It was once said that the strings are ‘the soul’ of your tennis racket. Essentially, this means that the way your racket feels when you play a shot, and the way the ball reacts, is determined primarily by the strings. The type and thickness of string you use is therefore critical to the way you play the game. Most club players take a recommendation from their local stringer and give the matter very little thought, but the thickness, or ‘gauge’ of string they use can make a big difference to both their control of the ball and how often their strings break. In this article we will talk about the different gauges and their characteristics, so that you can make an informed decision about what is best for you.
Essentially, tennis string gauge means the thickness of the string. The higher the gauge number, the thinner the string, so 17 gauge string is thinner than 16 gauge. There are also half-gauges between the main ones, denoted by the letter L.
Pros will tend to use slightly thinner strings than others because durability is irrelevant to them, whereas a beginner might want something more durable.
What Does Tennis String Gauge Mean?
The diameter of a tennis string will typically be between 0.6mm and 1.8mm. In practice it is very rare to see anyone using a string with a diameter outside of the range 1.1mm to 1.4mm. Although these differences may not seem like much, a 1.4mm string is over 27% larger in diameter than a 1.1mm string, and this can make a huge difference to performance and durability.
In order to avoid making players remember the exact diameter of the string they like, a series of ‘gauges’ have been invented to describe different bands of string thickness. Each gauge describes a string of a diameter within a range of, typically, 0.1mm, and players learn which gauges are thin or thick.
Difference Between 16 And 17 Gauge
The most popular string gauges are listed below, alongside the range of diameters that each covers
15 1.41 – 1.49mm
15L 1.33 – 1.41mm
16 1.26 – 1.34mm
16L 1.22 – 1.30mm
17 1.16 – 1.24mm
18 1.06 – 1.16mm
As an example, 16 gauge string has a diameter in the range 1.26-1.34mm, whereas 17 gauge will be in the range 1.16-1.24mm. As a result, 16 gauge string will be more durable, whereas 17 gauge will offer more feel.
Players need to try out different gauges to establish whether the benefits of a thinner string outweigh the costs in terms of frequent restrings.
Difference Between 16 and 16L
If 17 gauge string lacks the durability you require, but you want more feel than 16 gauge can offer, then something midway between the two should give you what you need.
There are ‘half-sizes’ available, which are denoted by the letter ‘L’ (short for ‘Light’), so in this case you would go for the 16L, which is a little thinner than the 16 gauge.
From the table above, you will see that there is some overlap between the allowed sizes, but a 16 gauge would typically have a diameter of around 1.30mm, whereas a 16L would typically be approximately 1.26mm across.
What Gauge String Do Tennis Pros Use?
For professionals, the main consideration is to obtain the best possible performance for the typical length of a match. The top players will be getting their rackets restrung every day during a tournament, so durability is not a big factor in their choice, although they will want to avoid mid-match string breakages. It should also be remembered that main strings (the ones running parallel to the racket handle) break more quickly than the cross strings, so it is possible to use a less durable string for the crosses.
Rafael Nadal uses a 15L polyester string for both main and cross strings. This is an indication of the stress which his heavily spun shots put on his strings, as this is still a fairly thick gauge, even though it only needs to last for a couple of hours. Federer uses a 16 gauge main string (but in his case this is natural gut, which offers good feel and limited durability) and a 16L gauge polyester cross string. Interestingly, despite his completely different playing style, Djokovic uses the same type and gauge of strings as Federer.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams uses a similar set-up to Federer and Djokovic, although she uses different models or brands of string, with a 16 gauge natural gut main string and a 16L polyester cross string. Naomi Osaka uses a 16L polyester string for both mains and crosses. Karolina Pliskova uses a 16 gauge natural gut cross string and a 17 gauge polyester cross string. The slightly finer cross string used by Pliskova may reflect the fact that she puts less stress on the strings by applying little spin.
What Is The Best Gauge For Beginners?
A beginner is unlikely to benefit greatly from the qualities of finer or more expensive string, so it would normally be recommended that they begin by using a cheap polyester string of medium thickness- perhaps a 16 gauge.
This will be reasonably durable, saving them the expense of frequent restrings, and will meet all of their playing requirements. As they become more advanced, they can try out finer, or more expensive strings.
Thinner strings offer great playability in terms of feel and spin potential. Unfortunately, they don’t last very long for most people, making them expensive to use. Unless you are a professional, for whom frequent restrings are part of the job, you will probably need to compromise and use a medium or thick string for durability. The only way to determine the best string gauge for you is to try a few out.