Testing the Pro Stringer Portable Stringing Machine

Professional stringing is all about accuracy and consistency. The strings need to be installed in the racket at the desired tension, and that needs to be repeated racket after racket after racket. This allows players to have confidence that when they hit the ball, they will get the result they expect over and over and over.

Professional tennis players must contend with different stringers and stringing machines every week, introducing some natural variation into the consistency/accuracy equation. But the differences are magnified because some of the stringers on tour use questionable techniques and some of the machines pull questionable tensions.

This is especially true of – though not limited to – the lower levels of professional tennis. It is a sort of insult to injury situation when players are not even earning enough to cover their expenses and are receiving inaccurate and/or inconsistent for their hard earned money.

So, even though I get paid as an “on site” stringer at professional tournaments, I completely understand why some players would look for a better, more affordable “off site” option. As I noted in a previous post, Rubin Statham and his brother spent some $17,000 on stringing in their first year on tour, and found the quality of stringing, especially in Asia, abysmal (my term, not his).

Statham’s need for good quality, consistent, and affordable stringing led him to design and bring to market the Pro Stringer Platinum, a 4 pound, electronic, constant pull stringing machine that fits in a small travel bag.

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I was fortunate to meet Statham at the ITF Pro Circuit Winston-Salem Futures last month and he was nice enough to allow me to test his machine.

The package consists of a swiveling mount that attaches to a table top, a tensioner, two flying clamps, and a power supply that is convertible to be used anywhere in the world.

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The Pro Stringer is easy to set up and get the frame mounted on. Because it clamps to a table top, I actually ended up stringing the racket sitting down because it was too low to stand up and use. This took a bit of getting used to, but could also be a benefit for the player stringing their own rackets at the end of a long day.

The two point mounting system held the racket securely. For most professional stringers a 6 point mounting system is preferred to reduce stress on the frame, but let’s not forget that the Prince Neos has been used to string millions of rackets over the years with a two point mounting system.

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Rubin Statham demonstrating how to mount the frame using my Pacific X Feel Tour

My test racket was one I have strung many times in the past year on both my Babolat Star 5 and Wilson Baiardo machines: A Wilson Pro Staff 97 RF with Pacific X Cite 1.25mm string at 55 pounds. I have a good idea what the stringbed should feel like after installation: 39 units of dynamic tension measured using an ERT 300 tennis computer.

I first used my scale to test the calibration of the Pro Stringer’s tensioner. I found that it initially pulled to the 55 pounds reference tension, but then quickly feel back to 50 pounds. That is not optimal, but if it consistently pulls to 50 pounds when set at 55 pounds reference tension (which it seems to do), then I could easily adjust for that.

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A unique aspect of the Pro Stringer is that you move the tensioning unit itself, setting it up against the frame and then running the string into the rotary tension head and pressing the tension button. Because the tensioning unit has to be as tall as the racket, the Pro Stinger has only 180 degree not 360 rotation (like the Prince Neos and unlike the Star 5 and Baiardo). So, I had to get used to swinging the racket back and forth to string. Statham also showed me how to make the process faster by not only swinging the racket but also tilting and moving the tensioning unit at the same time. With some practice, I think that would really speed up the process.

Using my own starting clamp in addition to the supplied flying clamps I was able to install the mains in just under 9 minutes. I never use flying clamps so this was a bit cumbersome for me but I got better with them as I went.

Stringing the crosses also took longer than normal (about 15 minutes) because of the need to set the tensioning unit against the frame and also because the cross-beam on which the frame mounts sit is so close to the string bed. There is less than an inch of clearance so you have to weave to the middle of the frame and then make an awkward (for me) transition through the middle mains and then you can continue onto the other side of the frame.

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I practiced once on the machine with my Pacific X Feel Tour before doing my test

I took a couple of additional minutes to tie off the crosses and use my setting awl to straighten the strings, both of which were harder because the frame mount is naturally not as sturdy as on a 150 pound machine.

In the end, the dynamic tension of the stringbed as measured by the ERT 300 was 31. Although the conversion from DT to pounds of tension is not perfect, the DT of 31 suggests that the stringbed came out about 10 pounds looser on the Pro Stringer than on the Star 5 or Baiardo. As already noted, about 5 pounds of this was due to the tensioner’s calibration being off. The other 5 pounds was likely due to the quality of and my clumsiness with the flying clamps.

Overall, I liked the Pro Stringer a lot. It does what it does – provides players with a portable electronic, constant pull stringing machine — as well as any machine I know. At a cost of US$790, it will easily pay for itself in a year’s time or less for a serious professional who restrings as often as they should. If I played tennis for money and had to travel a lot I would definitely get one. It’s also a good option for traveling junior tennis players as well as underfunded college teams.

That said, there are a number of improvements I would like to see to the Pro Stringer. Setting the tension on the machine uses an analog dial (like the Neos) rather than a digital display (like the Star 5/Baiardo). That was tough to use with my old, bad eyesight. Better clamps would be great – something like the well-regarded Stringway flying clamp. More room between the cross brace and the frame would be very helpful with weaving the crosses. There is no table lock, so I don’t know how hard it would be to string a Prince O Port racket. I guess you would use the banana/boomerang tool, but I have never had to do that with my other machines’ table locks. Non-essential but convenient options on the tensioning unit would be a pre-stretch option and a knot over-tension option. We use those frequently during ATP Tour events.

I don’t know the status of the project, but in discussing these issues with Statham he indicated that a new version of the Pro Stringer is in production which will incorporate many of these changes. I look forward to giving the new model a try when it is available.

