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.
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!