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Ask the Stringer: Alternating Tensioning Mains

Ask the Stringer: Alternating Tensioning Mains

Q: I'm just learning to string and a lot of the how-to videos I've watched suggest tensioning mains alternately (one or two on one side, then one or two on the other). It seems like it'd be easier for me to just finish one side and tie it off, then do the other side. Should I really do it that way and is there a reason that alternating is suggested?

A: This is definitely something you should be doing, and for good reason. Alternate main stringing is recommended (really, "required" would probably be a more accurate term) and helps protect the frame during stringing.

Stringing applies a tremendous amount of force on a frame and alternating mains helps keep the forces balanced. I've written a few posts in the past that make reference to minimizing the stress on a frame (one post about cutting out all of your strings after breaking one, and one post about stringing mains and crosses at different tensions) , and the same principles apply here. Stringing just one side of the mains means you're applying a lot of force to one side of the frame and nothing on the other side of the frame. The uneven force can permanently distort and damage your frame.

If you're worried that alternately tensioning mains will slow you down, you shouldn't be. It's really not a big deal at all. Besides, the quality of your finished string job is far more important than how long it takes you to complete the job.

Ask the Stringer: Can I String a Cracked Racquet?

Ask the Stringer: Can I String a Cracked Racquet?

Q: After breaking my strings and cutting them out, I noticed that my racquet seems to have a hairline crack. Is it OK to still string it?

A: I'm sorry to hear you've got a cracked racquet. I know how attached I am to my frames and it always stinks when you have to retire one of your frames.

I'd say it probably depends on a few factors. First things first, you should understand that there's no way to guarantee the racquet won't break during the stringing process. Stringing creates a significant stress on the frame even under the best circumstances, so stringing a frame that's already compromised is always a risky proposition. Secondly, it's important to understand that a cracked frame—even if it's just a hairline crack—isn't going to play the way it should.

That being said, here's my two cents: since the strings have already been removed, the racquet's currently not good for anything other than decoration anyway. If the crack is as minor as you describe it and you need to have the racquet strung (it's the only racquet you have and you have a match tomorrow, for instance) you might be OK trying to get it strung, as long as the racquet didn't have any sentimental value. If the racquet has any kind of sentimental value at all and you'd be upset if it was broken, then it's probably best to cut your losses and leave it unstrung.

In your question, you said that the crack you noticed was pretty minor. If the crack appeared to be more serious, that would probably change the situation a little bit, for a few reasons. Firstly, if the racquet is seriously cracked, it's definitely not going to play or perform like you'd expect—even with a fresh set of strings. Secondly, the more serious the crack, the greater the chance that the racquet will cave in during stringing or soon after. The bottom line is that it's a bummer to pay for strings and/or labor only to have a racquet that plays poorly or a racquet that ends up totally broken.

But, that's just my personal opinion and how I'd handle it if it was one of my racquets. In the end, it's up to you whether you want to take the risk and roll the dice. If you'll be stringing it yourself, it's totally up to you. If you'll be having someone else string it, then obviously it's between you and your stringer.

Prince TeXtreme Tour 100T Review

Prince TeXtreme Tour 100T Review

Prince is one of tennis' most iconic, well-known brands, but there's no doubt that they've had a bit of a rough go over the past few years. Fortunately, they're back in a big way in 2015 with a completely revamped line of racquets. They've phased out the "big hole" technology that's been a staple in their racquet lines since 2005 and are now featuring a new technology called TeXtreme®.

TeXtreme® is a third-party material technology that is currently being used in nearly a dozen different sports, including cycling, auto racing, surfing, golf, ice hockey, skiing, snowboarding and now tennis. TeXtreme® is essentially a very thin carbon fiber fabric with a high strength-to-weight ratio that is used to reinforce the throat area of Prince's new frames, ultimately reducing torsion while increasing the control, power, and stability of each frame.

Early last week, I took to the courts with the Prince TeXtreme® Tour 100T, one of four new TeXtreme® frames, to see what this new line was all about. As I've mentioned in past reviews, I currently use the Prince EXO3 Rebel 95, so I had high hopes for Prince's new line, but I wasn't sure that the Tour 100T was going to be the racquet for me. At 10.7 ounces strung, the Tour 100T is quite a bit lighter than my 12 ounce Rebel 95 and it boasts a slightly larger 100 square inch head along with a more open 16x18 string pattern. All those differences aside, I'm happy (though a little surprised) to report that for the most part I really liked hitting with the TeXtreme® Tour 100T, even though it's a bit different from the frame I currently use.

