Tennis Tensions: An Inside Look at the Racquets of the Stars

On the Baseline Tennis News
April 4, 2009


MIAMI, Florida—Greetings once again from the Sony Ericsson Open. Earlier this evening, I was lurking around the racquet stringers room at the tournament. (The invite to Star Jones’s party didn’t pan out, so I went for a walk.)

It’s just as well. I’ve been wanting to learn more about the racquets of the pros for a while now. Turns out, I was in luck. Scott Schneider, Goran Hofsteter, and Len Filatov, stringers for the Sony Ericsson Open, were kind enough to let me in to their work room and answer just about any racquet stringing question I had. They even gave me some good “dirt”.
These guys certainly know their stuff, having strung racquets for Serena and Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, and Dinara Safina, among others.

Tennis Racquet Strings of the Pros — Fast Facts:
- Luxilon –most popular racquet string
- Normal string tension range: 54-60 pounds
- Doubles players play with lower tension – approx. 50 pounds
- Standard racquet head size: 95-100
- Racquet stringing based on weather: lower tension used if weather is more humid, tighter if more dry
- Length of time it takes to string one racquet: 20-25 min. (3 hours for 6 racquets)
- Racquets are sent directly from the stringing room to the court.
- Racquet tension can change as much as 6-7 pounds during the course of a match, if the player is hitting hard enough.

Power vs. Control
When you’re choosing racquet strings, it’s usually a tough choice between power and control. Hybrid strings–polyester and natural gut combined (two different strings), give players the best of both worlds.

Scott Schneider on hybrid strings: “You have a little bit of power from the natural gut that gives you the nice feel, and you’re still controlling the ball with the polyester. That way, you can kind of swing out at the ball, and it’s not too hard on the arms.”

Most of the top players are using the hybrid strings these days, including Maria Sharapova.
Below are some interesting details about specific racquets for some top players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour:

Serena Williams
Racquet Type: Wilson KBlade Team
Head Size: 103 or 104 inches
Strings 6-8 racquets per match
String type - Wilson natural gut – 16 gauge
String tension: 65-67 pounds
Changes to a new racquet: 2-3 times/match, depending on match difficulty
Venus and Serena use the same racquet with same tension, but different over-grip
Scott Schneider: “Serena picks a couple of racquets at one tension and a couple at another tension, just in case the ball is flying or the weather’s changing. That way she can go to a tighter racquet, or if she starts with a tighter racquet and the balls aren’t flying deep enough, she’ll switch to a looser one.”

Ana Ivanovic
Racquet type: Yonex RQ iS 1 Tour XL 95
String type: natural gut and Yonex polyester string
Strings 2-4 racquets per match
Requests mixed tensions on racquets to be prepared for any weather changes

Dinara Safina
Racquet type: Babolat Aero Storm Tour
Luxilon polyester string – rough feel (to give her more spin)
String tension: 63-64 pounds

The Dirt
* Re-painting a racquet can affect the stiffness of a racquet, which can impact performance.
* Sometimes players don’t play with the racquet that you think they play with. They could be using a discontinued racquet from 2000, but is re-painted to look like the newest model (to please the sponsors). This is done when players don’t want to switch to a new racquet.
* Some players have varying tensions within the same racquet, for varying sweet spots. (Stringers wouldn’t spill the beans on who does this). 

What Players Are Picky About
- Where to put the stencil on the racquet (just above the 5th or 6th string)
- Where to tie the string knots
- Want the strings to be strung in one piece or two pieces
- Want the racquet to be bagged a certain way – logo facing up
- The sticker for the tension being in the same spot on all the racquets

Sounds Like a Good Racquet
Have you ever seen players bang racquets together and listen before switching racquets?
They’re listening for the right pitch. A high pitch sound means a tighter tension, while a low pitch sound is a lower tension.

Getting Personal
You’ve heard of personal trainers, but what about personal stringers. That’s right.
Some top-level players have personal stringers for big tournaments like Grand Slams.
Scott Schneider: “With so much money on the line, they don’t trust just anyone.”
Maybe if I buy Serena’s racquet with the exact same strings, tension and head size, I can have a good shot at being No. 1. Okay, I may be delusional, but I can still dream.

4 comments:

Karin Burgess said...

This is a great article Paula. Thanks for the inside scoop.

Anonymous said...

What is the deal with some women tennis players screaming and yelling every time they hit the ball? Is it really necessary? Is there a reason for it? Always wondered. Maybe you can ask Sharapova next time you see her.

Great stories here. Keep up the great reporting.

About the Author said...

Thanks, Karin!

Regarding the screaming during matches, I think it's meant to psych out their opponents, but players would never admit to that. I'll put this on my list of questions for Sharapova if she plays the U.S. Open.

www.thebeginners.net said...

Nadal
Type of Spanish orange. Spanish, orange, tennis player, that is.

Federer
Type of hat worn by stylistically-challenged Swiss men.

Sampras
Character from The Virginian who went on to have a successful career as Pistol Pete the tennis player.

Borg
Automaton at war with the Tennis Federation.

Lendl
Film starring Barbra Streisand as a cross-dressing Jewish tennis player.

Hawkeye
Friend of Sampras.