Ask any racket stringer or tennis shop owner what the most common question they are asked every day, and many of them will tell you it is “Do I need to re-string my racket?” “When do I know it’s time to do it?” Although this is something that is asked a lot, it is also something that not many players even think about.
I know that players at the clubs I’ve played for have kept the same stringing equipment for years, and it’s only considered time to change the strings if the stringing breaks. However, the strings get used up relatively quickly from the game and then lose their elasticity and ability to hold the tension. If you leave them in too long, it can adversely affect your game. Let’s take a closer look at why and when you should change your tennis strings.
Why should you change the stringing on your tennis racket?
Apart from the fact that breaking a string is the obvious reason for the racket to come loose, there are two other main reasons why it is time to cut the strings and put in new ones.
Loss of tension
All tennis strings will lose tension over time. They start to lose tension as soon as they come out of the stringing machine. Depending on the type of stringing, in the first 24 hours after stringing, the strings can lose approximately 10% of their tension, and this continues when playing with the racket. If you are a player who relies on more tension for control and find your shooting accuracy decreasing over time, then you will need to re-string frequently to regain that element of your game.
Type of string
Tennis string performance
In addition to losing tension, the strings eventually die. This causes them to lose their performance characteristics, which is probably why you chose to string with them in the first place. This is particularly true for polyester strings, as they will lose their snapback effect, which is a big part of how they help players generate topspin.
How do you know when it's time to change the string?
Most advanced players will know that it’s time to re-string purely through feel, but there are a couple of visual things to look for.
On contact with the ball, the strings rub against each other and produce friction, which causes the strings to wear out. If you look closely, you’ll see that grooves form where the main and cross strings intersect. This will be most evident towards the top centre of your racket, which is hopefully the area where you have the most contact with the ball! If you see that these grooves are about to break the string, or even go very deep, it’s probably an excellent time to change the stringing of your racket.
Breakage of the string´s fibres
Natural and multi-filament gut strings are composed of many tiny fibers that are intertwined. When freshly strung, they often have a coating to protect them, but once this disappears, the fibers begin to break down. This is a natural part of the wear and tear of this type of string, so some fraying is perfectly normal. Fibres decomposure can also be caused by moisture and humidity. However, beyond a certain point, decomposure will reduce the thickness of the string to the point where it will break. So if you see frayed fibers at all angles and the string looks weakened, changing the string is probably the right choice.
For players just starting out, it is unlikely that they will be able to detect subtle changes in string feel. But as you develop your technique and your feel improves, you will begin to notice changes in the way the string acts over time.
Loss of control
When the strings lose tension, control over the ball can be diminished. A loss of tension can mean that you find yourself hitting too hard, making more unforced errors, or having difficulty placing the ball. If so, it may be time to change the stringing.
When the polyester strings lose tension, there is a reduction in string snapback, which means you have to hit harder to generate the same amount of topspin as in a newly strung racquet. The polyester strings also develop dead spots, causing an unstable response. If you find yourself hitting with less spin and have to straighten the strings after each point, then it’s probably time to change the stringing.
So, when should you change your tennis strings?
When it comes to changing the racket stringing, there is one general rule that most players are familiar with which is “For one year, you should change the stringing of your racquet the number of times you play in a week.” So if you play four times a week, then change the stringing of your racket four times a year. If you haven’t had a fresh string in six months, then I’d say it’s time to refresh things. Even if they look good visually, the loss of tension and elasticity over time will have diminished the string’s ability to play.
For most players, this concept of stringing as many times a year as you play per week is not a bad rule to follow. Especially for recreational players who string with synthetic gut and do not hit powerful shots.
However, the problem is that it is a fairly wide blanket and cannot be applied to all types of players or all types of string. While time spent on the court is a significant factor, other considerations will determine the speed at which players tie their rackets.
This only applies to those who do not break the strings, as they have no choice but to change the stringing as soon as a string bursts, but factors include :
Aggressive tennis players with full, heavy topspin strokes will wear out the strings much faster than specialists in doubles with short hits and touch play. For most players, a visual test is more appropriate than sticking to a re-stringing schedule.
What about the polyester stringing frequency?
Polyester strings are hard to follow, and there is no real calendar rule to follow. In general, although polyester ropes are hard to break for most club players, they die after 10 to 20 hours of play. Not only that, but they also break asymmetrically, creating dead spots in the strings, which can lead to poor performance. However, because they don’t break, players often keep them in their frames for too long. For this reason, it is often recommended that the strings are replaced at least every two months to restore playability and reduce the risk of arm injuries from having to hit harder to get the same amount of rhythm.
Ultimately, like most things to do with tennis rackets, re-stringing comes down to personal preferences and how each player feels about their racket’s performance. Many players love to play with a freshly strung racket; others enjoy it more after a period of adjustment, and some even like the strings when they are completely dead.
I like a freshly strung racket, so I usually change the strings before a bigger game. Or if I know I will be playing a few times in the next week, I will increase the tension, so when it comes to the second or third shot, the tension is somewhere around what it would be if I was fresh out of the stringing machine at my desired tension.
From there, it’s all about watching your game for the entire life of the stringing job. Do I have to hit harder to create rhythm and spin? Do the strings bite the ball, or do I have to readjust them after each point? Is the placement and predictability of the strikes starting to fail? Usually, when these questions come into your mind through 2 or 3 hitting sessions or matches, it is time to change the stringing, and that is the rule I follow.
Depending on the strings and how often you play, this can take as little as a week, or even a few months. So although it’s not an exact science, I think it’s better to replace the strings too early than too late. And so does the stringer at your local tennis club or store.