As a tennis player and coach to World-class athletes, I have always been a big believer that when it comes to tennis and most other skills, it’s the Indian and not the arrow. That is to say a “hacker” is a “hacker” no matter what racket they are sporting, while on the other hand, a real player can hit with a broomstick (OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.) In fact I would say that in general I am an extreme pessimist when it comes to new equipment that is supposed to “revolutionize” your game.
I have recently discovered something that may have altered my thinking.
In case you’ve ever wondered, the reason most top tennis players have a “natural” fluidity and style, it’s because in almost all cases they picked up the game at a very early age. Therefore they are so small that it takes the effort of their entire body to wield the racket to and fro. Thus they have what I term “non-linear” strokes that are less “arm driven” and more “full body” swings. The racket is just too heavy for a 3 or 4 year old to “muscle” with the strength of their arms or shoulders alone. Therefore they develop strokes that over time look graceful and effortless, because “the hit” is absorbed by the entire body - equally. On the contrary, a child over say the age of ten, will tend to “arm the ball” with just the strength of their arms and shoulders, thus feeling all the pressure of the hit in their elbows, wrists and shoulders. These strokes tend to look forced and difficult and cause multiple injuries.
Recently I have had the pleasure of spending some time with John Elliot, a true “stringer extraordinaire” who has the patents on the majority of synthetic strings in the tennis world today. He also has the distinction of a patented stringing system called the “jet method.”
During my first meeting with John Elliot, he challenged me to let him string my rackets with his newest string hybrid called L-tec, strung with the “jet method.” I figured, why not? Anything that could help my game, I’m all for it.
The first few hits felt so different than what I was used to I didn’t know what to think. And then I settled into it. Once I got past the first ten minutes, I was shocked at the feel of the racket face on the ball. I was feeling the ball sink deep into the “pocket” of my string bed. I had so much control, feel and power. It actually helped me play more effortlessly, because I didn’t need to swing my arm nearly as hard to get the ball to move.
Those of you who know me know that I preach the “effortless game” whereby the hips move in a continuous figure 8 pulling the racket along for the ride. These strings actually worked perfectly for that type of swing – less arm movement and more body rotation. In fact it made me more conscious of doing less and less with my arm. I could actually feel the ball sink into the string bed, but unlike a trampoline effect, it just “grabbed” the ball and directed it to where I was aiming. It felt like I was playing with a very powerful WOOD racket. I felt the power of my Babolat racket, plus the control and feel of wood! I could hit with greater spin, and even my flat balls had greater control. What a great feeling!
Aside from the fact that these are a new type of string, I could feel how the stringing method also enhanced the experience. Common thought dictates that a racket strung at high tension will render more control, (but unfortunately feel like a board) whereby a loosely strung racket will provide more power but less control. I am here to tell you, that is old news and will soon go the way of the VCR. John strung my racket (usually strung at 58lbs with synthetic gut) with this L-tec hybrid at 36lbs!! Power, spin and pin-point control is what I got at 36lbs, which I know in the long run will be much better for the longevity of the strings, my arm and my entire body!
The true revelation of these strings is not that they last two to three times longer than the average synthetic gut (though they do), but the way they actually make a player aware of how they’re hitting the ball. This combination of L-tec sting and jet method will enhance the “effortless game” and will help any player stroke the ball with less arm movement, as opposed to over-swinging and “muscling” the ball.
Since my first experience with my newly “tuned racket” I have had more confidence on court than ever before. The strings enhance my play, and on the flip side, my strokes have made the strings work better and better when it comes to pressing air out of the ball, which is where effortless power is derived. And another plus about my new strings is that no matter how hard I hit or much spin I impart on the ball the strings seem to find their way back to straight – incredible. You can literally feel the strings move with topspin and then they magically reset themselves back to straight. No immediate notching, which tells me these strings will last a long time!
We have all been too conditioned to wanting to swing faster for more power and spin, thus the cry of “racket head speed”. However the fact is: it’s a combination of body weight and centrifugal force that embodies the Federer style of power, and it’s the movement of the strings that creates his spin. I know that all players who have a true player’s mentality will be ecstatic when they “tune their rackets” properly with these strings. The key to efficient and aesthetically pleasing strokes is creating the most power, spin and control from the least amount of effort. Today’s non-linear strokes combined with this stringing advancement will promote that natural and effortless game.
I can’t tell you exactly why this string and string method work so well, Mr. Elliot does a better job at that. What I can tell you is that eventually all players that aspire to having a real “feel” for the ball will end up using these strings, strung with this stringing method. I am once again re-inspired to play (not that I needed another reason.) Thank you John! You have opened my eyes to a better arrow.