An interview with Ashaway’s Steve Crandall on his latest creation: MonoGut ZX, the world’s softest monofilament

For years the monofilament string market has been dominated by polyester — a substance that can be too firm and underpowered for less advanced players. About a decade ago, Ashaway’s Steve Crandall began working on a new concept: a monofilament control string with genuine comfort and power, closer on the stiffness spectrum to natural gut. In the early part of 2012, after years of testing and tweaking, Crandall finally found what he was looking for. It’s called MonoGut ZX. The ZX stands for Zyex, which is a much softer and more responsive material than polyester. On his most recent visit to Tennis Warehouse, we had the chance to interview Steve about his impressive new string. Here is what he said.
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Everything you need to know about strings for the modern game!

"Guga" Kuerten revolutionized the game by popularizing the polyester string.

As the turn of the century hit, a revolution in tennis strings was starting on the pro tour. It started in 1997, when Gustavo Kuerten won the French Open with a polyester string made by Luxilon. Traditionally, players on the pro tour had been using natural gut string, made from animal intestine and known for its unmatched tension maintenance, power, and soft feel. Natural gut was rumored to have been manufactured first by Pierre Babolat in the late 1800s, and it remained the most popular string on tour for the next century.

However, when Guga won the French with polyester string, players began to realize something. Since polyester is much stiffer and lower powered than traditional natural gut, it allowed for players to take much larger swings at the ball, unlocking their own natural power. With greater racquet head acceleration, players were able to generate more spin and ultimately more power than ever.

Furthermore, racquet technology was getting better, with companies producing lighter and more powerful frames than ever. As pro players transitioned into these high-powered frames, they needed a string that could harness a bit of this new found power and provide the control and spin necessary for the modern game. As a result, it’s very rare nowadays to see a player using a full bed of natural gut, and instead almost every pro player has made the switch to either a full bed of polyester string or a hybrid setup that utilizes both poly and natural gut strings, designed to take the control from the poly and the comfort of the natural gut and blend them together.

Rafael Nadal is the prototype for the modern game, with massive amounts of spin and power in his game.

Tension Strategy with stiffer strings

In general, stringing your racquet at certain tensions will give you specific sensations when hitting the ball. If you string your racquet tighter (at a higher tension), you maximize control and produce a stiff, dead feeling stringbed. On the other hand, dropping the tension low maximizes power, comfort, and feel, but sacrifices control.

Traditionally, with a full bed of natural gut, players would string their racquets at very high tensions to harness the power of the soft string and their fast strokes. In the 1980s and 1990s, you’d often see players in the 60, 70, or even 80+ pound range for tension. At the 1991 US Open, Michael Chang, Ivan Lendl, and Jim Courier were stringing their racquets in the 70+ lbs range, and Thomas Muster and Monica Seles were even at 81 and 83 pounds respectively! That’s like playing with a 2×4! But with natural gut’s extraordinary playability, the string remained soft and the high tensions were the only way for the players with longer strokes to have enough control on their shots.

Nowadays, with pros switching to stiffer polyester strings, the tensions that pros are using have dropped dramatically. At this week’s Japan Open, Andy Murray is stringing his racquet at the highest tension of anyone in the tournament…at 60 pounds! Most of the pros are between 45-55 lbs, with Milos Raonic coming in with the lowest tension in the tournament at 41 pounds.

Players are forced to come down in tension with the polyester strings because they are so much stiffer than natural gut. With stiffer strings, there is a significant loss of comfort and power, but dramatically more control. If the same high tensions are used with a polyester string, it would be way too stiff on a player’s arm, causing fatigue and eventually injury. Players must come down in tension with a polyester in order to get the comfort and feel they require.

The best value polyester strings on the market

With the increased popularity of polyester strings there has been lots of new companies producing them, leaving you with an overwhelming selection to choose from. However, with all the new additions to the market, companies have found new ways of altering the poly string to make their strings unique and enhance playability. Some polys are now textured or shaped in order to grab the ball even more than “standard-shaped” strings, maximizing the spin potential of the strings. Companies have also introduced materials into the strings making them softer, reducing the jarring effect of the stiffer strings and making them more arm-friendly. Furthermore, the newest development in polyester string technology is making the surface of the string very slick so that it slides on itself easier, which also dramatically helps spin potential.

Enough mumbo jumbo…I want to make your decision process easier. Here are (in my opinion) the best polyester strings around with the best value, so you can get high-end performance at a great price!

