How low can you go?

No matter where I looked, what I read or whom I spoke to, I kept hearing talk about very low string tensions.

I guess it all started when I interviewed professional stringer and all out racquet guru, Priority One’s Nate Ferguson, in 2007. During the interview, pro player Filippo Volandri came into the stringing room to collect his racquet. It had been strung at 26lbs. That’s right, 26lbs, not kilos, you read it right, 26lbs. I was stunned.

Recently I started noticing more and more pros are dropping their chosen tension. Reading some threads in the string forum of our message board, Talk Tennis, I noticed some guys where hitting with very low tensions and were impressed by the results.

Enough already, I thought. I just had to try this low tension stuff out for myself. Now, I don’t string my racquets that tight anyway. My regular set up for my Volkl Powerbridge 10 Mid is a co-poly string at 52lbs.

Yesterday I initiated the test. I strung one of my racquets at 52lbs and another at 30lbs. My string of choice was Volkl Cyclone 16. Cyclone is a co-poly string, one of my favorites and a string I’m very familiar with so it seemed like a good base from which to test from.

On court I started with my regular set up, the racquet at 52lbs. Everything felt great and I was hitting the ball well. After about 15 minutes I was fully warmed up and switched to the 30lbs racquet. Amazingly, my shots were staying in and the strings actually felt lower powered. The ball felt like it was flying on me more with the 52lbs racquet than the 30lbs racquet — that was a huge shock to me.

Most interestingly, I was getting a lot of spin with the 30lbs racquet. Switching back and forth between the two racquets, my hitting partner could see and feel an immediate difference on the spin of my shots between the two racquets. I was getting excellent hop on my topspin, but best of all was the slice. With the 30lbs racquet I could hit some wicked slice. I was really able to knife the ball and get it to skid fast and low. Two or three of my slice backhand approach shots actually went for clean winners and my hitting partner for the day has good speed about the court so I was very impressed. Another fact that surprised me was I did not have to adjust the strings at all. As usual for me with a poly, the strings returned to an aligned state after every shot.

Okay, so today was day two of the test. I spoke to our TW Professor and he persuaded me to drop the tension lower. He said, “go to 20lbs,” I replied that 20lbs is crazy, but what the heck.

Today I warmed up with the 30lbs racquet because I had so much fun with it yesterday, 30lbs might be the new 52 for me. Then I switched to the 20lbs racquet. Right after switching, my hitting partner wanted to play some tiebreaks. Okay, this was going to be interesting. Trying to compete with a tennis racquet strung at a badminton tension.

Off the ground, things weren’t too different from 30lbs. The stringbed felt really, really soft. I was getting very good hop on topspin shots but felt my slice was floating a little. As I had found with the 30lbs tension, hitting volleys was effortless. I could volley with depth just by holding the racquet out, yet had all the feel I could ever want to help me find a short angle or hit a drop volley.

The one shot I had trouble with was serving. With the 30lbs racquet I was getting lots of pace on flat serves and good action on spin serves. I was also serving with good accuracy. At 20lbs, it felt like the angle of the ball leaving the strings had altered and I was struggling to get my first serve out of the net. Whereas on groundstrokes I was finding more topspin and my shots were loopier, on flat serves it was the opposite — the ball was angling down quickly and I was finding the net. It didn’t matter too much I was able to still get a lot of kick and spin on second serves and start the point off offensively. I definitely felt a little alienated on serve. I was forced to make some alterations to my aiming at 20lbs that I didn’t need to make at 30lbs.

With day two in the bag I’m preferring 30lbs. I’m not giving up on 20lbs yet, I just feel I need more time to get used to it. Hitting that tension in a more relaxed environment might also help, as the tiebreakers today were fiercely competitive — just as they should be.

Where to go from here? Well, the TW Professor thinks I should go to 10lbs. That’s crazy right? But what the heck, for Friday it will be 10lbs. How low can I go?

Stay tuned.

Chris.

Bravo, Ivan! Bravo!

Ljubicic, that is.

At 31 years of age Ivan Ljubicic has won his first Masters 1000 title. For almost a decade he has kept his ranking in the top 50 while reaching as high as world #3.  Adored by the players on tour, Ljubicic served as ATP Players Council President and did an impressive job, according to his peers. Passing that position to Roger Federer, Ivan has had more time to focus on his tennis as well as being a recent dad.  Now tending to a 1-year-old boy and a relaxed demeanor on court, he is playing some of his best tennis.

We caught up to Ivan before he started his “giant slaying” at the BNP Paribas Open, and here’s a little insight to his outlook. Click on the image below to see his interview:

Ivan Ljubicic Interview

Ivan Ljubicic Interview

Since that interview he took out world No. 2 Novak Djokovic, a well playing Juan Monaco, world No. 4 Rafael Nadal, and finally No. 8 ranked Andy Roddick in the finals.

With such a good reputation as a player and a person, and finding those characteristics to be true first hand, I can’t help but root for him and wish him the best.

Congratulations, Ivan!

BNP Paribas Open – March 14

Sunday brought yet again, another good day of weather. There were a plethora of fans huddled around one of the practice courts a little while after we arrived. One could only guess it had to be either Rafa or Fed. It was only mid-morning when we caught Rafael Nadal pounding balls from the baseline. For those that refer to him as a ‘pusher’ have obviously never seen him hit. I felt sorry for the tennis balls with the racquet head speed he was supplying. Rafa. Strong like bull. He also came over to the TW retail tent later after his doubles match to sign autographs. Unfortunately, he was not available for an interview. Maybe next year.

Roger Federer, donning a purple tee, and a fresh hair cut, came out to that same practice court later in the afternoon. Two words. Grace and precision. True tennis fans would agree they could watch him for hours in awe (as well as Rafa). A lot of those true fans must have been at that particular practice court that day because as long as Fed was there on court, no fans were going elsewhere.

We also got a chance to chat with former top 5 ranked ATP player, Ivan Ljubicic. The former ATP Player’s Council President still has plenty of game to compete with the best.