While Prince's O3, SpeedPort and EXO3 technologies were all certainly innovative, they weren't for everyone. There were some complaints that those racquets could feel a little "mushy," but Prince's new TeXtreme® line returns to conventional grommets. The end result is a more traditional feel that I thought allowed me to get a bit more feedback and overall responsiveness from the frame.

At the baseline, the Prince TeXtreme® Tour 100T fits really well into today's fast-paced, topspin-heavy tennis. The Tour 100T's manageable weight and head light balance make generating racquet-head speed a breeze and the open string pattern helps with spin generation as well. The frame also offers plenty of pop, which I thought was great most of the time, but there were a few occasions where I had some control issues and sent a few balls sailing wide or long. Though I'm used to frames with a bit more heft, the Tour 100T still offered plenty of stability and plow-through, even on off-center hits.

The Tour 100T also handles pretty well at the net—even in the hands of a less-than-stellar volleyer like me—and I can see lots of doubles players gravitating towards this frame. The 100 square inch head provides a nice, generous sweetspot that makes it easier to get good, solid contact on volleys. The manageable weight and head light balance are also a boon at the net, making the Tour 100T easy to maneuver. I personally wouldn't have minded a little more weight to enhance stability on hard-hit passing shots, but ultimately, that's a minor gripe.

Serving with the TeXtreme® Tour 100T was a little bit touch-and-go, especially at first. Honestly, some of that is definitely on me since I'm still knocking winter rust off of my tennis game. After a few dozen practice serves, I started getting used to serving with the Tour 100T, and things went a bit better. I was able to reach back for plenty of pace on first serves and I got plenty of topspin and kick on my second serves. The frame's power did give my serve a nice boost, but once again, I did have a little trouble placing the ball exactly where I wanted. There's always an adjustment period when hitting with a new frame, so it's not a major concern; with a little time and practice, I know I would've been able to adapt and serve just fine.

Ultimately, I'm glad to see that Prince is getting back in the game and I'm happy that they're moving back towards a more conventional frame design. And even more importantly, I think that they have a really solid offering in the Prince TeXtreme® Tour 100T. The frame really just fits with the power- and spin-heavy way tennis is being played from the baseline these days. It's easy to get plenty of power and spin, but players used to really low-powered frames might find it a little hard to control at first. In any case, I can see plenty of advanced juniors and competitive adults picking up the Tour 100T and really loving it, but I also found it to be forgiving enough that an intermediate player could have some success with it, too. I think frequent doubles players will find a lot to like as well, thanks to the Tour 100T's maneuverability and versatility at the net.

The bottom line? If you're shopping for a new frame this spring, the Prince TeXtreme® Tour 100T is definitely worthy of consideration!

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This review was posted in March of 2015. Sadly, we no longer carry this product.

Ask the Stringer: How Can I Stop My Cross String Starting Knot from Pulling Back through the Grommet?

Ask the Stringer: How Can I Stop My Cross String Starting Knot from Pulling Back through the Grommet?

Q: I string my racquets two-piece and I've been having a lot of problems lately with my cross string starting knot pulling back through the grommet. Do you have any advice?

A: I've run into this problem more than a few times and once it happens it can create some serious headaches, often turning a 20-minute string job into a 45-plus-minute job. I've found this problem to occur most commonly when you're stringing with a particularly slippery string (a few different polyester varieties come to mind) and/or when you're stringing a racquet with particularly large grommet holes. Also, in my experience, the issue seems to occur a bit more frequently when stringing on a constant-pull machine versus a lockout machine.There are a few different approaches you can take here in order to mitigate the issue or avoid it all together. Some of these tips work better in certain scenarios than others, and you'll have to decide which approach best suits your particular situation. I'll do my best to list the pros and cons of each, and explain when and where each could be used. Here are some of the tips and tricks I've had success with in the past:

String the racquet one-piece – Stringing one-piece eliminates starting knots altogether as the entire string job is made up of one, long, uncut piece of string. Obviously if you're stringing a hybrid, stringing one-piece is impossible by definition. You also need to be careful going this route since some manufacturers dictate that their racquets be strung two-piece and stringing them one-piece can void the warranty.

