Rafa Nadal Changes Strings for 2016

New Season, New Strings

Over the past few weeks, there has been some discussion about the strings that Rafael Nadal has been using in 2016. During the International Premier Tennis League in December, Nadal tried a few different strings and has decided to switch away from Babolat RPM Blast 135 (15L gauge) to Luxilon Big Banger Original 130 (16 gauge).

Only Rafa will really know the reasons for the change and it should also be noted that any changes to his game will be minimal; players of his calibre are able to play with anything. One thing is for sure: minimal differences can often be the difference between winning and losing at the highest level.

Rafa Nadal at this years Qutar tournament in Doha.

Rafa’s string selection over his career has varied from Duralast, Pro Hurricane Tour and most recently RPM Blast. All of the strings were produced by his equipment manufacturer Babolat. One interesting thing about this change is that he moved away from a Babolat string to Big Banger Original, which is manufactured by the Belgian string brand Luxilon.

Since we can't be sure why Nadal is making this change, we will share with you some of the differences between Nadal's old string, Babolat RPM Blast 135 (15L gauge) and his new string, Big Banger Original 130 (16 gauge). We will also try to explain how these differences could impact his game.


Composition/Construction

Both Nadal's previous string, RPM Blast and his new string, Big Banger Original are known as co-polyester strings, meaning that they are primarily made of polyester but have added nylon to increase the string's elasticity and comfort.

Both strings also have a coating on the outside of the string that reduces friction between the main and cross strings. This allows the strings to glide across each other more easily, creating more "snapback" and increased spin potential.

However, where these strings differ significantly is in their shape. RPM Blast has a multi-sided (8 sided to be exact) construction. This multi-sided construction gives the string sharp edges which grip the ball and create more spin potential. Since Big Banger Original is a more conventional round shape string and thus will not "bite" into the ball as much, it is possible that Nadal thought the the thinner gauge of the Big Banger Original would offset some of the spin potential he would lose from not having the multi-sided shape of the RPM Blast. 


Stiffness

The other significant difference will be in the stiffness of the strings. Babolat RPM Blast is recognized as being one of the stiffer co-polyester strings on the market. While it is hard to put an exact number on string stiffness, the United States Racquet Stringing Association lists RPM Blast 130 (note this is a slightly thinner gauge than Rafa's RPM Blast 135) as having a stiffness rating of 280 lbs/in, whereas Luxilon Big Banger Original 130 is considerably more flexible with a stiffness rating of  249 lbs/in. A more flexible string should allow for more power, as well as more feel. It should also mean a decrease in string-bed shock and vibration. This increase in comfort should definitely be a long term benefit of the switch. 


Thickness

Another noticeable difference between the strings is the thickness. The Babolat strings that Rafa used in the past have all been 1.35 mm thick (15L gauge), whereas the the Luxilon Big Banger Orignal is 1.30 mm thick (16 gauge). The strings thickness will have an immediate impact on spin potential, string stiffness and elasticity. All things being equal, a thinner string will be able to impart more spin, as the string can "bite" into the ball more, which can increase spin potential. We all know Rafa had little trouble imparting spin on the ball with his old RPM Blast 1.35 mm string. However, as noted above, Rafa might believe that the increased spin potential from the thinner gauge will counter balance some the spin potential he will lose from the fact that the new string is round and not octagonal shaped.

Analysis of String gauges. 

Another impact a thinner string will have is on string-bed stiffness. A thinner string will be more elastic and therefore will make the string-bed more flexible. A more flexible string-bed should allow Nadal to get a little more "pop" and also a touch more feel.

Conclusion

Again, we can't be sure exactly why Nadal chose to switch strings or what effect, if any, it will ultimately have on his game. We do know that in choosing Big Banger Original Rafa has selected a string that has been around for more than 25 years and has been tried and tested by the some of the best players in the world both past and present.

What impact do you think the strings will have on his game? Comment below or share your opinion on our social media platforms.


 

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