I am trying to break down some of the basics around strings, and we have come to the endless topic of tennis string tensions.
The trend around tennis string tensions in the last few years has been that less is more. Players are moving down in tension on average. We even see some pros string their racquets at around 15 kg / 33 lbs with a full bed of poly (Adrian Mannarino is one example), but then on the other side of the spectrum, Dustin Brown strings his racquet at around 33 kg / 72 lbs.
Let’s look at what you get by stringing high or low.
- String at a higher tension for more control
- String at a lower tension for better depth, comfort (and spin?)
As you might have heard in my interview with master stringer Paul Skipp, we should not use the word “power” when we talk about lower string tensions. What we get by using lower tensions is more depth on our shots, not power.
Do lower tensions give you more spin? Well, with a lower tension you are opening up for more string movement, which does impact spin. But unless you are using polyester strings, the strings won’t snap back into place and give you the desired control. You might rather experience issues controlling the ball if you are using a multifilament or natural gut at low tension.
What is low?
What is low, and what is high? There is no clear-cut answer here. I would call a low tension anything below 21 kg or 46 lbs. Medium tensions range from 22-25 kg, and anything above that is a higher tension. This would not have been the case 15 years ago when most pros used higher tensions from 28-32 kg. But advancements in strings, especially the introduction of the polyester string in 1997, has changed tennis.
The tension you should use is depending on what racquet you use, what strings you play with, and what you are trying to accomplish.
If I were using a stiffer, thick-beamed, powerful racquet like the Babolat Pure Aero, I would string it with a full bed of polyester strings at 25 kg or 55 lbs. The racquet has a very open 16×19 string pattern and if I used anything below that, I would not feel confident about my level of control.
I don’t hit the ball as hard as the pros do, but I don’t “push it” either, so you need to find what works for you.
Different strings, different tensions
I wrote about string stiffness in my post about string gauges. A stiffer string will give me better control and allow me to lower the tension. If I use a control-oriented string like Luxilon 4G I could drop the tension to 44 lbs in a control racquet. But I could not use a softer poly like Solinco Tour Bite Soft or Volkl Cyclone Tour at that tension. So it all depends, obviously.
If you hit the ball as your life depended on it and regularly break strings, you’re probably using a durable and control-oriented poly at 25 kg / 55 lbs. Still, if you are a finesse player with shorter swings, you can go with a softer poly at 22.5 kg / 50 lbs and find enough control. Like I wrote in my post about breaking strings, players with shorter swings should likely avoid polyester strings altogether.
One important thing to note, don’t look at what the pro players use. They play a different sport to most of us with the stress they put on the string. Just take Stan Wawrinka as an example. He strings Babolat RPM Blast in a 95 sq inch racquet (weighing 372g or 13.1 ounces) at 28 kg or 61.7 lbs. A club player might hurt their arm with that kind of string and tension, but Stan has excellent technique, hits the ball very hard, and mostly in the center of the racquet.
There are no real rules for what tension you should use. But look at the above as a general guideline. If you have never tried stringing a polyester at a tension below 20 kg / 49 lbs – give it a try! For some players it can be a positive change! If I am using a full bed of multifilament or gut, I would generally not string below 25 kg / 55 lbs. Soft strings need a bit of a higher tension for more control.
If I am doing a hybrid, I tend to like it best with a multifilament or gut string in the mains at 26 kg / 57 lbs and poly in the crosses at 24 kg / 53 lbs. This depends on the racquet. If it is very open, I prefer to use polyester strings for better durability.
Still confused about what strings, tension, and racquet to use? Check out my consultation service here.