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Question of the Day: When to Thwart Recommended Tensions 08/07/2012 - 1:17 PM

DelpoTapTENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.

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I am a 4.5 player who plays with a Babolat Pure Drive. My stringbed consists of a hybrid combination of Babolat RPM Blast and Xcel strings. I know that you advise stringing in the range of the high 40s to low 50s, but my racquet recommends stringing within the range of 55 to 62 lbs. Can you explain why you recommend stringing outside of this range? Currently I’m at 54 lbs. Thanks.Richard Johnson

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It’s true, Richard, that I often advise players to lower their tensions to the high 40s or low 50s—but only when playing with monofilament strings. This is because, in contrast with natural gut and most multifilament strings, monofilaments are a much stiffer material; accordingly, polyesters like RPM Blast perform better when strung below most racquets’ recommended tension ranges. Otherwise, gut and multifilaments still do best when strung within that tension range.

(Note: The word “monofilament,” generally speaking, is synonymous with “polyester.”)

What does this mean for you? In practical terms, I’d recommend that you lower the tension of your RPM Blast—not your Xcel—strings to about 50 lbs. Your stringbed, then, will consist not just of hybrid materials, but hybrid tensions, too. If all goes well, you should feel an increase in comfort, power, and depth. If, however, you notice a loss of control after making these changes, consider increasing the tension a few pounds on the Excel. As always, pay attention to what you feel, and act accordingly.

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Question of Day: Warding Off Elbow Pain 08/06/2012 - 4:16 PM

RoddickTENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.

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Hi Justin, I'm emailing regarding some pain I've been having in my inner elbow. (I’m assuming it’s golfer’s elbow.) I use the Babolat Pure Drive, 10.6 ounces and 100 sq. in. head size. I use Enduro Pro 17 gauge, which I string at 55 lbs. I’ve been playing with the racquet for three months, and it’s been in the last month that I’ve been experiencing pain in my inner elbow. I used to play with the Wilson 6.1 95, strung with Luxilon at 55 lbs. But I switched racquets and string in the hopes of getting more forgiveness. I have always had some elbow pain, but recently the pain has been particularly bad. Any thoughts or advice you have on potential treatment would be awesome. Thanks for your time!—Eric Leblanc

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As always, Eric, before considering any of my health-related equipment advice, please make sure to meet with a licensed physician or physiotherapist. It goes without saying that therapy or medical intervention may be the first step toward ameliorating your tennis elbow. 

That said, the unfortunate truth is that neither of your racquet set-ups—Babolat or Wilson—are geared toward reducing the risk of elbow injury. For starters, both the Babolat Pure Drive and Wilson Pro Staff 6.1 feature stiff constructions, which are great for hitting powerful shots, but at the same time place increased stress on the arm. Furthermore, polyester strings like Wilson Enduro Tour can be very hard on the elbow, especially when strung at 55 lbs. and above.

So what are some remedies? As I wrote in a recent “Midweek Mailbag,” there are number of steps, enumerated below, that you can take to reduce the impact forces acting on your body.

1) Switch to a softer string, preferably natural gut. If you’re dead-set on sticking with monofilament, play test thinner gauges and softer makes, such as Babolat Pro Hurricane 18. A full of strings, organized by category and ordered by stiffness level, can be found on the USRSA’s website here.

2) String at lower tensions—in the high 50s with natural gut, low 50s with a multifilment, high 40s with a monofilament (in lbs.)

3) Avoid racquets that are very light (~<10 oz.) and/or very head-heavy (~>5 pts. HH).

4) Avoid racquets with RA (i.e., stiffness) values in the upper 60s and above. As mentioned above, your Babolat Pure Drive falls within this range.

5) Use a thicker, softer grip.

6) Improve your form by taking lessons from a certified teaching professional.

Finally, keep in mind that racquets described as “forgiving” are not necessarily good for the arm. In the tennis industry, the word “forgiveness” refers to easy power and increased stability on off-center hits—attributes that, depending on a racquet’s design, can place players at risk for injury.

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Question of the Day: String Savers 08/03/2012 - 2:44 PM

SamprasianJustin, I am an amateur player who doesn't want to spend too much money stringing my racquets often. I heard about string savers, but it doesn't seem to be a very popular accessory among recreational players. What can you tell me about these string savers? How effective are they? Do you even recommend using them?Kevin Nguyen

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Regular string breakage and restringing can indeed be expensive, Kevin, especially if you don’t own a machine and string yourself. One remedy to this are string savers—small pieces of material, plastic or otherwise, which are slipped in between the strings in high-wear areas. Ultimately, string savers prevent cross and main strings from rubbing against one another, increasing their durability.