Tie a different or bulkier knot – There are a few different starting knots that can be used and most of them can fairly easily be "looped" an additional time to create extra bulk that will keep them from slipping back through the grommet. When I use a starting knot, I typically tie a "fisherman's knot." The "fisherman's knot" can be looped around an extra time to create more bulk, but when I'm working with a particularly slippery string or the grommet hole is extra-large, I'll usually revert to a "figure 8" knot. The "figure 8" knot doesn't need to be anchored around the main string—though it can be—and, like the "fisherman's knot" can easily be made larger by adding extra "loops." The "bulkier knot" approach can work virtually without fail since you can potentially make a knot as large as you want, but that doesn't mean you should; larger isn't necessarily better and this isn't always the best approach. Very large knots can look sloppy or unprofessional and they can even sometimes stretch out or crack the grommet.

Use a starting clamp to start your crosses – are extremely useful gadgets. If you string frequently and don’t have one, I definitely recommend getting one. Starting clamps have saved me lots of work—especially in my early stringing days—when I may have measured strings a little too short and didn't have enough to reach the tension head. But, as their name implies, starting clamps can also be used for starting your string job—or in this case, starting your crosses. Before weaving your first cross, leave a tail long enough to reach the tension head and put the starting clamp flush against the frame. Then proceed with weaving and tensioning the crosses until you have three or five installed. Then, pull tension on the tail you left at the beginning and remove your starting clamp while the tension head holds the tension. You can now move one of your regular clamps back to the first cross string, release the tension head, and "tie off" the first cross using any standard finishing knot. This method removes the need to pull tension against a starting knot, thereby eliminating the possibility of the knot pulling through the grommet. Because you need to leave a tail, this method is not ideal if you think you might be short on string. The starting clamp method also doesn't work as well for older machines that use a glide bar clamp set up. Since there's usually only one clamp used for the crosses on those machines, you'll have to install all the crosses and tie them off before returning to the top. This increases the risk of something catching the starting clamp and knocking it off. I've also heard some people complain that they feel they get less tension on the first cross using this method—which may be true—but it isn't necessarily a bad thing; leaving the last mains and first/last crosses a bit looser actually creates a more forgiving feel when you really mishit a ball off-center.

So, as you can see, there are several ways to deal with starting your crosses and avoiding pull-throughs, and I'm sure there are many, many more. I personally favor the last two since I don't really like stringing one-piece, though all three methods have their own pros and cons. Hopefully these tips point you in the right direction and get you back to headache-free stringing! Good luck!

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Ask the Stringer: Should My Mains & Crosses Be Strung at the Same Tension?

Ask the Stringer: Should My Mains & Crosses Be Strung at the Same Tension?

Q: If I string using a hybrid, should my mains and crosses be strung at the same tension or can I use different tensions?

A: This is a question that comes up pretty regularly, especially since hybrid stringing has become so popular at all levels of tennis. The simple answer is yes, you can absolutely string your mains and crosses at slightly different tensions, though I strongly advise against using drastically different tensions. If your heart is set on experimenting with different tensions for mains and crosses (which is totally fine if that's something you want to do), my advice would be to keep the tension for your mains and crosses within about 3-4 pounds of each other.

The reasoning behind that recommendation is all about minimizing uneven stresses on the frame. Most players who've been playing more than a little while—or who have been keeping up with the Ask the Stringer column—have probably heard that once they break a string, they should cut the rest of the strings out to relieve the tension on the frame. That's because when a string breaks, others around it loosen up too, while others farther away from the break remain under tension, resulting in a frame that is unevenly stressed. Leaving a frame like that over time will eventually distort the shape and damage the racquet.

Similarly, stringing the mains and crosses at radically different tensions will exert uneven forces on a frame and cause distortion that will damage and destroy a frame over time. Once a frame becomes distorted, the damage is often permanent and your frame is toast.

So, circling back to your original question: yes, it is fine to experiment with slightly different tensions with your mains and crosses, but it's important to keep the tension differential to a minimum to protect your frame in the long term.

Babolat Pure Strike Tennis Racquet Review

Babolat Pure Strike Tennis Racquet Review

When Babolat announced that they would be releasing an entirely new family of player-oriented racquets called Pure Strike, lots of people got excited. Although they've had some control frames in the past, Babolat has been best known for lighter, more powerful frames like the Pure Drive and later on the AeroPro Drive. For players who are intimately familiar with Babolat's racquet lineup, the new Pure Strike family will be more or less replacing the Pure Storm family; however, the Pure Strike frames are completely new racquets and really aren't intended to be a direct replacement for the Pure Storms.

