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Steve Crandall's Racquetball Stringing Tips

String Gauge Versus Tension Redux

By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings

In previous columns we saw how string gauge and tension affect racquet power. Now let's examine how the same factors affect ball control.

Any child who bounces a ball intuitively learns a basic rule of physics, which is stated: the angle of incidence equals the angle of rebound. In other words: a ball will bounce off a surface at the same angle that it approached the surface. Imagine for a moment trying to play ping pong using a soup bowl for a paddle, and you'll instantly recognize that it's a lot easier to intuitively calculate angles off a flat surface than a curved one.

In racquet sports, every time you hit the ball, the string bed stretches, and the ball ends up at the bottom of a soup bowl. If you were to hit every ball dead-center in the sweet spot, this wouldn't be important, because the angles would be the same on every side. But every time you hit a ball off-center, the geometry becomes more complex. The string stretches more on one side of the ball than the other, and it becomes difficult to make those instantaneous, intuitive calculations necessary for accurate shot placement.

The amount of stretch is just part of the equation: timing also plays a role. It takes anywhere from about 0.004 to 0.010 of a second for string to stretch and rebound during a shot. During that time, the racquet continues to swing, and its angle is constantly changing. The longer the ball remains in contact with the racquet, the greater the effect the changing racquet angle will have on the direction of the shot. A string that stretches less will bounce the ball away sooner (but not faster), so the ball will be less affected by this phenomenon. (Thanks to Dr. Howard Brody's book Tennis Science for Tennis Players for this insight.)

It's clear, then, that the flatter the string bed remains during a shot, the better the ball control will be (at the expense of power). How do you maintain a flat string bed? By using less-stretchy string.

Thin strings are more elastic than thick ones, and loose strings are more elastic than tight ones. So what's to choose? Can you take a thick string and simply string it loosely to duplicate the power and control of a thin one?

Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. At equal stringing tensions, thin string is stretched further than thick string, so thin string behaves stiffer than thick string, and this seems to give thin string an edge on control, just as it has an edge on power. Additionally, thin string penetrates the surface of the ball deeper than thick string, and this provides more "bite" for spin shots.

See the chart for a summary: First find the playability characteristics that are most important to you, then select string gauge and tension accordingly.

Here are two final considerations. Thick strings hold tension better: at the same pound-tension, they won't go "dead" as quickly as thin ones. And more elastic strings transmit less shock to the player's arm, so they may be better if you're worried about "tennis elbow."

Figure 1

String Power Control Durability
Thin Gauge
Loose Tension
high low medium
Thin Gauge
Tight Tension
medium medium low
Thick Gauge
Loose Tension
medium medium high
Thick Gauge
Tight Tension
low high medium

Once you've found the tension at which your racquet generates maximum power for a particular string, you may want to tune the racquet further to suit your style of play. By reducing the tension a few pounds, the string will be less prone to breakage. By raising the tension a couple pounds, you'll stiffen the string bed: it will remain flatter when you hit the ball, and you'll gain control.

This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.

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