For tennis players, their racquets are a critical part of their game. Much like golfers choose their clubs and baseball players choose their bats, tennis players can customize their racquets. A lot of players have more than one racquet, and the pros usually have quite a few at their disposal.
Perhaps the biggest component of a tennis racquet is the strings, and before you can decide on tension or string pattern, you need to understand what the strings themselves are made of and how they impact your game.
What are the different types of tennis strings? The seven types of tennis strings are the following:
- Tournament Nylon
- Synthetic Gut
- Natural Gut
Synthetic gut is a good option for beginners, and most pros use either polyester strings or natural gut, but each has its pros and cons.
Here’s what you need to know about each type of tennis string.
1. Tournament Nylon
This is what you’re going to find most often on pre-strung rackets, and it’s well suited to players who are getting a racket only to play in the company fundraiser weekend or for kids going to camp that won’t play tennis once they’re back home.
It’s a very cheap substance, and that’s why you’ll find it in the mass-produced rackets featured on the tennis aisles of big box stores. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. It’s fine to play a few matches with.
Buying a pre-strung racket is also a great option to see if you or your child is really interested in playing tennis, and then you can upgrade your materials as you get more invested in the game.
Also, since the racket comes out of a packet fully assembled, there is no opportunity to adjust the tension on the strings, which is something that is key to more advanced players.
- Often comes on prestrung racquets
- Very cheap,
- Good for beginners
- Not very durable,
- Not adjustable
2. Synthetic Gut
This type of tennis string is also a low-cost option, and it’s available at a lot of clubs. They tend to buy it in bulk so that they can help players at their club string or restring their rackets.
This is a really common type of string, and it is made of a single nylon string wrapped in a material. It’s not as durable or stiff as other types of string, but as it is so common, it’s useful to use as a baseline.
If you get your racket strung with a synthetic gut string, you can practice and play with it to see what you would like from a string. Since different types and tensions of strings are more suited to certain styles of play, it’s likely that you’ll adjust your strings as you play more and more tennis.
Synthetic gut can help you as you’re learning what you like, but if you’re a hard hitter who breaks strings often, it may be worth upgrading sooner rather than later.
- Readily available,
- Low cost,
- Serves as a good baseline
- Not catered to any style of play
As tennis technology advanced, tennis string manufacturers looked for ways to reproduce the enviable qualities of natural gut string (which we’ll explore later) at a lower cost. Multi-filament attempts to get close to the power, tension, and bounce of a natural gut string.
They’re made by braiding microfibers together intro strands, and then wrapping those strands together and covering them in a sheath. There are lots of multifilament strings that only use nylon, but some companies add in other materials that we’ll discuss a bit further down.
Compared to other strings, multi-filaments have a softer hit. This means the impact doesn’t travel up your arm as much, so they’re useful for players who’ve had previous injuries or players looking to prevent injuries.
As a downside, they’re more expensive than other strings, and they’re not very durable. Multifilament strings really depend on that outer wrapping staying intact. Otherwise, the strands come undone. So if you’re using multifilament, be sure to inspect your strings regularly and get any damaged strings replaced as soon as possible.
- Similar to natural gut performance without the high cost
- Low durability,
- Need to be replaced often
- Higher cost than other synthetics
A lot of professional players use polyester strings, and they’re classified as a monofilament. That just means they’re made from a singular material wrapped in a coating.
The major pro of polyester is that it is a stiff string. That means polyester strings can produce more power with much thinner strings. This allows the pros to produce lots of topspin.
Rafael Nadal uses exclusively polyester strings, but that’s not recommended for casual or club players. Polyester strings don’t have a lot of longevity, so a racket decked out with polyester will need to be on the stringer quite a bit.
Since professional tennis players are having their rackets restrung at such a high rate, a lot of them choose to have polyester strings put on.
However, the stiffness of the string, which is one of its best qualities, also means that it isn’t great on a player’s joints. If you’ve had a previous injury or start to notice some pain while you play, a polyester string isn’t going to work well for you.
