No, it’s not the latest skateboarding trick. A reverse hybrid is a racquet stringing method that has gained popularity since Roger Federer started using it a decade ago.
Classic hybrid stringing is a common practice in the game today. It involves using a more durable material in the main (vertical) strings and a more playable, feel-oriented string in the crosses. It initially began as a way to extend string life, but it has now become a way for pros and recreational players to manufacture a combination of controlled spin, power and playability.
In the early 2000s, Federer became one of the first players to employ the reverse hybrid method, which inserts the more playable string (usually natural gut) in the mains and the more durable, spin oriented string (usually polyester-based) in the crosses. The result is a livelier feel on contact and increased spin potential. Serena Williams, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov are just a few players who have made the switch to the reverse hybrid, but not everyone is such a big fan, explained Wilson Racquet Sports global tour manager, Ron Rocchi.
“A lot of players tried [the reverse hybrid] when Roger started becoming really successful with it, but the vast majority went back to their original setup,” Rocchi said. “These players are so ultra-sensitive to what the racquet is telling them on the strings, even changing from the 16-gauge strings to the (thinner) 17-gauge string is a big difference. The average consumer probably couldn’t tell the difference.”
In addition, the average consumer may not like the fact that the extra playability comes with a price. With the main strings more prone to breakage, the reverse hybrid strategy could mean more frequent restringing – an issue that doesn’t concern tour players.
“Players [at the US Open] are going to restring a couple of racquets on a practice day,” Rocchi said. “Then they will string six or eight for the match. They’ll just keep doing that until they are finished with the tournament.”
Of the 4,500 racquets the Wilson squad projects it will string before the end of the US Open, Rocchi says only a small percentage of those will be strung with hybrid setups. Of those, around 50 percent will use the reverse hybrid combination, proving that following in Federer’s footsteps is a negligible factor when it comes to racquet customization.