An Expert Guide to the Best Tennis Racquet StringsPublished on 06/20/2023 · 16 min readTennis Expert Russell Christensen walks through the different types of tennis racquet strings so you can get an idea of which strings are best for your racquet!
Photo by Renith R.
When it comes to tennis strings, there are many varieties of strings to know about and many questions to ask. What strings work best for beginners? There are over 1,000 different strings to choose from! Not only are there tons of different strings, but they aren’t all built equally! You may have heard terms like 16 gauge, synthetic gut, hybrid and polyester string, nylon, multifilaments, tension loss, etc. Talking about tennis strings can come as a second language and be overwhelming. The goal of this article is to make tennis string language a second language for you and help you determine what string will work best for your style and your racquet. Let’s go ahead and get started!
Types of Strings
Before we get started, I want to introduce some characteristic terms that are talked about when it comes to the pros and cons of a different string type:
- Stiffness: This is related to how flexible the string is. When it comes to stiffness levels, the higher the stiffness the better the control you have and the more loss in power. This refers to the trampoline effect. Imagine a trampoline that is brand new versus a worn trampoline. Despite how much energy you put into making yourself jump high, a brand-new, stiffer trampoline seems to not go as high as a worn trampoline with the same amount of energy. The same idea works with tennis strings when making contact. Stiffness can also deal with comfort, giving you arm issues like tennis elbow due to the harshness of the ball on contact (the loss of that energy on contact goes into the racquet and arm, causing stress on both things).
- Tension Maintenance: This is related to the string tension of the racquet. After the initial stringing of the racquet, the string will lose tension over time due to time and the constant hitting of the ball with the string. The lower the tension, the less control you have over the string. String tension has a similar trampoline effect as stiffness. Some strings hold their tension a lot better over time versus other strings.
- Spin Potential: This is referring to how well the ball snaps back on the strings and grips the strings to provide an additional spin on the ball.
With those terms explained, let's go ahead and get started.
This natural gut string has been around since the dawn of tennis, dating to the 1900s. The string is defined appropriately, as it is made of natural sheep and cow intestines. The intestines are cut, stretched, tightened, and dried. Due to the scarcity, work, and detail put into this string, the gut string is one of the most expensive strings you’ll find, with the cost ranging around $40 for a racquet. Back in the 80s and 90s, practically every professional player used this string. It provided the best performance then. Nowadays, rarely do you see it on a recreational level due to the cost. However, it is often seen on a professional level, with professionals like Roger Federer using the Wilson Natural Gut on the crosses on the racquet (using two different strings on the crosses and the mains of the racquet is called a hybrid setup).
There are some great benefits to this string, the first being the stiffness of the string. Due to how flexible the natural gut is, the stiffness is pretty low. Essentially, this string is really soft on contact. Some say that when you are making contact with the ball, it feels like you’re cutting through butter. The second benefit is easy power. The low stiffness will provide easy power when swinging through. The last benefit is string maintenance. The tension loss percentage is the lowest percentage of any string, period. This is nice when it comes to consistent hitting of the ball over time.
With the great benefits of natural gut, there are also concerns with the string. The first one is its durability and the fact that it is high-maintenance. The natural gut doesn’t last long—it's a very delicate string. Also, due to it being a natural product from an animal, the string can lose its potency when exposed to air for too long. Typically, you will need to cover the racquet with a plastic bag to help preserve the string longer. The second issue with the string is spin potential. Natural gut has one of the lowest spin potentials, so if you are looking for a good spin, this string isn’t the one you want. The last issue we have, which we discussed earlier, is cost. It is the most expensive string you’ll buy, sitting around $40 per racquet. If you play a lot of tennis and break strings weekly, you will be spending over $120 per month and roughly $2,000 per year. That cost adds up!
This string is tailored for someone who has money to spend: a high-level player with a low swing speed, who hits flatter balls and is looking for easy power while aiming to avoid arm injuries.
As technologies advanced, manufacturers were looking to find ways to find strings that have similar playability to natural gut, but without the $40 cost. Multifilament strings were the solution to that problem. Multifilaments refer to multiple strings. Multifilaments are built where there are a bunch of tiny filaments woven together (think kind of like a rope woven with a bunch of tiny threads) with an external cover over those tiny strings. Some of the popular multifilaments we see today that are on the higher-price end are the Wilson NXT and the Babolat Xcel, with the lower-price multifilaments being Wilson Sensation and Head Velocity MLT. Multifilament strings range in price from $10–20.
