On Day 2 of the U.S. Open Wilson gave a tour of the tournament’s racquet stringing facility to a small group of journalists. Facility is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration as it’s more of a cramped room. But where many tournament stringing sites are hidden in the bowels of the stadium court or in a out-of-the-way tent, this one is in the heart of the players services center. In fact, the walls on two sides of the room are essentially all glass allowing anyone passing by to peek in on the stringers at work. Here are some of the more interesting tidbits I learned on my visit:
The first day of the tournament is the busiest with approximately 300 racquets getting strung. For the whole tournament the total tally is around 3000 racquets.
- There are 14 stringers (all men) working throughout the tournament. One machine is always left vacant for on-court players who might need an emergency string job.
The stringers are using Wilson’s new machine called the Baiardo. You can expect to see it available for purchase in early 2009. The uniqueness of the machine is it can raise, lower, and tilt allowing the stringer to work while standing in the most comfortable position. It’s named after a mythical horse that could change its size to fit the rider.
- For the utmost in consistency a player will get assigned to one stringer working at the same machine for the entire tournament. When a player arrives he/she will practice for a few days with racquets strung at varying tensions (usually within three pounds) to find the right tension for that event.
The stringers ideally average five racquets strung every two hours. During a particular busy time early in this tournament one stringer had to turn out three racquets in 40 minutes.
- Players often leave their own string reels with the stringers. Labor cost is $30/racquet. All the charges are taken directly out of the player’s prize money.
Not much string is sold, but it is available. Natural gut and Luxilon are the most popular but less expensive string (NXT, synthetic gut) is offered for hitting partners or coaches who don’t want top of the line equipment. Luxilon, however, can only be bought in a reel, which, for Alu Power, is $160 for a sponsored player, and $220 for non-sponsored player.
- Even though the machines can do it, players still want their strings to be hand stretched before stringing. There’s a pre-stretch pole on one side of the room that is actually a handicap bar (like you’d see in a bathroom stall) with overgrip around it.
At least 50% of the strings used is Luxilon. But there has been a resurgence of natural gut, particularly in hybrids. Serena Williams has her Wilson Blade Team strung with all natural gut at 65 lbs.
- All the stringers tie with the same kind of knot unless a player specifically requests something unique.
Not quite 30% of the players are in the habit of changing to freshly strung racquet at every ball change.
- Over the course of a racquet’s life it will be strung about 100 times before a pro player has it replaced.
Photo courtesy of Manuela Davies/doublexposure.com