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)

Dealing with Bad Stringing on Tour

I have been fortunate enough to string a variety of different tournaments, from the ATP 500 Citi Open in Washington, DC to the USTA 12s National Clay Courts in Winston-Salem to USTA Adult League tournaments, and various points in between.

One commonality across all levels of play is the badly strung tennis rackets I see coming into the stringing rooms.

Racket brought to stringing room at ATP 250 Winston-Salem Open

Racket brought to stringing room at ATP 250 Winston-Salem Open

I have seen a Top 50 players come to Washington from South America with distorted frames. A player at the ATP 250 Winston-Salem Open complaining about the inconsistent stringing they got at other 250s in Europe. One year a Wake Forest player had his rackets strung at the Edwardsville Futures with the monofilament mains and synthetic gut crosses reversed. I see junior players’ rackets with misweaves, and rackets with “free” stringing from Tennis Warehouse (which allegedly employs USRSA Master Racquet Technicians) with loose knots and crooked strings (sometimes you get what you pay for).

Bad stringing is so common that I started a “stringing and racket fails” album on my Flickr site.

Reversed mains and crosses at the Edwardsville Futures

Reversed mains and crosses at the Edwardsville Futures

Having written about the difficult economics of the entry level of professional tennis, I find it particularly offensive to hear about guys playing ITF Pro Circuit Futures events and paying $20 a racket for substandard stringing.

Rubin Statham experienced this first hand. In his first year on tour he and his brother spent some $17,000 on stringing and found the quality of stringing, especially in Asia, abysmal (my term, not his).

To say that necessity is the mother of invention is a cliché, but like all clichés there is an element of truth in it.

Statham’s need for good quality, consistent, and affordable stringing led him to design and bring to market what he claims is the world’s smallest and lightest stringing machine: the Pro Stringer Platinum. At 4 pounds and fitting in a small bag, I have no reason to doubt him.

Pro Stringer Platinum

I met Statham this week at the ITF Pro Circuit Winston-Salem Futures and he let me give his Pro Stringer a try. In my next post, I will give my review of it.

 

Another Difference Between the ATP World Tour and ITF Pro Circuit

ITF Pro Circuit Stringing Room Interaction

Player: I have 2 rackets for stringing.

Stringer: Great, when do you need them?

Player: Can I get 1 by tomorrow?

ATP World Tour Stringing Room Interaction

Player: I have 2 rackets for stringing.

Stringer: Great, when do you need them?

Player: I am head to practice now. Can you bring them out to court?

Panda Bag WSO 2012

ITF Pro Circuit / USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series Winston-Salem Futures

Racket stringing, even in a tournament situation, is a lot like the movie “Ground Hog Day” (where Bill Murray gets trapped in a reality in which every day he wakes up and repeats the previous day).

Take racket in, cut strings out, mount frame, set tension, install strings, stencil . . . repeat . . . repeat . . . repeat . . . 10 or 20 or 30 or N times.

USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series

This week I am back stringing at the ITF Pro Circuit USA F18 Futures of Winston-Salem, which has been upgraded from a $15K to a $25K event as part of the USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series.

Last year was the first time I strung a futures level tournament, so I wrote quite a few blog posts about the experience.

I especially enjoyed working for and getting to know last year’s winner Matija Pecotic, in no small part because he appreciates the importance of what good stringing brings to the competitive table. I was happy to see that he rode the success he had in Winston-Salem to a career high ATP World Tour ranking of #206 near the end of 2015.

Pecotic

I’m not sure (yet) who will be this year’s Matija Pecotic, but I do have some observations about the stringing so far.

Of the 52 players in the first round of qualifying, only 15 had rackets strung on-site (less than 30%). However, of those 15 players, 11 won their matches (a .773 winning percentage).

Of the 4 who lost, 2 lost to players who also had their rackets strung. So, ignoring those 4, of 11 the players who had rackets strung on site and played guys who did not have rackets strung, 9 won their first round qualifying matches – a .818 winning percentage.

Of course, correlation does not equal causation. Did they play better because they had their rackets strung for the match, or do they have their rackets strung because they are better players? I don’t have data to answer that, and I’m not sure any professional tennis player would want to be part of a controlled experiment to find out.

But I do know what people for whom money is not an issue do to maximize their performance: they play matches with freshly strung rackets.

I understand the economics of tennis don’t permit every player to use professional stringing services every day. I have been on the paying end of junior tennis and am still recovering from it (I don’t string rackets for fun). And I wrote about the tough economic realities of a $15K futures event last year.

But the cliché “penny wise, pound foolish” exists for a reason. The only part of a tennis player’s equipment that is supposed to touch the ball is the strings.