Stringing at Different Levels of Professional Tennis

Following the action at the French Open while stringing at an a $15K ITF Pro Circuit Futures event, as I have noted previously, brings out some interesting contrasts between different levels of professional tennis.

In the best of 5 set matches at the French Open, Stanislas Wawinka and Roger Federer have 10 rackets strung per match. For one match this year, Kei Nishikori reportedly had 9 rackets strung before the match and another 9 rackets strung while he was playing.

Nishikori Rackets French Open

At the ATP World Tour 500 Series Citi Open in Washington, DC that I have worked for the past several years, Nishikori would string 4 rackets for every match, Milos Raonic 6, and Marcos Baghdatis 5, for example. At the ATP World Tour 250 Series Winston-Salem Open, were commonly saw main draw players string 3-4 rackets per match.

WSO 2013 (6)

Although I only have experience stringing at one ITF Pro Circuit Futures event, the contrast to the ATP World Tour is striking. Only 16 of 56 players in the Futures qualifying had racket strung on-site, including just 1 of the 6 seeded players in qualifying. Of 32 players in the main draw, only 20 had rackets strung on-site. Three of 8 seeded players did not have any rackets strung during the tournament, all of whom made the quarterfinals. Consequently, I only strung rackets for 4 of 8 quarterfinalists, 2 of 4 semifinalists, and 1 of the 2 finalists (including the champion, Matija Pecotic!).

FuturesWS2015 Pecotic and Stringer 3

This is not to say that the players who are not stringing on-site are not stringing rackets. Some players I know are traveling with portable stringing machines like the Pro Stringer.

I also know that some players are getting inconsistent tensions stringing for themselves. One coach complained that his player cannot swing out on balls because of the inconsistency of his racket stringing, and the player turned in two rackets after he won a couple of rounds and made some money.

Another player told me he strung his own rackets for practice, but had me string his match rackets. This is a cost effective strategy, but not an optimal choice because you want to practice how you will play.

I also know that in some locations – Nigeria and Egypt, for example – the “official stringers” do not produce consistent results either. Indeed, we have heard players at ATP World Tour events complain about the quality of the stringing at some tournaments they play.

So, I don’t begrudge players who chose not to use my services at the Futures of Winston-Salem. At the same time, I believe those players who had me string rackets for them got what they paid for. I know the tournament champion, who was the top stringer for the week, felt so.

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Scenes from the Professional Tennis Futures Tour – ITF Pro Circuit Winston-Salem

Today is the 5th day of the ITF Pro Circuit $15K Futures of Winston-Salem, including three days of qualifying. 7 first round singles matches and all 8 first round doubles matches were played yesterday, and 9 first round singles matches and the doubles quarterfinals are scheduled for today.

Having strung at ATP World Tour 500 level (Citi Open in Washington) and 250 level (Winston-Salem Open) events, the contrast with the Futures circuit is striking.

It was interesting this morning to see individuals playing for a few ATP ranking points and a few hundred dollars in the lounge watching Nadal and Djokovic playing in the French Open quarterfinals for hundreds of ranking points and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Scence from Futures of WS

Other notable contrasts:

*Although I am stringing plenty of rackets, there are a number of main draw players — including 4 of 8 seeds — who had no rackets strung for their first round matches. I know a couple of players are traveling with their own portable stringing machines, including one who forgot his cutters so stops in every day to cut the tails on his strings. This contrasts sharply with a Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Jurgen Melzer, and the like who will string 4-6 rackets for every match at Citi Open or Winston-Salem Open.

*ATP World Tour string brand of choice: Luxilon. ITF Pro Circuit Futures string brand of choice: Solinco. This is no doubt due in large part to Solinco’s aggressive efforts to gain a foothold with top junior players and colleges (as noted in my previous post on the NCAA tournament).

*On the ATP World Tour, players have access to player dining on site for lunch and dinner, snacks, and coolers full of bottled water and sports drinks. At this Futures event at least, there is no player dining (unless you count the vending machine) and drinks must be paid for.

*On the ATP World Tour, the official hotel in Washington was the W and in Winston-Salem the Marriott. At this Futures event, the official hotel is the Winston-Salem Hotel and Spa, formerly a Ramada.

*On the ATP World Tour there are hotel shuttles and courtesy vehicles to transport players to and from the airport and hotels. At this Futures event, players have arrived from the airport in taxis, and my wife gave one player a ride to his hotel when she saw him walking down the street carrying his racket bag and recognized him from the stringing room.

Just as I was finishing this post, I was asked by the Tournament Director to serve as the “acting tournament director” because he had to go out to buy lunch for the tournament officials. My only official act as acting tournament director: I sold two Gatorades.

