The 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 develops a need. Occasionally - and this is the best of situations for a 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 racquetball strings.
Zyex fibers are known for their exceptional load-bearing properties, and for increased power and durability in Ashaway's PowerKill® 16 gauge and PowerKill Pro 17 gauge (bottom). Now, Zyex filaments are even finer and stronger than before, and Ashaway has been experimenting with even thinner multifilament core packages (top).
The trend, or need, is the increased demand for thinner, stronger strings, and we're seeing it on two fronts. One is among top competitive players - power players, typically - who find that thinner strings increase 'bite' on the ball and give them better overall control and an ability to 'cut' - especially on serves - to spin the ball off the wall. For players like Jack Huczek, this added control gives a little extra edge to an already superb game. However, it's an edge that thin strings alone cannot provide. Without a corresponding increase in strength, players like Jack can blow through thin strings like cobwebs.
The other group angling for thinner, stronger 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 - Tom Travers is an excellent example - are also looking for that extra edge, that "English" thinner strings can provide. But in addition, they want a string that plays softer and is more forgiving to aging joints and muscles.
Until recently, however, thinner strings were not forgiving of anything: they just broke. But now, technology enters the picture, specifically Zyex® fiber technology. Zyex fibers are not new, of course. They are known for their exceptional load-bearing properties, increased power and durability, and Ashaway has been using them in our PowerKill® 16 gauge and PowerKill Pro 17 gauge for a number of years. But what's new is the ability to make Zyex filaments even finer and stronger than before.
We've been experimenting with these in our R&D lab, developing ever thinner multifilament core packages, and while we're not quite ready to introduce new string products yet, we have had players like Jack and Tom play-test some prototypes with very impressive results.
Tom Travers raves about them. For those of you who may not know Tom, he's been on the racquetball circuit for the past 35 years, playing, coaching, teaching and stringing. Now 57 and a well-known figure in Master's tournaments, he has 21 National and World Titles in Singles and Doubles age group divisions. To his credit, he has written a book, Real Racquetball, produced two popular instructional videos, and was inducted into the Ohio Racquetball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Tom used the new thin Zyex strings in a recent World Senior event in Albuquerque, NM, where he entered in the 35 year-old age group, and to his surprise, won. He was impressed with the strings on a number of counts. First was the power. The ball, he said, had "a lot more pop. It literally exploded off the string bed." He also had more control, especially in cutting his serve. "Thinner strings bite into the ball more than thicker strings," he said. "So you get more feel, more grip, and can do more with the shot."
But what most impressed Tom was the durability of the strings. "I took four racquets to the Albuquerque tournament, as I usually do," he said. "And normally, I'll go through two or three racquets. With these strings, I used one racquet for the entire tournament, and here it is several weeks later, and I'm still playing with the same string! For a thin string, that's amazing."
We'll be talking more with Tom Travers about the senior's game in one of our next columns.
As for power players, Jack Huczek was even more enthusiastic in his praise. "The string is awesome!" he said. "It's hands down the best string I've ever played with. I knew after the first ball I hit that I had to have these in my racquet." Noting again that the strings aren't currently in production, Jack asked Ashaway to make enough to supply him in his tournaments. "So I've been using them and it's been going good," he said, adding that so far, he's made it to the finals in the first two stops on this year's pro tour.
Unlike Tom, Jack has managed to break the strings, but says, even so, it's well worth it. "The string maintains its playability for its entire life. From a power standpoint, and from a feel and control standpoint, it's just top notch. The ball seems to really jump off the strings. I've noticed maybe 15% to 20% more power, and because the string has a rougher texture, it's great on the feel shots and the touch shots. You can really carve the ball into the corners and the ball really stays down nice."
"I've used SuperKill® II for 10 or 12 years now, so I'm not easily persuaded on new things," he added. "But this was instant."
As you can probably tell, we're very excited about this new string. So, while we're not ready to introduce it yet - there is a lot that goes on between designing a string and being able to market it! - we did want to give you this little sneak preview. We think you're going to be excited, too.
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.