September - October 1998
Those Big, New Racquets
Unless you were recently rescued from a desert island, youve probably noticed a bunch of new racquet designs on the market. Spurred by a rule change that allows racquets up to 22 long, manufacturers have not been slow to introduce a whole crop of new, ultra-big models, many of them with unusual features that have ramifications for string selection and performance.
The basic idea is simple: larger racquet faces have longer main strings, which means more power. The manufacturers achieve that in different ways, but one common design trick is to extend the length of the racquets throat, and concentrate the bottom ends of most or all of the main strings at or near the throat. This imposes a fan-like pattern to the stringbed, and has the effect of lengthening the mains particularly the outermost ones, as compared to a racquet with a traditional square-grid string pattern. Racquets that utilize this design include: Wilson Air Hammer® 9.9 Stretch; Head Ti.175 XL; Ektelon Power Ring Pro LongBody; and the whole E-Force line.
Jonah Bishop, owner of Racquet Sports Unlimited in Pittsburg, KS, and a professional stringer, reports that many skilled players prefer to use relatively stiff strings in these racquets. Otherwise, the ultra-long mains seem a bit too stretchy. But simultaneously, hes seen average stringing tensions drop from 35-40 lb. down to 30-35 lb. These two factors work against each other: the stiffer strings boost control and reduce power, while the lower tensions do the opposite. In terms of racquet performance, I dont see an entirely logical explanation for this, says Bishop. Were getting into a subjective area of what feels best to the player.
In terms of durability, however, this setup makes sense. The larger racquets have very open string patterns (i.e., a lot of space between the strings), which means less support for each string. Stiffer strings tend to be more notch-resistant, and strings at lower tension are obviously less prone to break from over-stretching.
Jonah likes a hybrid string setup in these larger racquets, which is one way to combine durability and stiffness with good power. Stiff Kevlar® for the longer main strings, and more resilient nylon for the shorter crosses seem to provide good consistent response.
Here are a few more points of interest from Jonah: E-Forces Omen and Torrent models feature a new Control Wrap design, in which the strings wrap around the head of the frame rather than passing through holes and grommets. This reduces the tightness of the bend the string must take, which may promote longer string life.
Ektelons Power Ring design seems to produce main strings that are most nearly equal in length. This should promote consistent response across the face of the racquet.
In E-Forces LongString design, on the other hand, there is great disparity between the length of the eight centermost mains, and the remaining outer ones. This doesnt seem to produce inconsistent response across the racquet face, however, so theres probably no need to set string tensions independently. Individual string tensioning is possible but difficult, and it adds cost to the stringing job.
Players who do their own stringing will find that the standard 36 coil of string may not be long enough for the new oversize frames. Some manufacturers have increased their sets to 40 to make up the difference.
You may find that your old stringing setup doesnt generate the best results on the new racquets. As always, its a good idea to discuss your needs with your stringer, and experiment with different setups until you find the one that brings out your best.
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