Playing tennis at a respectable level I see a lot of tennis elbow pain problems. The solution is often so simple; Stop using poly strings or at least go for a multi string job.
Chances are that if you read this post you suffer from some sort of elbow pain from playing tennis. I did too (golfers arm) and so do many other players. There can off course be many reasons for arm discomfort but more then 80% of the time the reason is obvious and quite simple to solve I think. The problem is often the string type and tension.
If you suffer from some sort of tennis arm pain and you are using Polyester strings or a tension higher then 55 lbs (25kg) you should really be warned. My advice is plain simple: Stop using Poly strings and go for a hybrid string setup! This means you use a polyester string together with multi-filament string. I have tried Poly with synthetic gut but that left me with a very soar shoulder the next day so would not recommend anything else but Multi (or Gut for who can afford that).
Jeff Davies of Luxilon strings wrote an excellent and very clear Stringing Analysis US Open 2013 on pro’s and (poly-) strings that formed the base for this short post. However Jeff mainly focusses on the string tension of polyester stringjobs and after having tested many setups and tensions (my friend Milan plays with 20 lbs = 9kg full poly) I found that even a lower tension could not prevent my tennis elbow pain.
My wake-up moment came when I first tried a full string setup with Tecnifibre X-one Biphase. This delightful multifillament string made me realize that I could play tennis without any pain whatsoever.
For beginners (everyone not braking strings within 12 hours of play) I would strongly advice not ever to touch poly strings. If you are gifted with the fact that you don’t break your strings that often, give your arm the best tennis present ever by buying a set of Tecnifibre X-one Biphase 1.30 (Gauge 16). It’s one of the most expensive non-gut strings but it plays WOW! For this string I recommend around 48lbs (22kg). And to be honest it is only twice as expensive as most of the popular brands poly strings.
Very affordable and tested alternatives are the Pro’s Pro Lethal Weapon 1.30, Prince Syngut (Duraflex) 16 or Pro Supex Spiral Flex. But believe me that anything other then poly will be greatly appreciated by your arm. Again don’t string these comfortable strings too high meaning above 48lbs (22kg).
For advanced players or strings breakers (I break the X-one within 4 hours) tennis becomes a costly hobby and a Poly can also really bring some extra “topspin control” to your game. That is a dangerous remark since the earlier mentioned beginner will think it brings his game something extra too but then please know that Djokovic played with X-one for many years before switching to a hybrid setup (which could very well be sponsor related).
If you are an advanced player I’m not able to tell you what the best string setup is because as you read in Jeff’s article string choice is as diverse as music preference.
Personally I use the MSV Multi Q10 in cross with the ultimate topspin ball razor Tier-one Firewire 1.30 in mains, with a tension of 24 (mains)/26 (crosses) kg. It does magic! I have tried many, many strings in all different combinations and this setup (for me) is the best. It is save for my arm and gives ultimate topspin and speed without losing control. Also the durability is very good. I break the Q10 after around 8 hours of play but I re-string it twice leaving the main Tire-one intact and I notice no difference in play to a fresh full setup. However if it wasn’t for my string braking I would not hesitate one sec to switch to Tecnifibre X-One since the feel and play with that string is amazing and I still thank that string everyday for eliminating my tennis elbow pain.
And for those interested… I’m 38 years old and love to play a Thomas Muster like style in clay court singles. In doubles I temper my top spinning habits having greatly improved ever since. I’m very lucky to play with two top clubs in Holland and having two trainers of which one is a Dutch top 100 player. I see many, many talented (junior) players in training sessions and competition and it is amazing how many suffer from arm-pain. I have made it my little personal mission to help as many people enjoy the game of tennis without suffering from elbow injuries.
My sticks are three Custom Angell 100’s, 310g (11.0oz) / 315mm (9pts hl) , 63RA, 27.25″. It took me a year to get used to but makes me wonder now if other rackets even have a sweetspot. I string on a very old Pro’s Pro drop-weight machine if it’s not strung on the club.
Update December 2015:
I made a major edit/update to this post after this seasons testing sessions. In the original article I focussed on lowering the tension instead of switching to a hybrid setup. As you can guess the lower tension did not work in the end and after that discovery I am playing with the T1/Q10 setup for almost a year now. It is the first time I’m using the same strings for so long and I am completely in love with it. It is the only setup I have found that has no drawbacks whatsoever and gives Poly characteristics without any discomfort.
Also as promised last time I tested the Tourna Quasi Gut Armor. USRSA playtest of the Tourna Quasi Gut Tennis String rate it 2nd to place second only to natural gut for Comfort. This playtest though makes me a bit sceptical since I can see playtesters using poly all year suddenly using a Multi makes there arms cheer of joy screaming they found “Gut feeling in a Multi”. The Tourna Quasi Gut Armor I tested was the 17 Gauge which I strung in full. Simply put and summarizing it did give me discomfort so it is not a string I would recommend against arm pain but… It is an amazing string, very different from anything I ever played with and I hit some balls I never was able to hit before so I must admit it is a very, very interesting and fun string. However since I am not able to hit amazing shots when my arm is feeling dead after one match I must decline using it as my primary string.