Never again

Today I hand pulled tension on my racquet. I mounted it on the stringing machine, but only used my hand to pull the string tight.

I could tell you I gave the string a 5lbs pull, but who am I kidding, I have no idea what tension I was achieving, I was just trying my best to pull with the same force each time.

As I was not actually looking to achieve a tight tension, I literally just used my hand to pull the string through. Traditionally, the string would have been wrapped around a wooden dowel, so it could be gripped easily and comfortably before being pulled to a tighter tension.

Pulling with my bare hand was not comfortable. With only 3 cross strings left I was praying for the end. To stop the string digging into my hands I used a cloth at times, but it was tough to still get a good grip on the string unless I wrapped the string around my hand.

One thing to note about all the low-tension racquets I’ve now tried (hand pulled, 10lbs, 20lbs, 30lbs), stringing the crosses is more work. When installing the cross strings, the main strings move around more, making weaving more difficult.

Right off the machine, the hand pulled racquet felt similar to the 10lbs racquet when just tapping it against my hand. The same vibration I experienced at 10lbs was also felt with the hand-pulled racquet.

On court the racquet felt very playable and very similar to how the 10lbs racquet felt. I was able to hit all my usual shots and everything from groundstrokes to serves was working well. Again, I was not quite as confident as I was with the 30lbs racquet, which was the same experience I had with the 10lbs racquet. I think I could get used to the feel of this extremely low tension, but the vibration I was feeling bothers me so I don’t want to go down that road.

Again I sought the consult of the TW Professor. He reckons the vibration could be taken care of with weight added at the racquet tip and maybe some in the throat. I like the weight and balance of my racquets as is, and I’m not willing to modify them to make the tension work.

At this point, I’m definitely a fan of the 30lbs racquet. After hitting it for a week, the sensation of the deep pocketing at impact feels pretty normal now. I feel like I’m hitting all my regular shots, but getting a little more zip on serves and more spin everywhere. I’ll try my next two racquets at 35lbs and 26lbs and start dialing in my preferred tension from there.

I’m not going to abandon higher tensions, but I’m enjoying the low tensions so much that I’m going to stick with them for a while. On reviews we string our playtest racquets at mid tension with a co-poly and go up a few pounds with a multi, so I’ll still be doing plenty of higher tension hitting.

Tomorrow, I’m taking the day off from hitting. My body needs a rest from all the string testing, racquet and shoe testing and hitting during video shoots. As far as hand pulling tension on a racquet, I’m done. The racquet felt the same as it did at 10lbs and it was so much easier to string using the machine’s tension head (and much less painful) than using my hand.



The insanity is spreading

I hit again today with the 10lbs racquet and the 30lbs racquet. I’m really starting to enjoy these low tensions.

I went down to the TW indoor court for the video segment of our Nike Lunarlite Vapor Tour review. Danny turns up with his PB10 Mid at 35lbs, Spencer with a Pure Storm Ltd at 30lbs leaving only Jason still stringing at a ‘normal’ tension. After seeing all the spin we were getting, he is restringing his racquet tonight at a low tension.

This was a somewhat cool thing to see happen, yet also frustrating. Here I am, stoked with how much spin I’m getting, then I go and tell everyone about it and now they are getting lots of spin, too. If you missed the brief flash at the end of that last sentence, well, that was the advantage I had found evaporating.

After we finished up the shoe review video shoot, I hit with Spencer for 10-15 minutes and we recorded some footage of me rallying with him with the 10lbs racquet, 30lbs racquet and lastly one strung at my regular 52lbs. We will try to get that ready to post in the next day or so. Spencer and I then went into the studio where we recorded a voice over to go with the footage. Spencer gave me his perspective on the kind of ball I was hitting with each racquet and I followed with my perspective. As you’ll see in the video, I’m able to take a really good cut at the ball with all the racquets and don’t have to worry about my shots flying long.

After hitting today I can report the 10lbs racquet is still vibrating. The TW Prof came by our office and started talking about vibration frequencies. I did my best to remain focused as he started talking about the vibration frequency of string and that of a racquet frame. The gist of what he was saying was that the vibration frequencies maybe close enough at 10lbs that they are exaggerating each other. It certainly feels that way as the feel has more buzz more than usual.

He also wants me to keep going, so tomorrow I will be stringing my racquet with a light hand pull, while mounted to one of our NEOS 1000 stringing machines. He wants me to report how the string plays with hardly any tension at all and only its inherent stiffness. I may have been laughing while we were talking about it, but at this point I’m thinking I might as well keep going.

Tomorrow I’ll be hand pulling a racquet with a very light pull. Back in the days before machines you could ask for a light or tight pull from the stringer. Apparently, stringers would wrap the string around a dowel and pull it to the desired tension. I’ll be embracing technology by using a starting clamp.