Although the Pure Strike line has several different racquet configurations—including a Pure Strike 100 and a Pure Strike 18x20—I decided to try the Pure Strike Tour first since it's fairly similar to my normal racquet. The Tour is definitely the heavyweight of the bunch, weighing in at 11.8 ounces strung. It has a 98 square inch head and an 18x20 string pattern. As you'd expect, the Pure Strike Tour (and the other Pure Strike racquets) feature plenty of proprietary Babolat technologies, but the real story is more about the Pure Strike Tour's solid feel and precision performance.

From the baseline, the Pure Strike Tour actually provided a bit more pop than I initially expected, but it's still a demanding control frame for advanced players who are taking big cuts at the ball. The Tour lends itself well to heavy-hitting and its weight helps provide a stable platform even when returning big shots. If you get stretched out or pulled out of position, be prepared to work for pace and depth; the Pure Strike Tour isn't going to give you much help. It did, however, seem to be fairly forgiving on off-center hits.

I tried the Pure Strike Tour without a dampener and was happy to hear a solid thwack at ball impact. I know some people prefer more of a ping sound, but that's just not for me. It's completely a personal preference, of course, and shouldn't really affect the playability of the racquet, but I never really liked racquets that were too "pingy."

The ball came off the racquet with plenty of spin and I was able to hit safe shots with margin as well as flatter shots when the situation demanded. My usual racquet has an 18x20 pattern like the Pure Strike Tour, so I'm used to it, but I wish Babolat had made a second version of the Tour with the same heft but a more open string pattern. The tennis world seems to be focused on mega-spin right now and I would've been interested to see how the Pure Strike Tour might have played with an open pattern.

Volleys felt solid and the Pure Strike Tour's weight made it stable enough to handle passing shots hit with lots of pace. But the weight is a little bit of a double-edged sword at the net. Even though the Pure Strike Tour is head light, it's still a heavy racquet and isn't the most maneuverable at net. It didn't bother me any but I don't spend that much time at net anyway. Serve-and-volley players or doubles players might be more interested in some of the lighter racquets in the Strike lineup, but if you don't mind the weight, there's no reason you can't serve-and-volley successfully with the Pure Strike Tour.

Serving with the Tour felt fine, but I didn't really notice any spectacular change in power or spin. Admittedly, my serve is usually a bit rusty by this time of the winter, but the Pure Strike Tour neither wowed nor disappointed. It just felt… normal. I was able effectively place first serves and the Pure Strike Tour gave me enough depth and spin on second serves so that most second-serve points at least started on neutral ground.

In the end, finding the right racquet is all about personal preference and a little bit of trial-and-error, so I can't say that the Pure Strike Tour is for everyone, but I liked it. As a whole, the Pure Strike Tour is really an impressive racquet that deserves some serious consideration from advanced players who are looking for a control-oriented frame. It has a nice, solid feel on groundstrokes, volleys, and serves, but won't provide a lot of extra power. While that's perfect for players who are used to generating their own pace, players looking for something a little more forgiving might be better served trying one of the other Pure Strike offerings—like the Pure Strike 100. I had no issues generating enough topspin, but folks looking for maximum spin might ultimately get better results trying something with a more open string pattern.

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Ask the Stringer: Why Are My Crosses Wearing Out so Quickly?

Ask the Stringer: Why Are My Crosses Wearing Out so Quickly?

Q: The last few years I have mainly had my racquets restrung with hybrids — normally some kind of gut in the crosses and another material in the mains (Dunlop Hexy Fibre 17, for example). I haven't broken the mains once in the last few years—it's always the crosses that end up breaking. Most recently I had some type of gut put on for the crosses and they showed evident wear really quickly in several places around the "sweet spot" and they finally broke after only 10 or so hitting sessions. The mains, however, seem to have no evidence of wear at all. Is there any way to salvage the mains and just add new crosses? And why might my crosses be wearing out so quickly? I'm thinking of going with the same string for crosses and mains from now on.

A: This is actually a very good question and it touches on a few things we hear about fairly frequently from other customers. Since there are actually a few different questions buried in there, I'll do my best to break it down and offer some insight on each individual part—hopefully without missing any important details!