Volkl Cyclone is the string I used the most when I was out playing on the pro tour. It has medium stiffness for a good blend of power and control, and its shaped design grabs the ball exceptionally well and helps you to generate tons of spin. It’s offered in 16, 17, and 18 gauge and in multiple different colors. At only $7.99, it’s a steal!

 

Tourna Big Hitter Black 7 has become one of my go-to strings lately after a recent playtest. Very similar to Cyclone, it has great playability and exceptional spin potential with it’s 7-sided design. Very few strings that cost $10 or more out-perform it, so at $8.95 it’s a no brainer!

 

 

Solinco Tour Bite has in the past couple years gained a ton of visibility on the pro tour. Players love it because of the great control and massive spin that it offers. This one is also a shaped string (you’re beginning to figure out I tend to like shaped strings). It’s a little more expensive at $11.50, but it’s still not going to break the bank. It’s offered in 16, 17, 18, and very soon 19 gauge!

 

 

Topspin Cyberflash was my string of choice during my college career. According to TW University tests, it’s one of the softest polyester strings around, making it super comfortable and easy on the arm. I loved it’s super lively and soft feel, and it’s only $7.49!

 

Thanks for reading!

AG

Get your poly on!

Polyester strings have become the popular choice on both the ATP and WTA tours. In fact, at the recent combined ATP-WTA tour event in Rome, of 138 men’s and women’s players, 135 of them were either using a full set of polyester or were using it in a hybrid setup with a softer string. Only three players were using a full set of natural gut, which was the popular choice in the days of McEnroe and Connors. So, what are polyester strings? Why are they popular? Will they work for you?

Polyester strings are typically “monofilament” (made from a single, solid strand of material) as opposed to natural gut or “multifilament” strings that are composed of multiple strands woven together. The single strand is often made of polyester blended with some other substances that can affect the playability of the string in a variety of ways. This monofilament design lends itself to very stiff strings, which means more control and durability, but less power and comfort. They have more of a “dead” feel to them, making it hard to generate power and often being the cause of arm problems in tennis players. So why have they become so popular?

Polyfibre TCS is one of the softest, most comfortable polys around!

As racquet technology has improved, players are able to take longer, faster swings at the ball, and the collision between racquet and ball has become increasingly violent. The traditional natural gut strings were providing too much power and not enough control for these large swings, not to mention not giving the pros enough durability. Personally, I could go through a full set of natural gut within a couple of hours. So players began experimenting with polyester strings.

What people found was that the polyester strings were providing much more control for the longer, faster strokes. Since players didn’t have to worry about controlling the stroke themselves (due to the polyester being much less powerful), they could exert even more effort into the swing, generating tremendous racquet speed. With the added racquet speed, players were able to gain tons of spin. With increased spin and control, you could hit EVEN HARDER while remaining confident that the ball would stay in play. Furthermore, the string was much more durable, which is always a welcomed bonus.

Luxilon ALU Power Big Banger is one of the most popular strings on tour!

As more and more players caught on, the popularity of polyester strings took off on the pro tour. Now, they’ve taken over the tour, and like I previously stated, 98% of the players in Rome are using some type of polyester setup in their racquets. The way the modern game has evolved, it has become almost a necessity to use “polys” for their added control, access to spin and durability. Most players would be unable to compete on the tour without them.

Volkl Cyclone is a great bang for your buck!

What about you? Since polys are so popular on the professional level, does this mean that we would recommend them to everyone? Well, not necessarily. First of all, since they are very stiff, they tend to create a lot of shock at contact that gets transferred into the hand and arm. This can cause arm problems in people who are susceptible. If you are someone who tends you have arm problems and you still want to try polyesters, I would suggest using a “hybrid” setup, by mixing the polyester with a softer multifilament or natural gut string. This will help you get the feel for the polyester and see if you like it, while reducing the harsh impact on your arm. Secondly, because of the stiffness, it is difficult to generate power with the polyester strings. You must have long, fast strokes, otherwise the ball won’t go anywhere when you hit it. If you have shorter, slower strokes, you might want the comfort, power and feel of a natural gut or multifilament instead.

Just because polyesters are popular on the pro tour doesn’t mean that they are right for everyone. But if you’re an intermediate to advanced level player with long, fast strokes looking for a little more durability and control out of your strings, then give them a try! Remember, if you’ve got a history of arm problems, just mix the polyester with a softer natural gut or multifilament, giving you that controlled feel and added durability but reducing some of the harshness on your arm. Take those big cuts at the ball without fear of your shots sailing long, and you’ll be hitting harder and heavier in no time!

Thanks for reading!

Andy G.

