You often hear a lot of coaches on the site talk about ‘using your strings’ when explaining a concept about how to hit the ball. This seems a particularly common phrase when coaches are talking about taking the ball in short. The concept can also be applied to different subtle types of lengths also and an appreciation of this subtle art is useful. It could be deemed quite an obvious term to ‘use your strings’ as what else would you use right? The frame of your racket? The grip? You obviously want to hit the ball using your strings so what really does ‘using your strings’ mean?
In simple terms, the idea about using your strings means the ability to make contact with the ball and at this moment to be able to make the ball run and roll across your racket face very slightly. Nick Matthew talks about the ball ‘kissing’ your strings which is a great way to describe it. If done well this gives the ball a different flight path as well as produce some revolutions on the ball. This is ideal to cause an issue for your opponent and to make him or her have to be mindful of different spins and trajectories the ball may make when it lands.
Very often players do one of two common faults. They are either really flat on the shot so the ball hits the racket face and rebounds off directly and pretty straight with very little revolutions, or alternatively there is way too much cut and spin and the player hits the wrong part of the ball and it can then tend to balloon upwards and sit high and loose for the opponent to attack.
I like to start with the grip and how this can have an overall positive contributing effect to aid the skill of using your strings. The grip should sit more across the fingers and actually rarely touch or go into the palm too much when trying to maximize the ability to use your strings. When trying this it may be worth exaggerating for starters and feel what it does to the arm and the racket head. You will likely lose some control at first but you should find that when you get the control over it you are really able to manipulate the ball in different ways than you were used to and it should be quite a fun challenge to master this skill. T can become quite addictive when playing around with where the grip sits in your hand and what it does to the ball.
This is a fantastic video of how to really use the string and the effect it has on the ball.
One key area to focus on when trying to get it right on the backhand side is the ability to keep your knuckles up and facing the ceiling. The wrist should stay slightly cocked whilst doing this to keep the racket face very open. This can really open the racket face and give the racket some great shape whilst making it orbit your body and the arriving at the ball with a lot of angle to cut and use the strings. Because of this, the racket head speed can be quick but the ball still dies so is subtle and deceiving for the opponent. It can make them rock back onto their heels and before they know it the ball is low and short and dying giving them little or no chance of recovery.
Using the strings on the forehand side is a little more tricky and maybe not as natural on the backhand side. The shape of the backhand swing assists using the strings whereas the forehand favours a slightly flatter and direct swing path. However, it is still worth investigating this and having the skill and ability to execute it. I believe the way to get more strings on the forehand is to have the swing come down a lot steeper on the ball, almost vertical. When doing this there is a risk that you may hit the ball straight into the floor so it will be worth practising the timing of when to have a subtle turn of the wrist and slightly open the strings late to give it the cut and revolutions it needs. Another good way to use the strings on the forehand is by engaging the elbow correctly. Having it significantly bent and relatively high helps and then opening and driving the elbow forward and underneath at the right time helps using the strings.
Finally, I believe working hard and getting into the correct body position is essential in order to execute quality shots by using your strings. If you are off balance and leaning too far forwards or backwards this can have a catastrophic effect on the overall consistency of the outcome. When you watch the top players using their strings a lot of the good work comes from a very set base, great spacing and distance from the ball and the ability to use the whole body in the shot. Subtly softening the knees and using your body weight downwards aids the quality and the consistency of the shot.
In summary the key points on how to use your strings more effectively and consistently:
- Get a more finger-based grip so it allows the racket head to move in more creative ways
- On the backhand keep the knuckles up and the wrist slightly cocked
- On the forehand come down steeper and open the racket face late
- Be very stable and balanced
- Link your body, knees and hips to the shot
Give yourself a lot of solo time to play around with this and do not be scared of doing it at extremes to test how far you can go with it.
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