When it comes to the characteristics of the string, they are fairly similar to the natural gut. I consider multifilaments to be the downgrade from the natural gut, but a small downgrade when it comes to the higher-end multifilaments.
This next string is the cheapest of all the strings, which is great for those trying to save some money. This next string is one of many monofilament strings (just one big filament), with the only difference being that it is made of nylon. The typical name for this string is the synthetic gut. The real big selling point for these strings is the price. You will see these strings range from about $4–8.
The reason behind the variance in price is due to some added tidbits to the synthetic gut or just the name of the brand. What you typically see in a synthetic gut string is a solid core, which is the nylon, and some thin layer of monofilaments around the nylon core. Others will add thin pieces of metallic wire for power. All in all, they are all created equally. I recommend going for the cheaper price in the synthetic gut like the Gamma Synthetic Gut. But if you are looking for something a little more familiar in regard to brand, the Wilson Synthetic Gut Power isn’t a bad option either, which tends to be around $5.
Apart from the price, the nylon strings have moderate all-around playability. In other words, the string plays okay all around and is okay on stiffness, spin, and tension maintenance. There are other strings that will provide better options for playability, but the beauty of this string is that it is a great baseline to start with. From there, you can adventure to something different.
I recommend synthetic strings for beginners, especially for those who may play recreationally and are not too committed to the sport. It is also recommended for those who are on a tight budget. Again, the string plays adequately all around, so you can save money while having a decent overall performance with the string.
Polyester strings (also known as poly strings) have a very interesting story in tennis. Back in the early 90s, most professional players played with the natural gut. It was the string of choice for professional tennis. Then things changed in 1997 at the French Open. An unseeded Brazilian player named Gustavo Kuerten, who was ranked 66 in the world, was sporting the first polyester string on the tour from an unknown Belgian company called Luxilon. The string was Luxilon Big Banger. Long story short, the 20-year-old Brazilian won the French Open and won two more. Three years later, he became number one in the world! The string allowed fast-swinging tennis racquets to provide fast dipping shots, which destroyed against the traditional serve in volley players like Pete Sampras.
Ever since then, the string has exploded in the tennis world. Luxilon is the leading string manufacturer, with a majority of professional tennis players using the brand. A lot of players use the Luxilon ALU Power Rough, while players like Rafael Nadal use Babolat RPM Blast and Daniil Medvedev uses Tecnifibre Razor Code. There are so many strings to pick from, and they aren’t created equally.
We can see that poly strings have a lot of benefits in today’s modern tennis world. First off, they provide great spin and control. Modern tennis players and their racquets allow for faster swings, which cater well to stiff strings, as they provide better control and better spin to the ball. The stiffness provides an interesting snapback on contact with the ball, which gives it this extra “bite” on the ball. The string is definitely built for the player who likes to add spin. Another benefit to the string is that it can be affordable. With so many poly strings out there now, you can get a good poly string for about $10–13 dollars. The most expensive poly string I’ve seen is from Luxilon, which costs around $20.
The string has some drawbacks as well, the first one of these being tension maintenance. When it comes to holding its tension, the poly strings are going to be worse in regard to the other string types. So eventually your strings will lose their bite to the ball and the tension will be really loose, providing less control on your shots. Fortunately, there are different poly strings that hold tension better than others, but not nearly as well as multifilament or natural gut strings. The second issue you can see is that it can be tough on your arm. Stiffness provides good control, but that is due to the power loss where a lot of the power is transferred into your arm, putting some harsh vibrations through your arm.
This string is definitely geared towards the more modern advanced player who likes to add extra spin and can produce their own power in their shots. I would keep this away from anyone who has tennis elbow or any arm-related issues. It will not feel good on the arm.
Bonus: Kevlar String
I don’t want to give too much attention to this string because I think polyester strings reduced the popularity of kevlar strings, but it's worth mentioning.
The benefits of this string are its durability and tension maintenance. This string is the most durable string you will find on the market, and it will keep its tension pretty well. However, this string is super harsh on your arm, much worse than polyester strings.
All in all, I would tell everyone to steer clear of this string because it is not arm-friendly. But if you break your strings pretty darn easily and want to save money, then it's something you can consider as a last-resort option.