But while string savers are very effective at extending string life, they’re not a flawless panacea. For starters, they can really stiffen the string bed and deaden shots’ feel. (The ball’s rebounding off of plastic, remember.) This isn’t so much a problem when string savers are installed in natural gut, because it’s already such a pliable, lively string. In fact, it may even be advisable to use string savers to curb fraying in uncoated gut. But when string savers are placed in a nylon, multifilament, or, God forbid, monofilament string bed, the feel can be less than desirable.

What’s more, string savers may decrease spin potential, insomuch as they reduce string movement. And with spin being so important in today’s game—not only for professionals, but for many recreational players as well—string savers may put players at a slight disadvantage.

If you’re worried about durability, Kevin, I’d recommend you try out a co-polyester strung in the high 40s to low 50s (lbs.). Unlike string savers, co-polys will allow you to strike a better balance between playability and durability. For greater context on extending your strings' durability, read this recent Question of the Day.

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Tennis Radar: Gut Check 08/02/2012 - 5:00 PM

In today’s Tennis Radar, we take a look at three very different natural gut products: Klip’s uncoated serosa, Head’s half-set offering, and Wilson’s modernized gut.

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Klip Legend Uncoated_resized
Klip Legend Uncoated
Price: $26
Gauges: 16 (1.30mm), 17 (1.25mm)
Color: Natural

Facts: Klip Legend Uncoated is one of the few natural guts on the market still offered without an outer (non-gut) finish. According to Klip, uncoated gut allows for a more enhanced, unadulterated feel, inasmuch as there’s little standing in between the ball and the string’s tightly-wound serosa (i.e., cow intestine) fibers. Klip also claims that, compared to more modernized natural gut, the uncoated variety is more responsive, imparts more energy into the ball, and requires less break-in time.

Thoughts: Legend Uncoated is catered to the tennis purist. Flat-hitting players who cherish traditional playability should appreciate the gut’s heightened feel. Those, however, who hit with moderate to high spin would do best to steer clear of K.L.U., as the string’s lack of coating predisposes it to fraying. (It may even be wise for flat hitters to install string savers in high-wear areas.) As for maintenance, Legend Uncoated should be kept dry, as it’s susceptible to damage by moisture.

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Head Natural Gut_half set_resized
Head Natural Gut
Price: $24
Gauge: 16 (half set)
Color: Natural

Facts: In keeping with all premium guts, Head’s natural gut is made from high-quality serosa fibers, which Head says provide an excellent blend of power, comfort, and feel. Noteworthy about Head’s gut is that it’s offered in half sets, allowing players to combine the string’s playing characteristics with those of other mono- and multifilaments. To this end, Head has designed a Hybrid String Matrix to help players match (Head’s) string products to a number of distinct performance benefits.  

Thoughts: Head’s half-sets of natural gut are good hybrid options for players who like the spin and control of polyester, but dislike those strings’ dead feel. The half sets are also a bone for players aiming to integrate gut into their set-up at a reasonable price.

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Wilson Natural Gut_resized
Wilson Natural Gut
Price: $43
Gauges: 16 (1.30mm), 17 (1.25mm)
Color: Natural

Facts: Like Head and Klip’s products, Wilson Natural Gut is made with ultra-premium serosa fibers, which Wilson says are woven and assembled in accordance with stringent quality standards. Wilson Natural also undergoes a proprietary coating, improving the string’s resistance to humidity, tension loss, and breakage, according to the company. Finally, Wilson reports that their string is the gut of choice for a number of touring professionals, including Roger Federer, Mardy Fish, Alexandr Dolgopolov, and Philipp Kohlschreiber. (Note: All above players hybrid the gut with a Luxilon string.)

Thoughts: Wilson’s natural gut is an offering that combines new manufacturing technologies—i.e., additional hardiness against string friction and humidity—with classic gut feel. Flat ball strikers who place a premium on responsiveness would be best served by the string in 17 gauge, while others who expect a modicum of durability should go with 16 gauge.

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Question of the Day: Tension Loss and Hiatuses 08/02/2012 - 1:37 PM

Andy MurrayTENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.

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Justin, How long do you think I can legitimately leave my racket lying around, without adversely affecting its string tension and quality? I play with a Babolat AeroPro Drive Cortex. The stick remains unused throughout a two month-long vacation period, following which it immediately sees some pretty hard use.—Varun

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It really depends on several factors, Varun. For starters, what level player are you? Typically, beginner players (2.5 to 3.0) can tolerate larger changes in tension than intermediate to advanced players (3.5 to 4.5+), simply because beginners are less proficient at perceiving changes in their stringbed. (Remember, we’re talking in relative terms here; advanced rec. players’ “stringbed sense” is nowhere near as acute as that of a professional.) So if you’re just starting out, two month-old strings may be fine to knock the ball around with. But if you’ve been playing for some time—which I imagine you have—you would do well to restring before hitting the court post-vacation. 

