Why Racquetball String is Different From Tennis String
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
What kind of string do you have in your racquet? I don't mean the brand and model name-I mean just the generic category: is it racquetball string or tennis string? I'm sure many readers won't know.
Can you image a similar situation in any other sport? A skier who's not sure if he's using downhill or cross-country skis? An auto racer who doesn't know slicks from nobby tires? Of course not. Because, while downhill and cross-country might both be "skiing," they are very different sports with different equipment needs. The same goes for drag racing versus dirt-track.
And likewise for racquetball and tennis: they're different in almost every way. The racquets and balls are different; the environments are different; most importantly, the techniques of play are different. And even though you can't readily see the differences in the strings, they're different too.
What are these differences? I'm sorry to say that, from the standpoint of string construction, they are extremely technical-to the extent that I leave the details to the R&D people, and don't always try to understand why different nylon polymers, coating thicknesses, braid angles, and yarn diameters produce different physical properties in the finished product. Like most consumers, I have to take the experts' word for it, that the engineering actually makes sense.
But unlike some consumers, I've had the opportunity to try just about every string on the market, and I've experienced the differences between racquetball and tennis models. From the player's standpoint, the differences are obvious. And once you've experienced them, you'll never again make the mistake of using tennis string in your racquetball frame.
The biggest difference is "feel." Racquetball strings are designed to give you more "pop" off the racquet face, because sheer power is critical to the game, and racquetball "strategy" often consists of trying to overpower the opponent. In tennis, ball control and finesse play more important roles: a player may combine spins, slices, ground strokes and lobs in a single point.
Because power rules in racquetball, the strings are typically strung looser than in tennis. Through careful selection of materials and construction methods, textile engineers have managed to make racquetball string perform optimally at 20 to 55 lbs. of tension, versus the 45-75 lb. range that works best in tennis.
Racquet dynamics are also different. The sweet spot on a racquetball frame is usually very close to the head, because players are constantly grabbing shots right next to the wall. There are no walls in tennis, so tennis players have the luxury of having their sweet spot located more centrally.
When the racquet face smashes into a ball, the string tries to stretch equally on both sides of the point of impact. With so many off-center smashes in racquetball, this imposes extra stress on the "short" end of the string, next to the head of the frame. Racquetball string is therefore engineered to resist breakage and respond well under these conditions, while many tennis strings would snap prematurely.
On the other hand, with so many spin shots in tennis, the main strings are constantly being "sawed" back and forth against the crosses. Tennis strings must therefore be highly resistant to "notching." This is not as big a problem in racquetball.
Because most tennis is played outdoors, tennis strings are designed to withstand environmental variables such as humidity, UV light, and abrasive dust that the ball picks up (especially on clay courts). Racquetball is free of these problems, so manufacturers have been able to redirect their R&D into other areas of racquetball playability.
The differences between tennis and racquetball strings are not usually visible to the naked eye, but they're there nonetheless. If you buy your own string at retail, it makes sense to look for packaging that identifies the string specifically for racquetball. If you take your frame to a professional stringer, you should specify that you want racquetball string. Once your stringer appreciates your interest, he may be eager to offer suggestions, to help you find the racquetball string that's best for your style of play.
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.