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.

Were Stanislas Wawrinka’s Rackets “Right” in the French Open Semifinal?

During today’s French Open semifinal, Stanislas Wawrinka was rolling through a set and a half against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga then made a comeback taking the second set to a tie breaker. Wawrinka changed to a new racket for the tie breaker, a fact noted by Tennis Channel commentator Jim Courier. When Wawrinka hit a few duds and went down 0-6 in the breaker, Courier repeatedly commented that Wawrinka was not comfortable with his racket.

As a professional racket stringer, I am particularly attuned to comments like this. Because the responsibility of a professional racket stringer is to install the player’s string accurately and consistently, any suggestion that the racket is not “right” is a suggestion that the racket technician has not done his or her job correctly.

But Wawrinka is a customer of Priority 1, which customizes and strings rackets for players such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Gael Monfils, Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and others.

Wawrinka French Open Rackets

Photo of Federer’s and Wawrinka’s French Open rackets from Priority 1 Twitter Feed

I am confident that all 10 of the rackets that Wawrinka took to court with him today were as he asked for them. All the way down to the custom molded handles Priority 1 makes for him.

Wawrinka Handles P1

Photo from Priority 1 Twitter Feed

So maybe the racket was “right” but Wawrinka was not? After Wawrinka lost the second set tiebreaker, the commentators noted that he served just 31% first serves for the set and converted just 1 of 8 break point opportunities. So maybe his struggles were due more to the pressure of the situation than the racket not feeling right?