String Playability: Different Strokes for Different Folks

By Steve Crandall, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Ashaway Racket Strings

String choice is a very individual and subjective decision. Sometimes the choice seems obvious. If you’re built like an all-pro linebacker, for example, string durability is probably going to be high on your list of requirements. On the other hand, if your waist is the size of that linebacker’s forearm, adding power to your stroke may be in order. But even here, things are not always as they appear: I’ve seen big guys with very soft touch and some very tiny women who pack powerful swings.

So string choice is more often nuanced and depends on many factors, including the level of your game and your style of play. And your choice can change as you progress (or regress). To illustrate some of these factors, we’ve looked at the styles of several top players we’ve worked with over the years and how their evolving games affected their choice of string.

Turning 30 this year, Daryl Selby is on anybody’s list of top players. At 5’11” (180 cm) he’s not the most physically imposing guy out there, so he relies on fitness and a relentless offense to win. “I’ve always been known as a fairly attritional player,” Daryl told us. “I’ve been known for playing fairly long matches, being very fit, moving well, and having a good solid base game, but maybe not sometimes being able to hit those big winners, or those touch shots that the Egyptians have now become so good at. I think that was me when I was starting out on tour. I used that base game to climb up the ranks and be a solid player. Now I think I’ve adapted slightly and I’m trying to attack a lot more and be more pro-active and take the game to my opponent.”

You can see his changing game in his string choice as well. Daryl started using Ashaway SuperNick® XL, a nylon multifilament designed to provide good feel and control. He then switched to PowerNick® 18, our Zyex®-based monofilament, to add power. “Now,” he said, “I’m using the light blue UltraNick ® 18.” This is also a Zyex-based string, but with a multifilament core. “I find the UltraNick slightly less powerful than PowerNick, but it’s given me more touch and just a little bit more control of the cut I can put on the ball.”

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Another player whose string needs changed with his game— this time as he aged—was many time World Champion David Palmer. At 6’ 2”, David was always a more dominating presence than Daryl, but was nonetheless known for the versatility of his game and for an almost uncanny ability to adapt his style to his opponent. David used PowerNick 18 for years because its multi-stranded monofilament Zyex core gave him a good combination of power, ball control, and dynamic response, and also because—as one who liked to use a single racquet during a tournament—”the string just doesn’t break.”

But by the time he turned 35 in 2011, David’s game had begun to change. He was still competitive, to be sure, but admitted that it was, “not as easy to keep up with the young guys. It’s more about trying to stay fast and keep that movement around the court. The days when I can move really well are the days I play really well, and the days when I’m a little bit slow and off the pace, that’s when it’s really hard work.”

“It’s tough,” he added, “because I love to play fast. It’s the way I’ve always played. I play a pretty hard paced game. I take the ball very early, I volley probably more than any other player, and that’s when I play my best squash. But I need to be smart as well, and try to pick the times to play fast, and try to slow it down a little bit and draw on my experience when I need to get my breath back.”

Part of playing smart for David was switching to PowerNick 19, which he began play-testing in 2010. He said the 19-gauge string gave him, “a bit more power, a little more touch. And on top of that it still lasts a long time.” So again, a nuanced choice: a small change in gauge that helped a top player keep his edge.

On the women’s circuit, our old friend and recently retired Natalie Grainger has always been sensitive to how string choice can affect her game. Known for her superb racquet work and power play, Natalie nonetheless insists that women are “not really trying to play like guys. It is a different game,” she noted. “With women you can definitely see more mental stuff going on—it’s more the style of play. A lot of old coaches believe that if you hit the ball really hard and chase down everything, there will be fewer people able to beat you. But women’s play is not like that. We play a slightly different game, more nuanced and strategic.”

For Natalie, that meant playing with a string that maximized what she could do with the ball, “touch-wise,” without sacrificing power. Just before injuries forced her retirement, Natalie had switched to Ashaway SuperNick XL Micro, and found that stringing at slightly lower tension—26.5 lbs. compared to 28 or 29 with her previous string—gave her a better level of comfort and control.

“However,” she was quick to add, “I think it really is a matter of personal preference and I think a lot of it depends on the style of the player. Natalie believes choosing a string and playing tension should be more of an intuitive than an academic exercise. “I don’t think people are going to string and try to play like something: I think they should string to what feels good and what they play like.” We agree.