Tennis, with strings attached

March 29, 2012

By Kevin Lamarque

The average weekend tennis hacker might never have their racquet restrung. A serious player might have their racquets strung every month, but for most players, once a year suffices. A top professional tennis player strings up to 6-racquets before EVERY match.

As a keen club player who strings his own racquets, I’ve always been intrigued by the elite teams of stringing professionals who work the major professional tournaments.

In the dark indoor passage that rings center court here at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, players and coaches make their way to the stringing room, a daily ritual that goes unseen to the general tennis public.

The task of keeping all these tennis weapons finely tuned falls into the hands of a team of stringers here from Wilson and Luxilon. Over the course of the two week tournament, these master stringers work behind their machines as long as there are matches on court. It is not unusual for a player in the heat of a battle to request a “rush job” racquet to be strung at a particular tension based upon the changing elements or the particular feel the player is seeking. The stringing team is at the ready, swiftly getting the re-strung racquet in the hands of the player within the time it takes to play a mere few games.

At the height of the Sony-Ericsson tournament, the team of 11 stringers cranked out 254 racquets in one day. The average stringing time is 20 minutes a racquet, a very impressive time for anyone who has tried to string racquets. I watched the stringers toil away, impressed at their ability to multi-task as they watched the BBC’s “Top Gear” while working.

As varied as player’s styles are, so is their preferences in stringing. Gut strings, traditionally used by pros for past several decades, have been replaced by polyester. A representative from Wilson said that gut strings only account for about 10% on the pro tour. The newer polyester technology offers players greater access to spin and power, a lethal combination on the court. The feel a player is looking for will determine the brand, model and tension of string they choose.

Players may change racquets several times during a match or not at all. Some may have a routine such as changing every their racquet every time new balls are put into play; every six games. Often, even racquets that go unused in a match will have the strings cut out and replaced so they too are fresh for the next match. While this might seem like an unnecessary indulgence to the average tennis player, to a professional it could be the difference between winning and losing.

Of course, racquets smashed by a player during a temper tantrum will not be restrung!

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