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 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 squash 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, stronger strings, and we're seeing it on two fronts. One is among top competitive players who find that thinner strings increase 'bite' on the ball, and give them better overall control and an ability to 'cut' and work the ball and increase spin. For these players, 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, powerful players can blow through thin strings like cobwebs.
The other group angling for thinner, stronger strings is the increasingly savvy recreational set, players who don't have the skill or power of the pros, nor the conditioning to allow their bodies to shrug off the rigors of the game. 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.
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 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, stronger, 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 squash strings in several different gauges this year - perhaps even a revolutionary one.
But I don't want to get too promotional here: there will be plenty of opportunity to talk product specifics later. The idea here is to simply talk about the capability of this new technology which we believe makes a significant step in string evolution.
We've had string sets out for play testing among amateur and professional squash players (such as top intercollegiate players, and PSA and WISPA professionals). So far, the response has been uniformly positive. Recreational and competitive amateur players 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 exploded off the string bed." They also report more control, especially in working the ball along the rails and executing drops. "These thinner strings bite into the ball more than thicker strings," another said. "So you get more feel, more grip, and can do more with the shot."
Professional players have also been enthusiastic. "The string is awesome!" said one well-known pro. "It's hands down the best string I've ever played with." Several pros have managed to break the strings, but even so, say it's worth it because the string maintains tension and playability for its entire life. Across the board, these players report more power - "The ball seems to really jump off the strings..." "I've noticed a lot more power...," etc. - and better control due to the string's rougher texture. Said another pro, "You can really carve the ball deep along the rail and then stop the rally on a dime with a drop shot up front."
As you can probably tell, the play testers are very excited about this new Zyex string technology, and we think you're going to be excited, too.
This article previously appeared in Squash Magazine.