If you have ever played with a natural gut string before, you'll likely have found it to be the most playable and arm friendly string going. However, it's expensive and if you're a heavy topspin player, the durability of the strings comes into question.
On the flip side, polyesters provide much better durability, whilst offering unrivalled levels of spin and control. But the strings are unforgiving on the arm and have caused countless players problems with tennis elbow.
If only there was a way to combine the best qualities of different types of strings whilst lessening each of their limitations in the same racquet.
Welcome to the world of hybrid tennis stringing. It's also the string setup of choice for Roger Federer so let's take a look.
What is a Hybrid?
A hybrid string setup is the use of two different strings in the mains and cross strings of a tennis racquet.
This can be as simple as using two different gauges of the same string but is more commonly done with two completely different string materials. For example, natural gut with a polyester.
Hybrid setups are extremely common on the ATP and WTA pro tours right now with players choosing a strong, endurance-type string in the mains like Babolat RPM Blast or Luxilon and pairing it with a softer string in the crosses such as natural gut or a multifilament.
Why Do Players Choose To String With a Hybrid Setup?
About 80% of the playability in your racquet comes from the main strings, therefore the mains are usually the first to break.
If you put a polyester string in the mains that's the string that is doing most of the work and thanks to its durability, will increase the longevity of the string job as well as providing access to huge spin and control that those type of strings offer.
Coupling the durable string with softer strings in the crosses will decrease the harshness that you'd get with a full polyester string bed. And at the same time negate the poorer durability that a full bed of natural gut gives.
So whilst it's not mathematically the best of both worlds as one string is still doing more of the work, it's still a close compromise whereby you get the benefits of both strings and offset the limitations they each have.
Either limiting the power of gut mains or wanting more spin but still having control is why most professionals use a hybrid, but for the club player, the other benefit is cost.
A hybrid string job can lower the cost of an expensive string. Let's say you are a huge fan of natural gut, but the hefty price tag coupled with frequent restringing makes it too costly. Instead, using a cheaper, tougher string in the crosses will increase durability and lower the overall cost.
Will it play exactly like a full set bed of natural gut? No. But it's liveable and the reduction in playability doesn't outweigh the cost-saving for a lot of players.
By selecting different hybrid combinations of string, players can fine-tune the playability of their racquet. Comfort, durability, liveliness and control can all be tweaked so you get a blend of the two and for a lot of players that blend is preferable.
Roger Federer's Hybrid String Setup
In some ways, Roger Federer is the grandfather of the hybrid string setup as he's been using it since 2002 with a combination of Wilson natural gut and Luxilon ALU Power Rough.
Federer's exact setup is known as a reverse hybrid as he uses natural gut in his main strings and Luxilon in the cross strings. That setup gives a livelier feel on contact but also gives plenty of spin potential and has paved the way for players like Serena Williams, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov to also use a hybrid string setup.
Having natural gut in the mains means the playability is more comfortable because the emphasis is on the more forgiving strings. It also gives access to more power thanks to the properties of natural gut. The Luxilon in the crosses tempers the power of the natural gut and gives Federer access to more spin and control.
Should You Copy Federer's Hybrid String Setup?
For players who aren't string breakers, don't mind restringing often or prefer a softer feel orientated string bed then you will like Federer's setup.
Of course, durability is not as impressive, but there’s greater feel and Roger Federer doesn’t worry about breaking strings as he gets a freshly strung racquet out the game before new balls.
Personally, I find Federer's setup feels and plays the best of any hybrid I've tried. The polyester tempers the power of the gut and you are still able to impart a lot of spin on the ball without putting too much strain on the arm thanks to joint friendliness of the natural gut.
The only negative is cost, if you use a high end coated gut and a high-end slick poly like Luxilon, like the pre-packaged Champions Choice then the string cost alone is like $40. Alu rough also frays gut quickly due to the ridged surface.
Should I String with a Hybrid Setup?
Before you jump the gun and go buy a set of Wilson's Champion Choice, you need to ask yourself the following:
What do I want to get out of this change in string setup?
If you don't have an idea of what you are looking for, it's difficult to see results and you end up with a bad stringing experience.
I like to think of hybrid stringing as finding a balance and tempering the properties of one string with another and in my experience, most players switch to a hybrid setup in order to increase durability. But any of the below are common reasons:
- Increase the durability of the strings
- Boost the playability of the racquet.
- Change desired string bed stiffness
- Achieve a balance between power and control.
- Increase top spin capability
- Lower the stiffness of a racquet to make it arm friendly
- Reduce the cost of stringing a racquet.
Let's look at the durability angle. If you are wearing through synthetic strings, multifilaments or natural gut quicker than you'd like (or your finances aren't enjoying it) then you will probably look into switching to a polyester string.
