The Best of Both Worlds: Hybrid Stringing
I just had one of my 14u players demolish opponents in his first two matches of the USTA Georgia Level 1/Southern Level 3 Championships (translation: big regional level tournament). In his 3rd match he blew through the #5 seed 6-3 in the first set...and then fell off a cliff. Lost the 2nd set 6-0 and the match tiebreak 10-3. The reason: increasing shoulder/arm pain from the 1st game of the 2nd set to the end. After 24 hrs rest and some ice, he made it to 4-4 in the first set of his next match, and went off another cliff. Had to retire at 4-2 in the 2nd set. The reason: unbeknownst to me, he decided to switch from a hybrid string to all polyester strings, thinking the extra polyester would give him more power. Considering he relies heavily on a serve/volley and return/charge attack, this was an unwise decision. However, it's a decision that an alarming number of parents and even coaches are making for increasingly younger players involved in USTA tournament play. For most players in the 14u age group or younger, this is a bad idea. For strong 14u and older players, a hybrid string pattern will work best and reduce injury.
The phrase “hybrid strings” refers to when a tennis racquet is strung with one string type on the mains (the vertical strings) and another on the crosses (the horizontal ones). The standard hybrid string job consists of a stiff, durable string on the mains (usually polyester, co-polyester, or kevlar) and a softer, more feel oriented string on the crosses (ideally, natural gut; but more commonly some type of synthetic gut).
The benefits of the hybrid strings versus using polyester in the entire racquet fall into two categories:
- player shoulder/arm health – use of polyester strings in the entire racquet by a player whose upper body muscle structure isn't developed enough to withstand the wear and tear from the impact can and will result in player injury. I just described most of the junior tennis players, male or female in the 14u, 12u, and 10u categories in the entire country! It is the rare 14u boy who's strong enough to play a full tournament schedule and go unscathed from the wrath of polyester.
- Increased feel and accuracy on any shot hit in the air – polyester strings are meant to deaden the feel of the ball upon impact. Use of a softer, liver cross string helps with volleys, overheads, and serve accuracy.
The earliest age I advise players to start with even a hybrid string is 13, and that would be a pretty strong male player. The earliest age I would even consider advising a junior player to use all polyester is 15, and once again, they'd have to be above average in the upper body strength. For the girls, it would be 16 for a hybrid and 18 for all polyester (and she'd have to be exceptionally strong).
Here's a couple of quick videos from online wholesaler Tennis Warehouse about hybrid strings:
So if your junior player is in the 14u category or older, avoid the all polyester string pattern, save their shoulder/arm and go with a hybrid string job!