First things first, your cross strings are broken, but your mains are intact, so can you remove the cross strings and leave the mains? Technically the answer is yes. Since you mentioned specifically that you're using a hybrid set-up, I know with certainty that your racquet was strung in two pieces. Since the mains and crosses are tied off separately, you may be able to cut out the cross strings without losing any further tension in your mains. You'll run into some difficulty removing the knots used to start and finish the cross strings, though, depending partly on the pattern of your racquet and the kind of starting knot your stringer likes to use. Usually the starting knot uses one of the main strings as an "anchor" string—which means the starting knot is tied around the main string. This makes cutting the knot a little tricky without cutting the main string too. It can be done, but it requires a little bit of a steady hand. Depending upon whether the cross strings tie off using a main or a cross as an anchor, you may or may not have the same problem there.

But, should you remove just the cross strings and salvage try to the mains? Personally, I'd say no for a few reasons. The main reason is that over time, strings lose tension and resiliency, even if they don't break. This process actually happens over time regardless of whether the racquet is played with or not (which is why we recommend restringing at least once a year whether you've played a lot or not). So, by the time you break strings and get ready to restring, chances are that your main strings have lost significant tension and resiliency and you'd benefit from a fresh set anyway.

Additionally, cutting out just the crosses while leaving the mains means that you're exposing your racquet to a lot of uneven stress. See my post about properly cutting out strings for a little info on that topic. All in all, I think it's just a better policy to go ahead and restring the whole racquet. That way you'll know you've got a fresh, string job that's got plenty of tension and is ready to go.

So why are your cross strings breaking before your mains? Although the main strings commonly break first since they're doing most of the sliding around during ball impact, hybrid stringing changes the balance of things, so to speak. In order to compensate for mains that break more quickly, most hybrid configurations feature a more durable string in the mains (polyester is pretty popular for that, nowadays) and a softer string in the crosses. Even though the mains are still taking a beating, the use of a more durable main string may mean that it simply is going to last longer than the softer string in the crosses. The Hexy Fiber you are using in your mains is actually somewhat soft, so that may not be the cause in your case.

A second scenario is that your cross strings may have actually sustained some wear during installation. It's always important to be very careful when weaving and pulling natural gut, but some extra caution is warranted when your main strings are a geometric string with sharp edges or a textured "rough" string. There's a fair amount of friction any time cross strings are installed and geometric or textured main strings can easily damage the coating on a soft cross string, leading to premature breakage. If someone else is stringing your racquets, make sure that they take care when installing the crosses. If you're stringing your own racquets, simply pull the cross strings through more slowly and try pushing the strings down towards the throat as you do so (so it makes a big smiley) and this will help ease some of the friction. You can straighten them out once all the string is through.

Those scenarios aside, from a technique standpoint, I've also seen this happen to players who hit the ball a little later than they should. If none of the above info seems to apply, or you think you're catching the ball late, try working with a local pro who might be able to help you catch the ball further out in front of your body.

Finally, I noticed in your question you mentioned that your cross strings started showing wear pretty quickly. You didn't mention how long it normally takes for your strings to start showing wear, but I'm guessing that they usually don't wear quite that quickly. Again, it's possible that the cross strings were damaged during installation, but it's completely normal for soft strings to start "fraying" as they're played with. This is especially true if you're hitting with a fair amount of topspin.

As far as switching your string set up, I'm always encouraging people to experiment with new strings, tensions, and hybrid combinations. Even if you don't find anything you like, you can always fall back on your tried and true combination.

Hopefully I helped shed some light on your particular situation. Feel free to let us know if you have any other questions!

Did you know that we employ two professional stringers, including a Master Racquet Technician? That’s the highest level of achievement that United States Racquet Stringers Association (U.S.R.S.A.) offers. Do you have a question for one of our stringers? Ask it in the comments below or send it to us and we will provide with an answer as fast and accurate as our on-site stringing.

Ask the Stringer: Where Should I Tie Off My Strings?

Ask the Stringer: Where Should I Tie Off My Strings?

Q: Does it matter where you tie off your strings? I'm stringing my Head Prestige Pro and the racket has an indicator to tie the mains off at Top 7. However, this hole is on a down-running main making it difficult for me to squeeze the string through. So, instead, I've been skipping to T6 which is an up-running main that leaves a large gap for me to fit the string in.

A: In the case you described, no, you're not hurting the racquet or compromising the integrity of the string job. If you can get the string through the hole fairly easily, it is fine to tie off there. If it's really bothering you, though, you can try cutting the end of your string on a very sharp angle right before putting it through the designated tie-off hole. This will make the string itself act like an awl and can sometimes help get the string into a tight tie off hole. This technique works pretty well, but it's a bit more difficult when you're dealing with a soft, multifilament string since multifilament strings have a (somewhat annoying) tendency to just sort of puff up when you try to put them in a tie off or covered hole. This technique is a safe alternative to using your awl to widen a hole, since your awl could damage the anchor string or even the grommet.