- Holds stiff tension with allows for greater control
- Need to be tightened often, can cause injury to players due to stiffness
5. Intestine (aka Natural Gut)
This is the original material used for tennis racket strings. It’s sometimes called catgut, but don’t worry, feline fans—no cats are harmed in the making of this tennis string.
It actually comes from larger mammals, like cows and sheep, so the name might come from a shortening of “cattle gut.” Natural Gut strings will harm your wallet, though.
They’re more than 10 times the cost of some synthetic gut strings for the same length.
Regardless, this material has been used for centuries in a variety of settings. Stringed instruments, like cellos and violins, used to use natural gut strings. They’re still used by professional musicians today, not only in stringed instruments but also in concert pianos.
Guitars used to use natural gut strings, as well, but almost all of them moved over to steel strings when they became available. Natural gut strings were also used to make surgical sutures, and they were treated with chromium salts to increase durability after they were placed in a patient’s incision.
But in the context of tennis, natural gut strings have been in use since the late 1800s. Pierre Babolat launched a company to produce natural gut tennis rackets, and that company is still in operation today.
Some professional players favor a natural gut string, including Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic. The reason why natural gut is still one of the best materials to use in a tennis racket has to do with the physics of the string and how it interacts with the ball.
This natural fiber is still a soft string, even at very high tensions, and this allows players to have very tight strings that increase their ball control. However, due to its softness, they have less risk of injury with natural gut than with other materials. It’s costly, though, in part because of the labor-intensive manufacturing process.
The fibers have to be harvested from the intestines of the animal, cleaned, steeped, dried, twisted together to the proper thickness, smoothed out, and sometimes dyed. A few brands also coat their natural gut strings, which increases durability of the strings. This makes them less delicate when stringing.
Natural strings are also very susceptible to changes in humidity. Due to this variability, players who play with natural gut will usually have several rackets with them, strung at different tensions. This allows them to choose the best tension for the weather.
They also have to be stored with care to protect them from any humidity they may face in storage or transport. There is also a huge variability in the quality of natural gut strings, with different manufacturers using different storage or preparation methods, different animals. A string can change drastically depending on the diet of the animal it came from, as well.
- Offers comfort and control
- Holds tension
- High cost
- Variability in quality
- Susceptible to weather/humidity
6. Synthetic Fibers – Kevlar, Vectran, Zyex, Polyolefin
While some multifilament strings use nylon exclusively, some multifilament manufacturers add in other types of strings. Others may have a hybrid setup, where they use more than one string on their racket at a time.
These synthetic materials are usually included in the setup because of their unique properties. For instance, Kevlar is a very stiff and durable string, but it has a harsh impact on the body. An entire racket made of Kevlar would seriously injure a player.
Vectran is also very stiff, and it is included in some badminton strings and a few tennis rackets, although it’s not popular as much anymore. Zyex is a stiff string that mirrors natural gut very closely, but it isn’t as durable as other synthetics.
Polyolefin is very soft and is often used as a cross string, which allows players with arm injuries to play with a soft material that’s less expensive than natural gut.
- Add certain features to multifilament strings based on player preference
- Can increase the cost of the string
7. Metals – Piano Wires and Titanium
Although metal wires replaced natural gut in musical instruments like pianos and guitars, metal strings didn’t really take off in the tennis world. There was some usage, but the metal quickly gave way to synthetic materials.
However, there is some use case for metal in tennis strings. Titanium can be applied to the strings as a coating, which increases durability and protects from abrasion without adding a ton of weight. Titanium can also be integrated into multifilament strings like the synthetic materials mentioned above.
- Titanium can increase the lifespan of a multifilament string
- Titanium isn’t a common material in strings, so it may be difficult to find
The fact is, there is no “best” string. If you’re playing tennis seriously, you should try to play with a range of string materials and tensions to find what feels the best for you and what suits your game.
Many clubs have pro stringers who can help answer your questions and find the right string for you!