If at this point you’re wondering why I’m doing all this, I don’t have a good answer for you. I’m just glad that I took the plunge and tried something different. So far I’ve been having fun at 30lbs and I think I’ll be staying low for some time while I continue to explore what low tensions have to offer.

As you can note from the tensions of Danny and Spencer, my insanity is spreading through TW! Several members of Talk Tennis have chimed in with their experiences at low tensions, are giving it a try or are following the testing of others with great interest. Also, it is great to see some of our Facebook fans giving this a try.

Tune in Tuesday afternoon and I’ll report back on how my racquet plays after lightly hand pulling tension.



How low can I really go? Try 10lbs

I did it. I went out today and played with a racquet strung at 10lbs.

As before, I strung up my Volkl Powerbridge 10 Mid with Volkl Cyclone 16 string.

Let me start by writing that, yes, it is possible to hit with a racquet strung at 10lbs. Very possible, in fact. During my hit today I was finding the groove with this tension.

My topspin shots were working well right off the bat. The only time I got in trouble was when Kana, my hitting partner today, hit a ball deep to my feet. When trying to pick the ball up in that situation and roll it back deep to her side of the court, it was easy to hit the ball long. However, when I had time to set up, I was able to hit a very hard and heavy ball. My topspin forehands and backhands were really jumping off the court and throwing Kana’s timing off.

At first my slice shots were floating a little and I was getting too much depth on drop shots. I switched back to my 30lbs racquet and immediately found my range again. Once I felt more dialed in, I went back to the 10lbs racquet and stuck with it for the rest of the hit. The more I hit, the more feel I found on touch shots and lobs etc and I was able to make the adjustment to where they were working as normal.

The big difference, and I mean BIG difference at 10lbs was on serve. Whereas my first serve was clicking at 30lbs, lost at 20lbs, it was found again at 10lbs. With 10lbs, I was finding pace I haven’t hit since my late teens/early twenties. My first serves were just zinging. Adding a little spin to them made them pretty nasty for Kana to return. I hit a couple of nice wide slice serves, some bombs down the ‘T’ and also some fast serves to the body. On second serves I was kicking the ball higher than usual. As with groundstrokes, Kana mentioned my serves were heavier, with more pace and spin than usual.

No doubt about it, serving at 10lbs was a blast.

Amazingly, even at 10lbs, Cyclone 16 STILL remained aligned in my racquet after a long rally. I never had to adjust my strings. I thought I would be adjusting strings at 30lbs, definitely at 20lbs and at 10lbs I was worried that the ball might just move the strings out of the way and come out the back of my racquet. As unbelievable as it seems, string movement was never an issue.

Now, there were some downsides to playing with 10lbs. As I mentioned, it took me longer to adjust on slice shots and touch shots before I found my range, but I managed to dial it all in within an hour of hitting. Again, picking up deep shots landing near my feet was tougher and easier for me to over hit. Most interestingly though, the racquet vibrated a lot at 10lbs. There was some buzz coming from the stringbed during play and when I tapped the frame against my hand, the frame had some buzz that’s not normally there. I didn’t find any discomfort from the racquet, but this is all based on one hit. I told our TW professor about the buzzing and he immediately went into professor mode and started talking about finding the cause of the buzz and eliminating it.

Although I could feel the buzzing, I couldn’t really hear it, as the stringbed was just so quiet. Yesterday I found my racquet to play quietly at 20lbs, but at 10lbs the racquet is in all out stealth mode. There’s none of the loud crack I get when really laying into a shot with a poly type string. No matter how hard I swung, the sound remained deep and soft. I’ll put it this way, 10lbs is the Barry White of string tensions.

What have I learned from this fun little experiment? Well, there’s definitely some advantage of dropping to a low tension. I’m going to be playing around between 25 and 35lbs over the next few weeks to find the sweetspot for me. Right now I’m really enjoying 30lbs due to the spin off the ground and the extra pace on serve. With 30lbs I’m very close to the pace and spin I get at 10lbs and I don’t have to make as much of an adjustment. I found 20lbs a bit of a no man’s land with some adjustment needed and no obvious benefit. At 30lbs I also prefer the feel, because at 10lbs the buzzing was a bit annoying. I just have no idea if it could lead to elbow issues or aggravate some wrist issues I have from time to time. Frankly, I don’t care to find out the hard way on that one.

As for my original question of how low can I go? Well, it turns out it is 10lbs on the stringing machine. The Prince NEOS 1000 stringing machines we use only adjust down to 10lbs, something I’d never really looked at until today.

The only thing left is hand-pulling tension. Hey, don’t laugh. I might just try it!