Even though it's outside of the scope of your question, while I'm on the subject, I would like to offer a few words of caution about using an awl to anyone else who's in a similar situation. Sometimes it is necessary to carefully enlarge holes using the awl; however, I would not encourage anyone to aggressively enlarge a grommet hole with their awl in order to "force" it to become a tie off hole. Gently enlarging a tie off hole is usually fine, but forcibly "creating" a larger tie off hole can compromise the grommet, possibly leaving the string exposed to the sharp edges of the frame. This in turn can cause the string to break prematurely and eventually would mean that the grommet would need repair or the grommet strip would need to be replaced. Neither scenario spells the end of the world, but it's avoidable with a bit of care.

Did you know that we employ two professional stringers, including a Master Racquet Technician? That’s the highest level of achievement that United States Racquet Stringers Association (U.S.R.S.A.) offers. Do you have a question for one of our stringers? Ask it in the comments below or send it to us and we will provide with an answer as fast and accurate as our on-site stringing.

Ask the Stringer: Breaking Strings During Installation

Ask the Stringer: Breaking Strings During Installation

Q: Hello, I use an electric Gamma XES stringer, with RPM Blast 17 at 50lbs. About 10% of the time, the string will break when I am pulling tension on the machine. The grommets are fine, and it doesn't matter if I’m using 17 or 16 gauge, as it’s happened on both. I don’t know if it's the string (it's happened with all different kinds of string though), the stringer, or me? Any advice would be so helpful. Losing lots of money on broken strings that never see the court...

A: Sorry to hear you're having trouble! Breaking a set of strings during installation is always a bummer and it's a drain on both your time and your wallet. Although it's tough to pinpoint the exact cause without being there in person to see what's going on, let me see what I can do to help. Based on your description of the issue, it sounds like there are several possible factors that could be causing the strings to break during installation.

First things first, try to get in the habit of taking a look at the string as you take it out of the package. When uncoiling the string, treat it gently so that you don't damage it. If it gets tangled while you're uncoiling, simply stay patient and carefully untangle it. Just yanking and pulling on it rarely gets the string untangled and may just cause kinks and tightening knots that could damage the string. Tangles aside, make sure you carefully inspect the full length for damage (rough spots, unraveling, dents/notches etc.) while uncoiling. This is a pretty simple step that I recommend to anyone who strings, but I don't think it's necessarily the solution to your issue. Manufacturing defects are pretty uncommon and it sounds like your strings are snapping with some frequency, so manufacturing defects are probably not the cause of your problem.

The more likely culprit is either your clamps or your tensioner jaws (or both). Check both to make sure they aren't squeezing the string too tightly. When your clamps or tensioner jaws squeeze the string too tightly, they can "squish" the string, leaving indentations that weaken the string. This can cause the crimped strings to break during installation. Your machine's manual should have instructions for making the necessary adjustments.

Also, make sure that your clamps aren't gripping the strings too loosely. This can allow string to slip through the jaws of the clamp when you pull tension on the next string. As the string slips through the clamp, the jaws can abrade the string which may also lead to premature breakage. Again, you can consult your machine's manual for exact instructions on adjusting your clamps.

In either case, you should also try cleaning your clamps and/or the tensioner jaws with a toothbrush and some rubbing alcohol. This removes the dirt and oil that accumulates over time, allowing your clamps and tensioner jaws to grip better with less pressure.

It sounds like you have already checked the grommets, but aside from the clamps and tensioner jaws, this is another common cause of breakage during installation. If the string is consistently breaking in the same spot on the racquet, you may have a grommet-related issue. If you have the tools and know-how, you can try installing a piece of tubing or an individual replacement grommet. You should also keep a careful eye out when you pull tension on the strings going through the angled grommets (usually the mains just outside of the throat). Sometimes when tension is pulled on those strings, the grommet can pull out a little bit, leaving the string exposed to the edge of the frame.

Other than that, you should also consider the following tips to minimize damage to strings:

    • When tying off or tying a starting knot, make sure the knot is not pulled too tightly as this can "choke" the anchor string, causing damage that may compromise the string job.
    • When weaving the cross strings, be careful not to pull the strings through the grommet too quickly. Pulling the cross strings through too quickly can cause friction burn that can notch the strings, ultimately leading to premature breakage.
    • Finally, be careful with your awl as it is easy to damage the strings when using your awl to enlarge a grommet or clear a path through a blocked hole.