Before going pull polyester, you might want to try poly mains with synthetic gut (or whatever you are currently using) in the crosses.
As I mentioned above, the mains do most of the work, so only switching those to polyester might be all you need. Plus, you will still have the power, comfort and feel of the synthetic gut cross strings. You might still break strings, but it should take noticeably longer.
If you're a full polyester player and are starting to feel it on the arm or joints, then mixing your poly mains with a natural gut or soft multifilament will take that harshness away and comfort will increase dramatically.
This is the setup Andy Murray uses with Luxilon in the mains and a natural gut in the crosses. This is a nice setup, but if you aren't having arm problems, then you will want to decide if paying for a premium cross string that isn't adding much in the way of playability is worth it compared to a synthetic gut.
If you have been using a full bed of natural gut and are struggling to find the lines, then you could take Federer's approach and put a polyester string in the crosses. The higher stiffness of the poly reduces the power of the racquet so you gain more control. One thing to be aware of here is with a rough textured polyester the poly will chew through the natural gut quickly.
So should you string hybrid? A hybrid setup really makes sense for a lot of players. Most recreational player will not be able to handle a full set of polyester because of the stiffness and lack of dwell time on the strings. Therefore going polyester in the mains with a synthetic gut or multifilament tends to be the setup that I recommend for the majority of players.
What String Tension Should You String A Hybrid At?
As you can see from Federer's example above, you can vary the tension between strings. The general rule here is the main strings should be strung tighter than cross strings. The theory here is the size of the ‘sweet spot' increases. I don't like the term sweet spot but it's commonly used. For tension variance, aim for 2-3lbs and don't go above 5lbs.
Hybrids Using Different String Gauges
One other hybrid setup is to use two different gauges of the same string. Again this is done to increase durability, comfort, or spin.
An example here could be, you are a huge fan of 17 gauge Technifibre X-One Biphase but it breaks too quickly.
Rather than switching completely straight to a full set of thicker 16 gauge X-One Biphase, put the thicker string in the mains, and keep your preferred 17 in the crosses.
The outcome might be that you get the added durability without a total change in feel.
Pro Players That String With a Hybrid Setup
- Roger Federer: Wilson Natural Gut in the mains and Luxilon ALU Rough in the crosses
- Grigor Dimitrov: Luxilon 4G in the mains and Wilson Natural Gut in the crosses
- Kei Nishikori: Wilson Natural Gut in the mains and Luxilon Element in the crosses
- Serena Williams: Wilson Natural Gut in the mains and Luxilon 4G in the crosses
- Genie Bouchard: RPM Blast in the main and VS Touch in the crosses
- Felix Auger-Aliassime: VS Touch in the mains and RPM Team in the crosses
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: VS Team in the mains and RPM Team in the crosses
Know any more player setups? Let me know in the comments and I will add them in.
Felix Auger Aliassime has VS Touch in the mains and RPM Team in the crosses. It’s his coach that suggested this combination for him. He wanted to bring Felix a dynamic string so he could use his touch more effectively rather than relying solely on raw power. This was a significant move to prepare him for the transition from juniors to ATP where there are more styles of play than he is used to. The hybrid stringing allowed him to take his game to the next level very quickly. François-Xavier Quesse, Babolat
Recommended Hybrid Tennis String Setups for 2020
The popularity and demand for hybrids mean that many string manufacturers sell prepackaged sets. Instead of needing to buy two full sets of different strings and cutting them in half, companies are putting half-sets in one package.
This, of course, makes it much simpler for the experimenting consumer and the stringer. Although do be aware there is a convenience charge here so you do pay bit extra.
There’s a wide variety of hybrid string combinations that can be used, and like I've said on a lot of posts, deciding on the right one for you boils down to personal preference. What works for one player might not work for the next.
This presents one of the drawbacks of hybrids: the string possibilities are endless. With so many types of string on the market, a player can go crazy searching for the perfect combination.
Three Hybrids I Recommend:
Experimenting with hybrid stringing could help you gain an edge on your opponents so if you haven't tried it and feel like your game is missing something, it's worth testing.
As I've said, consider what you need to improve in your game (i.e. more power, more control, less restrings due to breakages, more comfort, etc.), and work with your stringer to produce a hybrid that will deliver it. You may find that hybrid stringing was the missing piece in your tennis puzzle.
Does that mean hybrid stringing is some magic bullet? Of course not. A full bed of synthetic gut works just fine for many players. For advanced players, a full set of polyester can be a better choice.
In fact, the technology advancements mean some polyesters actually feel and respond pretty well these days. Some players are even stringing with two different polys, a rough and a smooth. Not something I've tried but it's on the to-do list.
Are you a fan of hybrid tennis strings? If so, what’s your favourite hybrid combination? Let me know in the comments.