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String Loose! Examining String Tensions at Pro Circuit $25K Winston-Salem Futures

For various reasons I hope to write about in the future, most amateur players string their rackets too tight.

Last year I reported that the average tension for the rackets I strung at the NCAA tournament and the Winston-Salem Futures was 53 pounds, compared to 55.5 pounds for my regular customers in 2015 (who I have worked with to string looser).

Machine at WS Futures

Of course, there is no single “correct” tension for any particular string, racket, or player — or combination thereof.The loosest racket I strung at the 2016 Winston-Salem Futures was 40 pounds (Dennis Nevolo) and the tightest was 28.5 kilos (62.7 pounds) with a 10% prestretch of the monofilament string (Stefan Frljanic).

Still, it is worth noting that the average string tension at the 2016 Winston-Salem Futures was down 2 pounds from last year to 51 pounds! Only 2 players strung in the 60s, while 15 strung in the 40s.

My regular customers are down from 55.5 to 54.2 so far this year, so hopefully my “String Loose” campaign will continue to take hold among recreational players as the loose stringing trend has among professionals.

Stencil at WS Futures

Stringing Report for 2016 Pro Circuit $25K Futures of Winston-Salem

At the 2015 ITF Pro Circuit $15K Futures of Winston-Salem last year, I strung rackets for 34 different players. The number increased to 47 different players in the 2016 tournament (out of 83 unique players in the singles and doubles). The total number of rackets I did for the tournament also increased from 112 in 2015 to 139 in 2016.

So, the additional $10K in prize money seemed to make some difference in players’ willingness to pay for on-site stringing (although I heard the numbers for this year’s Tulsa $25K the week following Winston-Salem were lower than the 2015 Winston-Salem Futures).

My 100th racket of the tournament: Reilly Opelka's Wilson

My 100th racket of the tournament: Reilly Opelka’s Wilson

Last year the top stringer was the tournament champion, Matija Pecotic, with 15 rackets. This year’s champion, Sekou Bangoura, only strung 7 rackets.

Top stringers this year were three players tied with 8 rackets each: Jon Ho and Dennis Uspensky, both Wake Forest players who I have tried to teach the importance of racket stringing, and Emil Reinberg of the University of Georgia, who fought his way through qualifying and won two rounds in the main draw for 5 total matches.

Like last year, almost all players (42 of 47) used all monofilament strings, including two who used hybrids of two different monofilaments. Two players used a traditional hybrid of monofilament mains and synthetic gut/multifilament crosses, and one player used natural gut mains and monofilament crosses (something we see much more commonly on the ATP World Tour).

Winston-Salem Futures String Check

As with last year, the three most common string brands were Solinco, Luxilon, and Babolat. Interestingly, their “market shares” were almost exactly the same this year (last year’s share in parentheses):

  1. Solinco – 38% (38%)
  2. Luxilon – 22% (21%)
  3. Babolat – 10% (12%)
  4. Wilson –5.3%
  5. Pacific, Diadem – 4% (6% each)
  6. Tecnifibre – 3% (3%)
  7. MSV, Kirschbaum, L-Tec, Prince – 2%

(Note that 2% = 1 racket)

Bag Check: $25K Pro Circuit Winston-Salem Futures

At last year’s $15k Winston-Salem Futures, three racket companies dominated among the players. Together, Babolat, Head, and Wilson accounted for 81% of all the rackets I strung (recall not all players in the tournament strung with me).

WS Futures Rackets

At this year’s tournament, I saw much the same in the stringing room in terms of overall market share by the big 3, but a different ranking within them:

  1. Wilson – 45%
  2. Babolat – 34%
  3. Head and Yonex – 6% each
  4. Prince – 4%
  5. Tecnifibre and Pro Kennex – 2% each (i.e., one racket)

Babolat remained steady at 1/3 of rackets (same as last year), but Wilson overtook Babolat as the #1 racket, riding the success of the Blade.

I am really surprised to see Head not making more inroads with Djokovic and Murray as key endorsers and the Prestige being a classic player’s frame, but perhaps the overabundance of American players in the tournament (and paucity of Europeans) explains Head’s low numbers.

It’s good to see more male players using Yonex. I used to sell Yonex rackets and they were far superior to the big 3 in my opinion. The rise of Wawrinka and Kyrigos to replace Hewitt and Nalbandian is good for the company.

Semi-Final Saturday at Winston-Salem Futures

We are down to four players here at the ITF Pro Circuit/USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series Winston-Salem Futures. As each of the semi-finalists only strings one racket a day, It’s going to be slow here for me today and tomorrow.

Yesterday, Georgia Bulldog Emil Reinberg’s Cinderella story came to an end in a tough 3 set lost to top seed Sekou Bangoura. It will be interesting to watch his progress as the summer goes along.

People used to say — and I actually still say — that John McEnroe and anyone is the world’s best doubles team. Virginia’s Thai-Son Kwiatkowski is staking a claim for that title on the Futures circuit,having won the Charlottesville Futures doubles crown last week with his teammate Mac Styslinger and teaming up with recent Illinois grad Jared Hiltzik to win the doubles this week.

Hiltzik and Kwiatkowski

In the singles, there were no upsets in yesterday’s quarterfinals, and four seeds have made it through to the semis:

  • Sekou Bangoura – Current #271 — Age 24 — Career high singles ranking: 271
  • Darian King – Current #274 – Age 24 — Career high singles ranking: 193
  • Peter Polansky – Current #363 — Age 28 — Career high singles ranking: 122
  • Alex Kuznetsov – Current #399 – Age 29 — Career high singles ranking: 120

Although only one of the four played college tennis — Bangoura at Florida — their ages show that there are many years of professional tennis to be played for those who choose to play college tennis.