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?