Best of luck and happy stringing!

Ask the Stringer: Are There Strings to Prevent Tennis Elbow?

Ask the Stringer: Are There Strings to Prevent Tennis Elbow?

Q: I'm worried that I might be developing tennis elbow. Are there any strings that will help prevent tennis elbow or at least alleviate my symptoms?

A: The short answer is: yes, there are absolutely some strings—and racquets too, for that matter—out there that can help you.

Before I go into that, I think that it's important to understand that tennis elbow is a medical condition that really requires the care of a medical professional. To further complicate matters, arm pain or discomfort isn't always caused by tennis elbow so I'd encourage anyone suffering from any sort of arm discomfort to consult with a doctor or sports specialist. He or she can help figure out what may truly be wrong and work with you to come up with a treatment plan that will help get you back to normal.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let's take a look at what can be done to improve your situation. Since I'm not a doctor (shocking, I know), I'll address the tennis side of things (strings, racquets, and technique) and leave the medical side of things (icing, anti-inflammatory drugs, therapy, etc.) to the medical folks.

From an equipment standpoint, there are several things you can do to help ease your symptoms. The easiest—and least expensive—option is to switch tennis strings. Some strings are stiffer and transmit more shock to your arm, while others are softer and transmit much less shock to your arm. For tennis elbow sufferers, softer is better and when it comes to softness, is still the king. Even though natural gut is more expensive, in my opinion, it's worth the price to make your arm feel better. If natural gut strings are just out of your budget, don't fret, there are other options. Synthetic strings have come a long way in recent years and many of the high-end multifilament synthetic strings are very soft and forgiving. You can always also create a custom blend using half a set of natural gut with half a set of high-end multifilament synthetic to keep your costs down while still enjoying the benefits of natural gut.

A slightly more expensive option is to consider switching tennis racquets. Heavier, more flexible racquets are often ideal for tennis elbow sufferers as they usually transmit much less shock up the arm to the elbow. The good news is that heavier racquets are often relatively flexible, so the search for new racquet candidates should be pretty straightforward. Of course, making even a relatively small equipment change is usually a pretty big deal, so it's tough for any player to really take the plunge and switch from a lightweight, stiff racquet to a much heavier, flexible frame.

You might also want to consider checking out some of Pro Kennex's racquet offerings from their lines. Both of these racquet lines feature technology that is specifically designed to absorb shock and reduce stress on the arm—and they're very nice racquets in their own right as well!

You can also try reducing your stringing tension some. Lower tensions are usually better for tennis elbow, but there is a limit to how low you should go. I'd recommend that you work with your stringer to slowly reduce your tension over time until you find a sweet spot that will still allow you to have some control as well. Right now the trend is towards lower tensions anyway, so you're certainly not alone. Pros and amateurs alike seem to be gravitating towards much lower tensions than they might have as recently as a few years ago.

In terms of more long-term solutions to actually prevent tennis elbow, the best thing you can do is invest in some lessons from an experienced tennis pro. Tennis elbow is usually caused—at least in part—because of poor stroke production that exerts excess stress on your arm with every hit. Over time, the repetition of this movement adds up, resulting in the pain and sensitivity you experience as tennis elbow. A competent, experienced tennis pro can help you develop proper technique that will reduce stress on your arm over time. You'll be improving your game while you improve your technique, so it's a win-win situation, and it's definitely worth the money. Aside from medical intervention, this may be the best long-term option for preventing or solving issues related to tennis elbow. Best of luck with your tennis elbow!

Did you know that we employ two professional stringers, including a Master Racquet Technician? That’s the highest level of achievement that United States Racquet Stringers Association (U.S.R.S.A.) offers. Do you have a question for one of our stringers? Ask it in the comments below or send it to us and we will provide with an answer as fast and accurate as our on-site stringing.

Ask the Stringer: Can Pulling Cross Strings Through Too Quickly Damage a Racquet?

Ask the Stringer: Can Pulling Cross Strings Through Too Quickly Damage a Racquet?

Q: I string my own racquets but a tennis buddy told me that pulling the cross strings through too quickly isn't good. Is this true and what kind of damage might be done?

A: Your friend is right. Once you've woven a cross string, and are ready to pull the rest of the string through, it is possible for friction to "burn" the main strings that are already installed. Friction burn can notch the main strings and shorten the life of a string job. In extreme cases, I've even seen friction-burn damage the grommets.

