Tennis gameplay is tough enough–players spend countless hours sharpening their technique, endurance, and reaction time to be successful. Take the world of racket customization and gear selection into account, and you’ve added a whole additional dimension, one that’s tough to navigate and easy to get lost.
One of the most critical pieces of gameplay, of course, is the racket, and one of the most important aspects of a proper racket is the contact area. The quality of both the strings themselves as well as the style and tension of stringing determine how the ball responds to each stroke.
Just like selecting the right kind of strings, knowing the best time to restring your racket ultimately comes down to how familiar you are with your racket. If you play consistently, you’re likely to notice when the response of each hit feels different than usual. That’s usually a sign that the strings need to be examined, tightened, or replaced altogether.
There’s no set-in-stone answer to the exact time you should restring, but there are some considerations and rules of thumb.
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The Advantages of Good Stringing
Racket strings, no matter the material, tend to lose their tension quickly. Tension is essential because the stiffer the strings, the more responsive the ball will be to the player’s actions. Loose, less-firm strings will tend to absorb more of the momentum of an incoming ball and require a bigger hit in response to keep up the same velocity.
Due to the tension present in the strings, elasticity and tension begin to decrease the moment they are installed in a racquet. “Dead strings,” or strings which have lost their tension, cut down on the performance of a racquet. Dead strings may also hamper a tennis player’s ability to generate power and pace, and may even make their arm sore.
When the tension of the racket diminishes with time, your strings are more likely to stretch during impact, which could throw your whole game off. Big deal, right? That’s why we think you should restring your racket consistently.
On the other hand, stiff, well-tensioned stringing can give your strikes the pop they need to reach the opponent with force. When you tap your fingers on a set of fresh strings, you should hear a “ping.” Dead strings will sound like a softer “thud.” When you don’t hear that clean ping, it’s usually a sign that it’s time to restring.
The string tension of a racket is usually measured in pounds, and most rackets have a recommended string tension between 50 and 70 pounds. A loosely strung racket will often have a more prominent sweet spot and will hit further. However, if swung hard enough, the loose-string racket will cause an unpredictable direction of the ball.
A tightly-strung racket may make it more difficult for the player to “feel” the ball but can give you reasonable control if swung hard enough, with a smooth follow-through. High tension may increase the difficulty of higher-finesse, delicate shots, but allows more consistent play from the baseline. Lastly, high-tension string configurations can more easily tire the arm.
How Often Is Enough?
One rule of thumb is that you should take the number of days a week that you play and use that as the number of times per year you should change your strings. That means if you play tennis four times per week, you should restring your tennis racket about four times per year.
While there truly is no golden rule in these situations, if you play more frequently, you’ll likely need to restring more often. Some experts say if you play more than five days a week, you should take that number and double it to get the number of restringings per year. That is, if you play six days a week, you’ll likely need to restring at least once a month.
Getting on a consistent restringing schedule is essential because you won’t need to compensate in your strokes for lack of string tension. If you frequently have to compensate for low-tension strings, you may end up unknowingly changing your style of play. Then realize the difference again once strings are back correctly tensioned.
For some pros, it makes sense to have access to a string tension meter, which can much more precisely measure the loss of tension in strings. The player may want to restring after they measure a loss of 25% or more in stringbed stiffness. Overall, we suggest rules of thumb like the days per week to times per year one, but ultimately good players approach the game with mindfulness that keeps them aware of racket feel.
String Material and Effect on Restringing Frequency
Strings have been made with a variety of materials and possess varying properties that are able to be measured, such as dynamic stiffness, tension retention, thickness (gauge), string texture (shape of the string), and rebound efficiency.
Natural gut is a high-performance string material that is preferred by many professional and experienced players. Natural gut strings are some of the best on the market and a strikingly popular option for many players.
In terms of restringing and tensioning, natural gut strings do a good job of maintaining tension because of natural elasticity. In addition to this, they have a very subtle texture that allows for better grip on the ball and slight friction that allows better control and ability to manipulate spin during play better.
If using this material, you’ll likely have to restring more often, given the lesser durability when compared to other materials. One other disadvantage is that natural gut strings are more susceptible to heat and weather conditions, making them break down faster. High price, combined with a higher frequency of replacement makes this option more favorable for players who can afford it.
One of the most popular options for string material is, of course, nylon. Sometimes nylon strings are referred to as “synthetic gut” strings and are not made from the same kind of nylon that we associate with clothing.
The main advantage with nylon or “synthetic gut” strings is dramatically increased durability when compared with natural gut strings. That means you’ll be spending much less on restringing in the long-term because the strings will last much longer than natural gut.
At the top of the durability spectrum is Polyester. While more durable than nylon and natural gut combined, it can transfer much more of the shock to the player’s arm, causing fatigue and injury in some cases.
The advantage being, of course, that restringing does not need to take place as often because of increased durability. Polyester strings were originally intended for use by frequent string-breakers.
Polyester stringing configurations are also associated with increased ability to deliver topspin, making them the most popular stringings in the pro tour.
The most durable material and one that often requires the least restringing due to breakage is Kevlar. That said, it carries the most risk for developing elbow injury, also known as “Tennis Elbow.”
The gauge of the string is how thick it is. In addition to material, gauge can also affect tension and restringing considerations. Generally, the thicker the string, the more durable it will be against wear. A string rated with a high gauge number is a thinner string and vice versa. Thinner strings typically offer higher performance but break more frequently than thicker strings.
There are other specialty string materials, but nylon, natural gut, and Kevlar are the most prevalent options. With the abundance of configurations available to players, it often takes extra attention both to familiarize oneself with the available options as well as test each material in practice to determine how it affects individual playing style.
In general, the more durable the material, the less frequently restringing is needed. The tradeoffs of better durability are often elasticity and the control that comes with that. The true frequency of restringing in practice ultimately comes down a player’s preferences and abilities.