String Patterns for Tennis Racquets

A tennis string pattern refers to the number of strings in a tennis racquet. A string pattern is always in the format of ‘Mains x Crosses’. The mains refer to the strings that run vertically from the tip of the frame down to the throat while the crosses refer to the strings that run horizontally from one side of the frame to the other.

When discussing a string pattern, we always refer to the mains first followed by the crosses. For example, if the string pattern is 16x19 (16 by 19), this indicates there are 16 main strings and 19 crossing strings.

Open vs Dense String Pattern

Depending on the number of mains and crosses in a tennis racquet, the string pattern can be considered either open or closed/dense. Racquets with fewer strings are considered more open because the spacing in between each string is larger than that of a closed string pattern that has tighter opening in between in each string.

Below you will find some characteristics of how the two different types of string patterns will affect your play style:

Open Pattern (16x18 or 16x19)

  • More spin
  • More power
  • Higher launch angle on groundstrokes
  • More forgiving
  • Less durable

Closed/Dense Pattern (18x20)

  • More control
  • More precision
  • Lower shot trajectory
  • Firmer feel/less forgiving
  • More durable

16x19 String Pattern

The most popular and common string pattern amongst all the racquets on the market today is the 16x19 string pattern. This pattern is more open than the 18x20 which gives you both more spin and power in today’s quick play style. This pattern will allow you to keep your opponent deep in the court with the high launch angle and easier access to spin to get ahead in points. Additionally, this string pattern is more ideal for players that have elbow or shoulder pain because the open string bed is much more forgiving on the arm.

However, a drawback of this type of pattern is due to the open string spacing and increased string movement, the durability is far less than that of a closed or dense string pattern. Meaning, it’s much more difficult to manage the tension in the strings which causes strings to wear down and break easier so you will have to get them restrung more frequently.

Some of the most popular racquets on the market today with this pattern are both the Babolat Pure Drive and Pure Aero as well as the Wilson Pro Staff RF97 used by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

18x20 String Pattern

The 18x20 string pattern is also a very popular set up and is used by more advanced level players. This string pattern offers players with more control of your shots which results in a more stable shot that has a lower shot trajectory. This means you will have more precision and feel when making contact with the ball and gives players with ‘flatter’ balls (less spin) more directional control for advanced level players including a lot of the top pro players on the tour.

With the popularity of today's play style being so focused on spin, this string pattern is not as popular as it once was and is also far-less forgiving as an open string pattern. Having said that, if you are a newer player learning the basics of tennis, we would recommend an open string pattern as a denser string pattern is much heavier on the arm and might cause problems for potential injury to either the wrist or elbow.

Some of the pro players on the ATP Tour that use this string pattern are Alexander Zverev (Head Gravity Pro), Dominic Thiem (Babolat Pure Strike) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (Wilson Blade).

In-Between Patterns

Now that we’ve covered the main two string patterns, there are several ‘uncommon’ and hybrid-like patterns that you may see. Some of the more popular in-between patterns that you may come across are 18x19 and 16x20. These patterns aim to provide you with the best of both worlds by combining features of an open and dense string pattern in the same racquet. Both of these in-between patterns make up for either spin or control depending on which way you look at the pattern.

For instance, the 16x20 is just the 16x19 (open pattern designed for spin) except with one more cross, or is an 18x20 with two less mains which tightens up the sweet spot and allows the strings to snap back a bit more than the control pattern of an 18x20. Similarly, the 18x19 pattern is the same as the more open pattern of a 16x19 but has two additional mains which again, tightens up the sweet spot and also opens up the string spacing as it has one less cross string to allow for more spin than the traditional 18x20. Racquets with these in-between patterns will be a bit denser in the sweet spot and open up towards the edges of the frame.

The most common forms of these in-between patterns that you will see on the ATP Pro Tour are Carlos Alcaraz (Babolat Pure Aero VS 16x20) and Novak Djokovic (Head Speed Pro 18x19).

Which string pattern is best for your game?

There is no one racquet or string pattern that you can view as the ‘silver bullet’ because there is such a wide range available in the marketplace. All of these racquets and string patterns have different characteristics and they all can play differently based on each individual players’ play style.

The biggest takeaway from all of this is that if you are a player that looks to maximize spin and power, a more open string pattern with a wider frame beam would be the best racquet for you. Conversely, if you are looking to have more control and precision to your game, you are going to want to use a closed/dense string pattern paired with a thinner beam on the racquet frame.

I hope this guide to tennis racquet string patterns helps you pick the best ‘weapon’ of choice to take the court and get the most out of your game!