The good news is that friction burn isn't too tough to prevent. Weave your cross string line normal, but instead of pulling your crosses straight through, use your other hand to push the cross string down (or up, depending upon whether you started at the head or the throat) so it forms a wide 'U' across the face of the racquet. Holding the cross string there while you pull the excess string through dramatically reduces the risk of friction burn. This technique works very well, but it is easier with softer strings. When pulling a stiffer string like polyester through, you may quickly find that the fingers of the hand holding the string out in a 'U' are getting burned up themselves. To counteract this I'll usually wrap some tape around the pad of my finger to save myself some pain.

If you're not doing so already, you should also try weaving "one ahead." This is another pretty simple technique that can help reduce friction between strings. Simply weave one cross string ahead of the cross string you're about to tension, leaving a loop of string long enough to pull tension on. Not only does this technique reduce friction, it makes the cross strings easier to weave so you can save time while installing cross strings.

Did you know that we employ two professional stringers, including a Master Racquet Technician? That’s the highest level of achievement that United States Racquet Stringers Association (U.S.R.S.A.) offers. Do you have a question for one of our stringers? Ask it in the comments below and we will provide with an answer as fast and accurate as our on-site stringing.

Ask the Stringer: Do Tennis Racquets Ever Wear Out? Should I Replace My Racquet Frame?

Ask the Stringer: Do Tennis Racquets Ever Wear Out? Should I Replace My Racquet Frame?

Q: I've had my racquet for about 10 years and am wondering if it's time to take the plunge on a new one. Do racquets ever "wear out?"

A: Yes, racquet frames do eventually "soften." Over time different stresses add up and eventually break down the fibers and resin that make up your racquet, resulting in a frame that is less stiff than it once was. The change is very, very gradual and usually takes place slowly over the course of many years, making it difficult to detect just by hitting with the racquet. Some very attentive players do seem to notice and have told me that they feel like their frame just doesn't have the same feel or pop that it used to. The only way to objectively measure "softening" is by using a Racquet Diagnostic Center (RDC) to measure the stiffness of the frame. To accurately measure the loss of stiffness over time, you would need to record a baseline stiffness measurement when the frame is brand new and then continue to measure over time in order to keep track of how much the stiffness had declined. RDC machines are rather pricey, though, so unless you have access to one at your local pro shop this is probably not a practical avenue.

To further complicate matters, the exact time frame that the "softening" process takes varies based on a bunch of different contributing factors, including—but not limited to—how hard the player hits the ball, how often the frame is used, where the frame is stored, string tension, the frequency with which the frame is restrung, and how careful the stringer is during the stringing process. There really is no prescribed time limit—it just depends. The good news is that there are several steps you can take to prolong the effective life of your tennis racquets.

    1. Choose an experienced, conscientious, careful stringer. Restringing is actually one of the more stressful things a frame can go through, but that doesn't mean you should avoid it! It's really akin to routine maintenance on a car and it keeps your racquet performing like it should. A careless or inexperienced stringer can shorten your racquet's effective life or potentially even cause immediate damage to the frame. A skilled stringer using a quality machine can minimize stress on your frame during the stringing process and prolong your frame's life.
    2. Store your racquets in a climate-controlled area. Extreme temperatures and temperature changes aren't good for your racquets. Don't leave them in a baking-hot car during summer and don't leave them in an unheated shed during winter. Keeping them in a climate-controlled area at room temperature minimizes damage from extreme temperatures and temperature swings.
    3. Don't bang your racquet, throw your racquet, bounce your racquet, or use your racquet to hammer a ball out of a fence. While a few bumps and scrapes are unavoidable during the course of play, steering clear of the above behaviors will save your racquet some extra stress it doesn't need.

As to whether or not it's time for you to look at a new frame, I'm not sure there is a "right" answer to this question and it's tough for me to say with any surety—it really just depends. Based on my experience, I will say this: Ten years is a pretty long time to use a frame, though I've seen people play very well with even older frames. If you play regularly (one to three times a week) and get your racquet restrung regularly (as you should), it might be time to start testing out some new frames.

Did you know that we employ two professional stringers, including a Master Racquet Technician? That’s the highest level of achievement that United States Racquet Stringers Association (U.S.R.S.A.) offers. Do you have a question for one of our stringers? Ask it in the comments below or send it to us and we will provide with an answer as fast and accurate as our on-site stringing.

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