2011 Favorites: Strings

Let’s take a look at strings in this third installment of playtester favorites of 2011. In the spirit of year-end Best Of lists, some of our playtesters picked their favorite products of 2011 and explained why. So just who are these playtesters? Chris, Spencer, Jason, Brittany and Tiffani — we’re all familiar faces on the playtest team, and our jobs put us in contact with all of the newest products that go up on our web site.

Favorite strings of 2011:

Wilson NXT Control

Wilson NXT Control

Chris is a guy who likes to play around with all kinds of string set-ups. You may have not heard about his low tension experiment from 2010. He tried stringing poly at what some might think are ridiculously low tensions, for example in the 30s, even hand pulled. You know what? Poly is playable at that tension.

Chris on the multifilament from Wilson, NXT Control: “This string feels to me like I’m hitting a poly/multi hybrid. It offers more control than a multi yet is more comfortable than a poly, which is why we hybrid! Now you don’t have to. I usually like poly monofilaments, but I really like this multi because it offers lots of comfort with great control.”

Weiss Cannon Mosquito Bite

Weiss Cannon Mosquito Bite

Our playtesters think alike once more. It was a hat trick for this German-made 18 gauge poly with Spencer, Brittany and Jason choosing Mosquito Bite as their favorite new string of 2011. What’s the appeal?

Spencer on Mosquite Bite: “I found a lively feel for some added pop as well as excellent access to spin.”

Brittany on Mosquito Bite: “First off, I love the color options. I feel like this string can look good in any racquet. Secondly, I found it had all the elements I look for: power, spin, and control. Normally I am not a full poly person (I prefer a hybrid) but I enjoyed it in a full bed. And lastly, Mosquito Bite is an awesome name, period.”

Jason on Mosquito Bite: “It’s comfortable and provides great pop and spin. What’s not to like?”

Tecnifibre XR1

Tecnifibre XR1

You can count on Tiffani as being a fan of multifilament strings. Though she plays with a lot of polys while playtesting, in her own racquets, you’re sure to find either a full bed of multifilament or a hybrid with a softer co-poly.

Tiffani on XR1: “I like the feel of this multifilament because it’s arm friendly without being mushy. Tension maintenance is also pretty good. Downside, though, is that it frays.”

So what’s your favorite string of 2011? Weigh in! We’d love to hear your opinions.

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Check back in later this week for our next installment of playtester favorites. We’ll take a look at racquet/string accessories next.

Happy Hitting!
Tiffani, TW

String Review: Polyfibre Hexablade 17L/1.18

Polyfibre Hexablade

Polyfibre definitely did not disappoint with their new Hexablade tennis string.

Hexablade fully met my expectations, combining the comfort of Polyfibre TCS with excellent access to spin thanks to its hexagonal profile design.

I strung this up on my customized Babolat Pure Storm at 58lbs and had my own reservations on it based on how stiff the string felt while stringing, feeling similar to Luxilon ALU Power Spin. On the first strike my jaw dropped and I felt like I was auditioning for the part of Neo in “The Matrix,” as a simple “whoa,” escaped my mouth. I watched as the ball easily cleared the net by about eight feet and continued to follow its path to inches within the baseline. Usually with a freshly strung poly I’d expect to have a settling in period for the string to readjust after un-mounting the frame. With this string though, there was no “break-in” period. Stroke after stroke I watched as the ball dropped to the court and exploded off the ground.

I took a trip home and used this string to battle against my dad; he usually gives me some competition, but I had the edge this time. After beating up on the ol’ man on the courts, he commented that this was the first time he truly felt old hitting against me, and it was due to the heaviness of the balls that were coming off the racquet face. The speed of the ball outmatched his foot speed, and I hit winner after winner, which felt good after a lifetime of denial and trash talking on my superior game.

Since you can’t always have your cake and eat it too, I did find that this string didn’t hold tension for as long as I would have liked, and it was also the first poly in a long time that I didn’t have to cut out of my frame. I had the string in my frame for about a month and logged around 10-12 hours of playtime on it before one of the strings popped. I saw a lot of frictional notching on the mains once all the string was removed from the frame, which made sense to me as I noticed there was also more string movement than a typical poly. Tension loss probably occurred around the six-hour mark, and the tension felt like it dropped significantly. This only made me focus on my timing and technique even more because there was a noticeable power increase, but once I made the adjustment, the grab from the string again helped the ball drop in play.

It would be hard to be a Polyfibre fan and not like this string. If you’re looking for a soft poly that’s easy on the arm and offers good spin potential, you can’t pass this one up. Hexablade delivers a heavy ball to your opponent while being light on the arm and has a great response.

Jackson.