Choosing your tennis racket tension can be a slightly daunting process to begin with. A quick search online will reveal a staggering amount of possible string tensions and types; often leaving tennis players no closer to understanding tension choice and more confused than before they started their research!
This article we have written comes from many years of experience experimenting with various tensions and gauges (thickness) across many different types of strings. Rest assured, we have tried virtually all the strings out there – natural gut, multifilaments and polyesters at both low and high tensions! After reading this document, you will be able to make an informed decision as to which string tension to select and might even be able to have a “jargon level” chat with your local stringer!
String tension is the pressure at which the strings are secured to the racket’s frame and is performed in either lbs or kg. It’s worth always being clear with your stringer about your preferred unit measurement instead of just saying a number! Most stringers will automatically assume you mean lbs, however.
Typical tensions range from around 40-65lbs, but most players’ tensions fall well within that range of extremes!
Generally speaking, professional stringers tend to advise players to string their rackets as low as possible whilst still being able to maintain control of the ball. With that in mind, let’s take a look at low tensions first.
Low String Tension
A low string tension would be anywhere from around 40-50lbs. There are exceptions, of course; some players even going below 40lbs! That end of the spectrum is pretty much trampoline territory and we’ll get on to that later! But let’s lay out some facts first.
Stringing your racket at a low tension will give you:
Before settling on a string tension, it’s vital to consider what you are looking for in your game and how you want your racket to perform accordingly.
For example, a strong, powerful player wielding a sledgehammer of a racket would most likely choose a higher tension, rather than a low tension. Why? They already have a lot of their own natural power, so an additional boost in power by lowering the tension and thus the string’s elastic trampoline effect would likely send the ball over the back fence!
Contrastingly, a player who isn’t as powerful – say your lower level club player, might benefit enormously from a low string tension. Since their strokes are not yet fully developed enough to access true power, then this choice of tension would provide a welcome boost in mph!
Another factor to consider is how you want your racket to perform in terms of feel. Players with injury problems in the wrists and arms should avoid high tensions and instead look to string their rackets lower. This will deliver greater levels of comfort and also increase the size of the sweet spot, thus enhancing feel – an added bonus! Touch style players will love the pocketing effect of a lower tension, whereas a powerhouse player will most likely hate it and crave control. Think McEnroe and Roddick! John strung low and Andy strung high!
Stringing your tennis racket at a low tension will also impart more spin to the ball, which is great news if you love to hit a heavy ball! This happens because the ball can pocket deeply into the string bed; the increased elastic effect causing a greater snap back effect on the string bed and launching the ball back with a greater number of RPMs than a higher tension.
High String Tension
A high string tension would be anything from around 55lbs to 65lbs. Similarly to what we talked about during the low tension section, there are exceptions to this too – some players opting for even higher tensions! Unless you want an injury coming your way though, we wouldn’t advise you to go over 60lbs. If you’re having to string your racket this tight, unless it’s natural gut, then you are losing a lot of the properties of that particular string. In this case, it would be far better to re-evaluate your choice of string or even your racket.
Generally speaking, between 55lbs and 60lbs would be an excellent choice of higher tension. This will still give you access to power but will also supply a lot of control.
Here’s some of the benefits and drawbacks of string your tennis racket at a high tension:
You may well be looking at that list and thinking, what’s the point? You’re absolutely right to think that as there’s certainly a lot of “LESSES” on there! However, as we touched upon a little earlier, stringing high is only really meant for one kind of player. If we’re talking about a polyester string, that’s the really strong, probably tall powerhouse, aggressive baseline player like Del Potro who only wants ultimate control from his racket and string. Since he can hit his forehand bigger than most people can serve, any extra power supplied by his equipment would have diminishing returns and would actually make him lose consistency. Del Potro wants his balls to land in the court; not burning a hole through the back fence without bouncing!
A downside to stringing really high is you’re going to lose a lot of the string’s elastic qualities. At TheTennisBros.com, we believe that going over 60lbs tension with a polyester string can actual damage its properties and consequently decrease a player’s performance.
The comfort level is also going to be pretty horrendous unless you’re used to the feeling of hitting with a wooden plank! Poor levels of comfort almost always go hand in hand with injuries, so unless you have wrists of steel and are appropriately physically conditioned, carefully consider whether stringing high with a polyester string is the way to go for you.
Whenever you switch the tennis on TV, you won’t have to watch for very long until you see a player swap a racket for a different one in their bag. Some players do this every ball change (Federer), some less often.
You might be thinking this is because the professionals break their strings so often, but it isn’t. Often it is due to the string tension dropping during point play. In a match play scenario, suddenly a ball that landed 10cm in previously before the tension loss would no land 10cm out. Since the pros are dealing with such fine margins during their rallies, it’s critical to maintain perfect precision (well as close as they can get) throughout a match. Federer mostly changes rackets so often in order to prevent this tension loss occurring.