Tennis String Gauge
When it comes to the tennis string, we kind of brushed on some basic stuff like monofilaments, multifilaments, nylon cores, etc. Now that you've got all the different types of strings and their structure, let’s talk about the gauge (or thickness of the string). You will see it in two different measures, both in gauge and millimeters. Gauge is essentially numbers that are aimed at giving you a range of the sizes. As the gauge number goes up, the string gets thinner. To give you an idea, let me include a table to show the numbers and sizes:
|Guage||Minimum (mm)||Maximum (mm)|
As we can see, 15 gauge is going to be your thicker string, whereas 19 (some make 20 gauge) gauge is going to be your thinner string. The biggest benefit when it comes to getting thicker strings is durability. Your string will last a lot longer than the other gauge options. The downside would be that you don’t get as much spin, and it feels a little stiffer. When it comes to the thinner string, there are a couple of good benefits: you are getting a better spin and the feel is slightly better. With a thinner string, you are creating greater space between mains and crosses of the string, which provides better pocketing for the ball on contact, which in return provides better spin.
The downside is durability. If you are using a 19 gauge string, your string may last a week depending on skill. For advanced players, I wouldn’t give it more than two or three days tops. You want to find a good balance when it comes to playability and durability. The general rule for players that I’ve seen is somewhere between 16 and 17 gauge is a good place to start.
Now that we have figured out what type of string and thickness of string we want, we will come with this question, and this question will be asked every time you go get your tennis racket strung: “What would you like the string tension to be at for your racquet?” When we talk about string tension, we refer to how tight the strings are in relation to weight in pounds. Therefore, the higher the weight, the tighter the string is. Imagine a drop weight of 55 lb. being put on your string, that tension on your string would be 55 lb.
There are a number of ranges of tension you can use, so really it depends on how you play on the court. For example, Jannik Sinner, a professional Italian player who is ranked in the top 20, uses a poly string with a tension of around 62 lb. However, Adrian Mannarino, who is a top 50 player from France, plays with a poly string at a tension of around 30 lb. (this is very rare by the way—this tension is pretty low). Every player plays with different tension, and it varies based on whether you are in a low altitude versus a high altitude, the temperature, etc.
Let's discuss the different tensions. When you have a higher tension—let's say 60 lb.—the string will have better control with higher stiffness (that's right, the trampoline effect is back!). If you have a looser tension, you will have better power and less stiffness in your strings. For example, Jannik Sinner hits really big, so a higher tension would help provide better control. Adrian Mannarino has a small swing, and it's pretty compact, so having easy power will be nice for a more compact swing.
So the question is this, what tension should you use? If you aren’t sure, just look at the recommended string tension on your racquet (every tennis racquet has this) and pick the midpoint. For instance, if the recommended tension says 50-60 lb., just start with 55 lb. If you are using a poly string, maybe drop 1-2 lb. from the midpoint. If using a multifilament, bump it up by 2-3 lb. If using a synthetic gut, stick with the midpoint tension. From there, you can see what you need for your game and you can make some adjustments from there.
Where to Begin?
We went through a lot of information! It’s a lot to process! The question is then “Where do we start?” For any advanced players, these steps aren’t really geared toward them. I imagine they have a pretty good hold on what they like. I cater this to beginners and intermediates who are learning about strings. Let’s get started!
1. Start with the basics.
When you are just getting started, pick any synthetic gut at 16 gauges, with the recommended midpoint tension on the racquet. Why do I recommend this? I recommend this because a player needs to discover their game first. This setup will give a beginner an overall good performance and will teach about his or her game. They will learn how good they are at producing spin, how the arm feels with the strings, how much power one can produce, etc. They are building a baseline for their performance. Our goal is not to make the string the main source of our success, but rather to have it supplement or complement our game further.
2. Do an assessment after you break your first strings or after six months of play time.
This is where an assessment comes in—asking questions about the performance of a player’s game. These are some great questions to ask:
- Am I producing enough spin?
- Do I need more power in my game or more control?
- How is my arm feeling on my shots?
- What kind of player am I? Am I a strong baseliner, or do I like to serve and volley?
When a player starts asking these questions, they can start asking about what supplemental help they need to get their game to the next level.
3. Start making the adjustments and talk to an Expert.
I think this is the most fun step because now a player can playtest different strings! From the questions asked, a player can start doing some testing. From here, I recommend talking to a Tennis Expert, like myself, on Curated. A player can get in contact with one of the Experts, assess the questions they had, and the Experts can start giving great options of strings to help solve some of the issues in their game. It's a great way to save time, rather than spend hours and hours on research. It can be pretty time-consuming. Save time and talk to an Expert.
The journey to finding the perfect string for you isn’t an easy one. It takes time and a lot of testing of different strings. My hope is that with the given information in this article, you can start getting yourself on the right path and get to that place in your journey for the right string. Don’t hesitate to reach out, and maybe, just maybe, we can help get you there faster.