Why? What’s the rationale? Put simply, the longer strings stay in a racquet, the more tension they will lose. And the more tension that’s lost, the more unfamiliar your racquet—as well as your game—will feel. “If a racquet is strung with a nylon string at a tension of 60 pounds,” Rod Cross and Crawford Lindsey write in Technical Tennis, “then the tension will have dropped to around 55 pounds by the time the racquet arrives on the court. The tension drops rapidly in the first half hour after stringing and will drop further as the weeks go by, even without hitting a ball. Hitting a ball many times acts to decrease the tension even further.”

The upshot here is that, by the time those two months pass, your strings are likely to have lost at least half their initial reference tension—more if you string with polyester, which is notoriously inept at remaining taut. (If, however, you play with natural gut, you may be okay, as gut remains elastic and holds tension extremely well.)

So before entering back into the fold, Varun, get that racquet restrung. And restring regularly thereafter—about every 10 to 15 hours of play if you use polyester, and a few hours longer if you string with a nylon or multifilament. Trust me. Your game will thank you.

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Question of the Day: Recommended Tension & Frame Death 08/01/2012 - 12:23 PM

String Check

TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.

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Justin, I play with the Wilson BLX Pro Staff Six.One 90 and use Luxilon Alu Power Fluoro. I currently have the tension at 48 lbs. The racquet says the recommended tension is between 50 and 60 lbs. Will going below the recommended tension damage my racquet?—Gerald

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First and foremost, Gerald, you’re right to string Luxilon Alu Power Fluoro around 48 lbs. While Fluoro is not as stiff as the original Alu Power—resulting in a softer, more comfortable feel—its manufacture is still based on that of Alu Power. In short, it’s still a monofilament. And as I’ve emphasized in the past, monofilaments typically perform best when strung, poundage-wise, in the high 40s to low 50s. Lower tensions allow strings like Fluoro to give more on impact, creating more pop and depth, and lending a smoother feel.

But to answer your question: Stringing your racquet below the manufacture’s recommended tension range will not do undue damage to the frame. Actually, it’s the opposite—stringing above the tension range—that can accelerate a racquet’s decline.

Why? One major reason is that, while a racquet is restrung, its dimensions are constantly changing: Each time a string is tensioned, the frame bends in and out of shape, stressing and slightly weakening its structural integrity. This damage accumulates over years of restringing, eventually leaving the stick softer and less powerful.

The process of “frame death” is normal and unavoidable; one certainly shouldn’t delay needful restringing in order to extend frame life. Nevertheless, players should be aware that the extent of such damage is contingent on the level of tensioning. Indeed, the higher—and further above the recommended tension range—you string, the more rapidly your stick’s lifeblood will wane.

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Question of the Day: Low Tensions and Power 07/31/2012 - 9:30 AM

Finger Tensioning

TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.

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"I know that a racquet strung at 60 lbs. will probably have less power than an identical racquet that is strung at 50 lbs. But what if we reduce the tension to 40 lbs, or 30 lbs., or 20 lbs.? Is there a point where power decreases while still allowing for the advantages of lower tensions—that is, more ball pocketing, dwell time, and comfort?Arthur

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This is certainly an interesting question, Arthur. To find you a credible answer, I forwarded it to Ron Rocci, head of Wilson’s professional stringing operations. In sum, Rocci noted that, while it may be intuitive to think that power dwindles at extremely low tensions, the fact is that—at all reasonable tensions, 20 lbs. included—ball velocity increases as tensions decrease.

“As tension decreases, the power will increase,” Rocci says. “In addition, the launch angle, or directional control angle, will increase as well. This means that the ball will start coming off with more power and have less accuracy off the stringbed—i.e., a greater launch angle. As for the point of diminishing return, I have not seen any data to support the idea that lower tensions actually decrease power. I have strung racquets at almost every tension—the lowest being 38 pounds at a tournament, and 20 lbs. generally—and at very low tensions the ball will still find more ‘trampoline’ effect with increased power and launch angle.”

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Question of the Day: Costly Mishits 07/30/2012 - 9:56 AM

TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.