There is another reason for this. Having several rackets strung (8-12 for pros) at various tensions ensures they have the right setup for the conditions they face that day. If the weather is boiling hot, then they would use a higher tension. On a sunny day, the air inside the ball will become warm and the ball’s velocity will be much greater than on a cooler day. On a very cold day, players will use a lower tension than usual in order to compensate for the drop in ball velocity.
The third reason for having multiple rackets is that it allows a player to adjust depending on how they are striking the ball that day without having to manipulate their technique. Biomechanically it’s impossible to make exactly the same strokes, down to the decimal place of joint degree angle every day! You’ve probably experienced this yourself. Some days you may be striking the ball very well, but for some reason the ball is just going a foot long. In this situation, you could just get another racket out of your bag that is strung up at a higher tension than the one you’re using and that would solve the issue and allow the ball to dive down into the court.
We appreciate this would require huge expense! Only the professionals really tend to make use of multiple restrings a day. However, what’s to stop you having an extra one or two rackets in your bag strung higher and lower?
Finding The Right String Tension For You
The right string tension for a player can vary enormously from person to person. We wouldn’t recommend looking up what the professional players are using and copying that, unless you have flawless mechanics and know the exact custom racket specification Nadal is using for example. But even then, everybody has different preferences.
For the average player we’d personally suggest starting in the low to mid 50s and see how that feels. For argument sake, let’s say 53lbs. If you know you’d prefer a little lower, also consider that tension loss is going to occur pretty quickly and that 53lbs will turn in 48lbs before you know it! Some strings hold tension better than others, but all strings lose tension eventually. How close you string to your preferred number will depend on how often you are prepared to string your rackets. Some players will have a batch freshly strung every day and others will do it once every 2 months or even less often.
String Tension By Type
There is a stark contrast between the different types of string out there, and each will need to be strung at a different tension to another. For instance, the most popular string on and off tour today is the co-polyester string. For example, Babolat RPM Blast or Luxilon Alu Power. These are stiff, low powered strings designed for control, therefore we would need to string them lower than an elastic multifilament string as they don’t have much power to begin with and are extremely uncomfortable at high tensions. Somewhere in the region of 48-58lbs would be an excellent choice of tension for a polyester string.
On the other hand, we have natural gut strings. These are the most powerful strings in the world and can really put some mph behind your shot. Whether you use these in a full bed or half bed of string, you’ll need to string these higher in order to tame some of their extreme elasticity. A good recommended tension for a natural gut or multifilament string would be between 55-62lbs.
String Tension By Racket
This point really made me smile as I’ve done some silly things in the past when it comes to this aspect! I remember earlier in my tennis development where I was obsessed with creating as much power as possible and ended up putting natural gut in a Babolat Pure Drive Tour Plus at 46lbs! It was a recipe for disaster. Not only was the gut a poor choice of string for the racket and my game, the racket itself is an absolute rocket launcher. Needless to say, I looked to string the racket in a different way pretty quickly!
Always factor in your racket when deciding a string tension. If you have a powerful racket, string higher in order to dilute some of the racket’s power and maintain control of the ball If you have a low powered racket, try stringing a little looser.
If you’re in a situation where you are using a low powered racket with a high-powered string, find a happy medium.
I thought we could end this article with some fun facts! I’ve provided you with some useful guidelines to follow when you come to getting your racket strung next time, but there are always those who don’t fit the mould.
Pete Sampras used to string his black, legendary Wilson Pro Staff at a whopping 70lbs! That’s enough strain to crack the frame! No wonder he used to break so many strings during matches! Obviously, that worked for Pete, so you would never change what he did. The other thing to consider is that polyester strings had not been invented during that era, so players were trying to find other ways to tame the power of the natural gut.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is American, Jack Sock. If you have every seen this guy play, you’ll quickly notice he has an unbelievably heavy forehand – it’s one of the most potent weapons on tour. What’s equally unbelievable is that Jack strings his Babolat Pure Aero at 40lbs, sometimes going as low as 38lbs! I know if I tried this tension, I would probably hate it, but it’s working very well for Jack and is clearly enhancing the spin of his already very heavy forehand. This low tension would never work for natural gut, as the racket would launch the ball out the park, but Mr Sock uses a hard, polyester string – Luxilon Alu Power which helps to balance out the power level. He’s also very wrist orientated and uses a full western grip, which lends itself to creating a finer ball contact. Clearly, he has found a way to marry his “through the court” power, spin and low tension to tremendous effect.
Still, don’t try these at home unless you’re feeling brave!
Review by: Tom