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.

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2015 Year in Review – Big Time Tennis

Our 8th year in business, 2015 was another great year for Big Time Tennis, many thanks to our individual customers, the Wake Forest University men’s and club tennis teams, and opportunities to string at some big tournaments.

Stringer of the Year Plaque

The year started in a very special way, with David being named Tennis Industry Magazine’s “Stringer of the Year” for 2014. To make it even more special, Wake Forest tennis alum David Hopkins accepted the award on David’s behalf.

Hopkins Accepts SOY Plaque

Although we did not match our record number of rackets (reached in 2013), we nearly crossed the 2,000 threshold thanks to steady work form the Wake Forest men’s team (almost 900 rackets) and the opportunity to string some new tournaments:

  • 2015: 1,974
  • 2014: 1,759
  • 2013: 2,149
  • 2012: 1,467
  • 2011: 1,265
  • 2010: 1,171
  • 2009:   750
  • 2008:   251

The Wake Forest men had an outstanding year, and I (David) was excited to be a part of it, including spending nearly two rainy weeks in Waco, Texas at Baylor University working on the MOZI Tennis stringing team.

Mozi Tennis

It was fun to work the tournament on site because I could also see Wake Forest play in the Sweet Sixteen (losing to TCU, alas) and Noah Rubin make his run to the men’s singles final.

WF Team at Baylor Stadium

Selfie delivering rackets to the NCAA men's singles finalist

Selfie delivering rackets to the NCAA men’s singles finalist

Almost immediately after getting home from Waco, the ITF Pro Circuit Futures of Winston-Salem began. I had never strung a Pro Circuit event, and I found it very fascinating, posting a number of blogs about it. Of course we treat all players equally in the stringing room, but with only one customer playing in the final, I was able to support Matija Pecotic, who brought home the championship trophy.

Pecotic

Thanks again to MOZI Tennis, I had the chance to string at the ATP World Tour/WTA Tour CitiOpen in Washington, DC. A highlight was having the chance to string one more racket for the Australian stalwart player and Grand Slam Champion Lleyton Hewitt.

Hewitt Racket

The Yamane family made a big contribution to the MOZI Tennis stringing team at our home town Winston-Salem Open. We even got to meet “The Magician,” Fabrice Santoro who was there coaching. Tournament stringing can be exhausting and stressful, but it is made much easier when you have a great boss, Dustin Tankersley, and get to work with your loved ones.

WSO 201520150820_112351

A final highlight of the year was having the opportunity to string rackets for all of the members of the Mount Tabor High School Girls Tennis Team. I am thankful that their coach, Taylor McDaniel, appreciates the importance of strings to performance. It is the only part of the racket that is supposed to touch the ball after all!

Mount Tabor Rackets

It’s hard to imagine 2016 being as great as 2015, but we are hoping to have the opportunity to exceed our own expectations.

The Economics of Professional Futures Events

When I told people I was stringing at the $15,000 ITF Pro Circuit Futures of Winston-Salem this year, many thought the $15K referred to the winner’s prize money. They were surprised to learn that $15K was the total purse. For both singles and doubles.

ITF Pro Circuit

The prize money breakdown for a $15K ITF Pro Circuit event is as follows:

  • SINGLES PURSE: $11,250
  • Winner: $2,160
  • Finalist: $1,272
  • Semifinalist: $753
  • Quarterfinalist: $438
  • R16: $258
  • R32: $156

So, someone who makes the main draw and loses first round earns $156. Eight of the 32 players in the main draw of the Futures of Winston-Salem were qualifiers. That means they won matches on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in order to qualify. All of them lost their first round main draw matches. So, they earned $156 for 4 days of work.

  • DOUBLES PURSE; $3,750
  • Winning Team: $930
  • Finalists: $540
  • Semifinalists: $324
  • Quarterfinalists: $192
  • R16: $108

There is no qualifying for doubles, so all 16 teams playing doubles are in the main draw. The 8 teams that lost in the first round split $108. If you don’t have a calculator handy that is $54 per person.

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Consider the economics of the tournament winner, Matija Pecotic. He won $2,160, but because he is Croatian the tournament director had to withhold 30% taxes. So his prize money check was $1,512.

I don’t know the full details of his expenses, but he arrived in Winston-Salem on Sunday and left the following Sunday, spending 7 days in town. A possible scenario is as follows:

  • Hotel: 7 nights at $80 = $560
  • Food: 7 days at $40 = $280
  • Stringing: 15 rackets at $16 = $240
  • Transportation: $350
  • TOTAL: $1,430

So, the winner of the tournament may have netted less than $100 for his week’s work.

That means, by far, as the stringer of the tournament I made more than any of the players (second in income for the week only to the ITF Pro Circuit tournament supervisor, who made 50% more than me).

Of course, I also worked more hours than anyone at the tournament other than the tournament director (who really got the short end of the stick). I was on site for 10 days (from 11am the day before qualifying started through the conclusion of the tournament). I arrived two hours before the first match every match day, which was 8:00am for the first 7 days and 9:00am for the semifinals and finals. Even though I was not stringing the whole time, I was on-site and on call for 111 hours over 10 days, averaging just over 1 racket per hours I was on site.

So, I earned $16 an hour. Not bad, but like the players in the tournament, not enough to live on. I string the tournament to supplement my main income and because I enjoy stringing a few tournaments a year for the experience. The players enter Futures events not primarily for the money, but for the ATP ranking points. The money they lose playing in Futures events are an investment in their future as professional tennis players.

By accumulating a few points at a Futures event they can potentially work their way up to Challenger Level events, which pay even more prize money and ranking points, and then to the ATP World Tour, the major leagues of professional tennis, where a player can actually making a living.

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.

Matija Pecotic – Inaugural ITF Pro Circuit $15K Futures of Winston-Salem Singles Champion

Congratulations to Matija Pecotic, who defeated Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-3 in the singles final of the Inaugural ITF Pro Circuit $15K Futures of Winston-Salem at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex on Sunday, June 7, 2015.

FuturesWS2015 Singles Champion Trophy 2

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FuturesWS2015 Game Set Match Thanks 2

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