Malisse Frustrated

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Recently I’ve been having difficulties breaking strings—not so much in the center of the stringbed, though this does happen after the requisite playing time, but at the tip of the racquet on vigorous mishits. It’s extremely frustrating when this happens, especially when the strings are fresh and have only been in there for a few hours. I string all poly (Luxilon Alu Power 16), so I know the solution isn’t going with a more durable string. What’s your sense of this? What measures can I take to prevent this costly habit? I’m a 4.0 baseliner with a Western forehand. I play with the Wilson K Factor KSix-One Team.—Herman Y.

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A few years back, Herman, I also suffered from this frustrating proclivity. Often it would happen when I was stretched out on my forehand side, trying to curl a shot back into the court with authority. Pop, a main string would go, right at the tip of the frame. At first it was a matter of pride. Real players bring strings frequently, I would think, and so do I. But a short while later, pride gave way to financial concern, when I starting realizing how much of my disposable income was going toward reels of Luxilon.

So I had to figure a solution, and what worked was, in retrospect, pretty simple. I started regularly replacing the grommets—about every 15 string jobs. Not only did this improve the racquet’s feel (try it, the strings play crisper), but more importantly, it kept the grommets from becoming overly jagged and dilated. I still keep this practice alive, and while the occasional fore breakage does occur, it doesn’t happen nearly as frequently.

Try it out. Replacement grommets can be ordered for most current models online or in a specialty pro shop. If that doesn’t work, you might also experiment with placing string savers in the problem areas. Finally, and of course, the best solution may be to stop mishitting the ball altogether.

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Question of the Day: An Update on Asics Racquets 07/27/2012 - 11:38 AM

TENNIS.com gear editor Justin diFeliciantonio and his technical advisers answer your equipment questions each day. Click here to send in a question of your own.

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I want to ask about the Asics tennis racquets that you reviewed and recommended in the spring racquet guide, published in the May 2012 issue of the magazine. I have looked for them, but they do not seem to exist three months after you listed them. I would assume that listing them should be tantamount to being able to buy them. Could you tell me if this racquet does exist? What is the status? Thank you.—Bill Allen

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In recent months, I’ve received many inquiries like yours, Bill, about the availability of the three Asics racquets—the 109, 116, and 125—that appeared in the May issue. As you may recall, the three racquets feature unique head shapes and atypically long main strings, which are meant to expand the sweet spot for more power and forgiveness.

The racquets do indeed exist. But the truth of the matter is that, due to unforeseen circumstances, they're currently not able to be sold. However, according to one source, prospects are looking good that the racquets may be released for purchase this upcoming fall.

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Racquet Review: Dunlop Biomimetic Max 200G 07/26/2012 - 9:30 PM

Dunlop Biomimetic Max200G_McEnroeMSRP: $210
AVAILABLE: Now
HEAD SIZE: 98 sq. inches
LENGTH: 27 in.
WEIGHT: 11.6 oz.
BALANCE: 5pts HL
SWINGWEIGHT: 318
FLEXIBILITY: Firm to Stiff
BEAM WIDTH: 21mm
STRING PATTERN: 16 x 19
IDEAL SWING: Medium to Long
NTRP: 4.5+
*NOTE: Values represent strung frames.

The Pitch
Still the racquet of choice for John McEnroe, the Biomimetic Max 200G features a series of synthetic systems that Dunlop claims improves performance by enhancing processes observed in nature. According to the company, these biomimetic technologies include Aeroskin, a surface application inspired by sharkskin that improves aerodynamics for more racquet-head speed, and HM6 Carbon, a honeycomb-like, high-modulus carbon fiber that dampens vibration for comfort and power.

How It Tested
Playtesters with games built around all-court precision and guile reveled in the Max 200G’s combination of power, control, and racquet-head speed. Remarked one 4.5 playtester with a semi-Western forehand and one-handed backhand, “I really felt like I had a fine tool in my hands that I could use to create angles and place the ball around the court. There was some weight behind shots, but the stick wasn’t so heavy as to limit its quickness and maneuverability.”

What’s more, playtesters who valued net play enjoyed the racquet’s firm feel. “It was stiff enough for stability on hard-hit shots,” said the same 4.5 playtester. “But it wasn’t so stiff that there wasn’t any feedback.” And in a similar vein, many old-schoolers accustomed to a firmer handle feel appreciated the racquet’s stock leather grip. But if there was one knock against the 200G, it was its average ability to defend against hard, heavy spin from deep behind the baseline. A few baseline retrievers noted that, at times, they wished the stick's beam was a bit thicker and more rigid. 

How It Looks
Like a camouflaged gecko sitting atop a branch…in a way. 

Bottom Line
For creative all-courters with fast swings who want a blend of power and control.

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