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True Confessions of a Tension Loss Snob

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confeWhen we first began our stringing business we were desperate to separate our fledgling company from competitors. We sought out to educate ourselves about strings and string products and through this process determined that tension loss was bad, in fact it was down right evil. We quickly jumped on this concept and while fully believing it was 100% true went forward to spread to word on the evils of tension loss to customers far and wide.

We have now been in business 5 years and after extensive playtests with 100’s of strings and plenty of user feedback we now realize that viewing this topic as a black and white issue is not necessarily accurate. There are definite shades of grey that must be considered.

Learning from our experiences we now wish to amend our thinking and position on the issue of tension loss. While tension loss is certainly not ideal and clearly can have negative effects on the way a racquet performs, it is NOT a universal way to measure string performance or lack thereof. We have learned that PLAYABILITY trumps tension loss. Unfortunately there is no precise manner to measure playability. It can not be quantified because it is subjective and varies from person to person and product to product.

Measuring tension loss was used as a very neat and tidy way to determine the quality of a string as well as a time to restring. For years we operated under the assumption that if a string lost too much tension initially it simply could not be any good. For years we operated under the assumption that if a string lost 15% – 20% of tension it needed to be changed. While in some cases these statements are true, we no longer see them as universal truths. The lesson learned is that “tension loss does not always equate to an unacceptable loss of playability.”

We have learned that a majority of string products are going to lose 8 – 12% tension in the first 24 hours. In the case of some poly-based strings, this number can be even higher. The vast majority of recreational and league players do not play with their racquet the moment it comes off the machine. Rather, it will have been strung a day or more in advance and by the time it is taken to the court, the initial tension loss has already occurred. While it may have come off the machine with a Dynamic Tension (stringbed stiffness) of 42, they may very well be playing with a DT of 38 – 40.

Assuming the playability at this point is to the liking of the customer, the question now becomes, how long will the playability/playing characteristics of the stringbed last? Will they fade as tension fades and at what rate? Does the initial tension loss have any relevancy whatsoever?

What we have observed through the years is that some strings will hold playing properties longer than others. In many instances there is a seemingly direct correlation between tension loss and deterioration of performance. However, the pattern of tension loss to performance loss varies and is NOT universal.

By using our ERT to measure stringbed stiffness we have observed many instances where a customer will feel the performance of the racquet drops when the ERT reading hits a certain level. We have also observed instances where the stringbed stiffness remains constant and the playability deteriorates. If we were a physicist we may be able to explain this in greater detail, (perhaps it is a matter for Brody, Cross and Lindsey to explore?), but we can not explain why, we only know it happens.

When performance suffers customers will describe the feeling to us using terms such as “dead” or “boardy” or “mushy” or “springy” etc. Interestingly we have observed that strings that tend to hold tension better receive the “dead and boardy” comments where those that lose tension get the “mushy and springy” ones. We have also observed that players have different tolerances. We are fortunate to have several local stringing customers who use the same racquet. When they are using the same string, we see different rates of restringing due to performance. We have concluded from this that individual preference for feel definitely comes into play.

So where does this leave us? Well, in our situation we have shifted to a position where we tend to use and recommend products to our customers that have proven the ability to hold their PLAYABILITY over time. With the exception of string movement, (see final paragraph) tension loss does not always negatively affect playability and we are now using our direct experiences and feedback from our customers more and more in the process of recommending string products.

So my confession is this. I used to profess the evils of tension loss. I proclaimed the strings we used held tension better than any on the market. While this may have been true and was definitely believed to be an advantage, I now realize there are some great playing strings that do not hold tension as well. A string that has lost 18% tension may very well perform better than another than has lost only 13%. I have come to learn that I may have unintentionally misled some customers in the past and wish to be forgiven. My focus has shifted to the broader concept of Playability from my once narrow obsession with tension loss.

As a related side note. Many synthetic strings begin moving as tension is lost. String movement drives some players completely crazy and they can not cope with adjusting strings. (Another blog entry for another day!) In this case, we recommend using strings that hold tension well or do not move. (The Prince Recoil is a good, but pricey choice.)

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