer nylon multifilament for his crosses. This gives him the power and control he needs, and also better touch and less impact.
To minimize breakage, says Tom, you need to understand breakage. Most players break string because they mis-hit the ball. "Better players tend to hit with the sweet spot in the center of the racket, where there is less chance of breaking strings. But that's not true with most players. Most players hit all over the racket - top, bottom, sides, the edge of the frame - and that's one of the things that breaks string. Most people break their mains at the top of the racket. If they break the crosses, they've really mis-hit the ball."
To avoid this, Tom recommends a very simple expedient: add an additional cross string at the top of the racket. It may look a bit funny because the grommet spacing is different, but it will help protect the mains at the top and won't affect your play at all. "Any stringer can do it," said Tom, "and it's an easy way to increase the life of your strings."V
The other common cause of breakage, of course, is how hard you hit the ball. Tom divides chronic string breakers into three categories. The first are good players who hit the ball hard - 140 mph+. They're going to need the extra cross string, and possibly even a heavier gage string. The second category is novice or regular players who don't hit that hard, but tend to mis-hit a lot. They, too, can use the extra cross, but can definitely benefit from thinner string. Third are those who are beginning recreational players, but who hit very hard just the same. These guys are going to need a lot of help...and a lot of string.V
Tom's rule of thumb is that if you hit below 120 mph (and this includes most senior players), go for the thinnest string you can find. If you hit in the 120 - 140 mph range, you can try an 18 gauge, but you'll probably find a 17 gauge lasts longer. And if you're over 140 mph, you might be better off with a 16 gauge string.
Recreational players should expect to get 4-6 months good play out of a set of strings. Tournament players in the 120 mph and less category can expect 3-4 months. Tournament players in the 120-130 mph range, 2-3 months, and hard hitters, 1-2 months.
However, Tom stresses, even if your string doesn't break, you should still restring at these intervals if you want to improve your game. You need to keep the elasticity of the string fresh, and get fresh new tension. Tournament players especially will want that extra edge. "And it's not just physical," said Tom. "It's also mental. Just like your car runs better when you wash it, you will play better with new string. Any edge you can get as a competitive player, you want. And new string might just be that edge you need to win your game.
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.