Remembering the Day I Thought I Screwed Up Tomas Berdych’s Rackets

As I have said before, the primary responsibility of a professional racket stringer is to accurately and consistently install strings in rackets. If someone asks for 3 rackets strung at 54 pounds and 1 at 55 pounds, you have to ensure that your equipment and technique and achieve that outcome.

One of the consequences of this is your work will only get noticed if something is perceived to be wrong. Rarely is notice taken if you do your job right. When players win, they thank everyone in their “box,” including their dog walker, but never their racket technician. Which is fine because I get paid to do my job right. If someone says thanks that is just gravy. But if I do my job wrong, it will be noticed.

Case in point: At the Winston-Salem Open in 2012, world #7 Tomas Berdych was the #2 seed. By contract with RPNY, his personal stringer Ben Mauguin was on site taking care of his rackets. But because Ben had to leave Winston-Salem to string at the U.S. Open, I took over stringing for Berdych beginning in the semifinal.

Berdych Racket

Ben explained the special stringing pattern Berdych uses on his rackets, which I followed closely and carefully. I was excited to go out to see the fruits of my labor as Berdych played his semifinal against Sam Querrey. Berdych stepped to the line to begin the match and promptly double faulted. My heart sank as he tapped the stringbed with his hand and checked the label we put on the racket to indicate tension and date strung.

My mind started racing. I had screwed up Berdych’s rackets, I thought. He would lose the match because the stringing was not right. I would never work another professional event.

On the next point, Berdych hit an ace. He did not tap the stringbed. He did not give a thumbs up to the strings. He just went on to win the match routinely 6-3, 6-4.

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I had done my job right. And I lived to string another day.

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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.

Official Stringer for the 2015 Winston-Salem ITF Pro Circuit Futures Tournament

Even though I just got back from two weeks stringing at the NCAA tournament, I am excited to start working again as the official stringer for an ITF Pro Circuit $15K Futures event being held at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex in Winston-Salem.

ITF Pro Circuit

A 64 draw qualifying tournament will be held on May 30-31, with the 32 player main draw beginning play on June 1. There will also be a 16 team doubles tournament.

There are some 600 tournaments across 77 countries on the ITF Pro Circuit, which is the entry level of professional tennis. The same week the USA F16A Futures is held in Winston-Salem, other ITF Futures tournaments will be held in China, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Mozambique, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, and Turkey.

Players in ITF Pro Circuit events earn ATP ranking points, so these events provide an opportunity for players to build up their rankings so they can jump to ATP Challenger level events and eventually the ATP World Tour. A player who wins one round in a 32 draw $15K ITF Men’s Circuit event earns 1 ATP ranking point. Two rounds = 3 points, three rounds = 8 points, 4 rounds = 15 points, and the winner receives 27 points. By comparison, at the Winston-Salem Open (ATP World Tour 250 level event), a first round winner receives 20 ranking points (more than all but the winner of a $15K futures) and the winner receives 250 points.

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Even so, these small number of points available on the ITF Men’s Circuit can make a big difference in the life of an aspiring professional. As of May 25, 2015, #1 Novak Djokovic has over 13,000 ranking points, #50 Jerzy Janowicz has 940, and #100 Marinko Matosevic has 526. Even winning a Futures even would make little difference to these players.

But consider #844 ranked Noah Rubin, who just completed his freshman year playing for Wake Forest and was recently the NCAA men’s singles finalist. He has 20 ATP ranking points. Making the semi-finals of the Winston-Salem Futures would nearly double his points and increase his ranking to by over 150 places. Winning the tournament could push him into the top 600 in the world.

As of this writing, Rubin is the 13th highest ranked player accepted into the tournament. The highest ranked acceptance is Kevin King ranked #318. A 2012 mechanical engineering graduate and two time All-American at Georgia Tech, King’s year end ranking has increased from 1,433 in 2012 to 506 in 2013 to 372 in 2014, when he won back-to-back Futures events in Mexico.

Kevin King

King is followed by former Virginia Cavelier Sanam Singh at #361, former Tennessee Volunteers Rynne Williams (#374) and Tennys Sandgren (#377), and former Kentucky Wildcat and NCAA finalist Eric Quigley at #396. The lowest ranked direct acceptance was #1091 Christopher Marquis of India.

The qualifying draw for the Winston-Salem Futures is twice as big as the main draw, giving players who do not have ATP rankings an opportunity to earn ranking points. Some names of unranked players that stood out to me on the qualifying acceptance list were Wake Forest’s Jon Ho and Maksim Kan, Northwestern’s Strong Kirchheimer, and top North Carolina juniors Anudeep Kodali and Nick Stachowiak.

Since these players are grinding it out for a few points and a few hundred dollars, I will be interesting to see how much stringing I do for players who may fall between having their stringing paid for by their parents or colleges and making enough money on tour to string as much as they would like.

Other information about this ITF Pro Circuit event and one next week at the University of Virginia, from the USTA:

The tournaments, which will create more opportunities for professional match experience on American college campuses, are being privately funded and will not be a part of the USTA Pro Circuit. As the national governing body for tennis in the U.S., the USTA applied for and secured their official tournament sanction from the International Tennis Federation.

“Having opportunities to play professionally, at all levels, is important to tennis in the United States,” said USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe. “It’s exciting that Virginia and Wake Forest are taking the initiative to stage and host these events, and we certainly hope American players take advantage of these opportunities.”

And from Wake Forest Men’s Tennis Head Coach Tony Bresky:

I’m excited to announce the addition of a $15,000 Men’s Pro Futures Event to our home facility,” Wake Forest men’s tennis coach Tony Bresky said. “We already have a great event in the Winston-Salem Open and to be able to add another professional tournament gives our players more opportunity to compete at the highest level and further development. For our guys, their focus is set on being able to play professionally after college and to be able to compete in pro events while still in school on our home courts is a great advantage.