Still, at the end of the day, there is tennis. That it is not on television doesn’t make it any less exciting. To me at least.

Great 2012, Looking Forward to an Even Better 2013

2012 was another great year for Big Time Tennis, many thanks to our customers and opportunities to string at some big tournaments. For the fourth straight year we increased the total number of rackets strung:

  • 2012: 1,467
  • 2011: 1,265
  • 2010: 1,171
  • 2009:   750
  • 2008:   251

Once again, the Wake Forest University men’s tennis team was the backbone of our business. Just over half of the rackets we strung in 2012 were for the Wake men. We are proud of our affiliation with Wake tennis and happy to do our part to keep the team moving forward, even on a 20 racket night like the one pictured below from the spring season.

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The second largest group of rackets came from three tournaments, two of which we have written about: the NCAA Division I tournament in Athens, Georgia, the combined ATP World Tour and WTA Citi Open in Washington, DC, and our hometown ATP World Tour event, the Winston-Salem Open (motto: Big Time Tennis, Served Southern Style!). We did almost 500 rackets at these three tournaments. Even the junior member of Big Time Tennis had a chance to chip in at the Winston-Salem Open.

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We learn so much stringing in tournament settings, where people’s livelihood’s are dependent on their equipment and nothing less than perfection is acceptable. We have said many times how much we have learned from Jay Lewandowski, owner of Game.Set.Match tennis, who hired us to work at these tournaments. At both the Citi Open and Winston-Salem Open we also benefited from working with Dustin Tankersley, a member of the Wilson stringing team, who is in Australia right now working at the Oz Open. In Winston-Salem, we also enjoyed working alongside RPNY stringer  Benoit Mauguin, who as you can see in the photo below was personally responsible for Andy Roddick’s rackets on tour.

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We try to bring the professional tournament stringing attitude to every racket we string. Although non-Wake Forest and non-tournament rackets are just a fraction of all of the rackets we string in any year, we value those clients very much and appreciate their entrusting their rackets to us. We truly see them as clients rather than just customers.

Having strung nearly 1,500 rackets in 2012, we begin to wonder what our total capacity is annually. But believing there is still room for growth, we have made a significant capital investment recently, adding to our arsenal a new stringing machine, the Wilson Baiardo (pictured below), to go along with our Babolat Star 5.

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Thanks to everyone for a great 2012. Here’s looking forward to an even better 2013!

Part 5: ATP World Tour and WTA Tour Citi Open Stringing Reflections

Saturday is Day 11 of stringing for me and the men’s semi-final and women’s final day. Even though there are only a few matches, we are still busy throughout the day because at this point many players will practice earlier in the day, then turn in their rackets for stringing after practice and before their matches. There is also always the possibility of a player sending a racket off court to be strung. Dustin flew back to Dallas this morning and Alan came in to string one racket and spend the rest of the day with his son. So, it was just Jay and myself. I did three rackets for Mardy Fish, three for Sam Querrey, two for Tommy Haas, and two for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for an even 10 rackets.

I had the opportunity to watch most of the Querrey vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov semi-final match and the Pavlyuchenkova vs. Magdalena Rybarikova women’s final, which was a nice break from the stringing room. In the picture below you can see Pavlyuchenkova in the near court and Rybarikova in the far court.

Part 4: ATP World Tour and WTA Tour Citi Open Stringing Reflections

Reflections from days 8-10 of tournament:

When matches get underway, the possibility of a player sending off an “on court” racket – a racket that a player is requesting be restrung during their match – grows. The player could have broken a string, or sometimes they want to make a tension adjustment, or sometimes they want to have a fresh racket in the event they split sets.

When the racket comes into the stringing room, usually brought by a ball kid or sometimes a coach, the intensity in the room kicks up just a little bit. You want to get the racket re-strung and back out on court as quickly as possible. You can only return the racket to a player on a changeover, so if you don’t get the racket out before the players change sides, it will delay the process for two more games.

15-18 minutes is a good aspirational time to get the racket strung and back to court. In that time we need to cut out the string, pull new string, mount the frame, string the racket, and straighten the strings, then stencil, label, and bag the racket before running it back out to court.

Jay and Dustin are much faster stringers than me, so if an “on court” racket comes in when their machine is open, they do it.  One time this tournament a racket came in from one of the players I had been stringing – Paul-Henri Mathieu – and I had to jump on it. A Wilson frame with an 18×20 string pattern and all poly string. I went as fast as I could comfortably go and got the racket back in a good time. A little adrenaline rush in the middle of the day and I got to see a few points of tennis while I was waiting to hand the racket to a ball boy!

We are now over the peak of stringing, and my numbers will go down every day from here to until the end of the tourney. Specifically:

Day 8: 15 rackets

Day 9: 15

Day 10: 8