It’s 4:15 in the U.S. Open Wilson Stringing Lab and Luis Pianelli is cradling a Wilson KFactor Pro Staff in hands. At a glance, it looks to be yet another racquet making its way through the tourney’s stringworks. It, too, has been treated to fresh grip and string. And long strips of lead tape run alongside its inner grommets, augmenting the racquet’s weight and marking it as a serious player’s tool.
But look carefully: This stick isn’t new like all the others; it’s well worn. Carbon fiber, a matte silver, shows through the paint’s chips and scrapes, while the grommets, beaten and splayed, are shot through with a patchwork of reinforcing plastic tubing. By professional standards, this frame is ancient. No wonder Luis so carefully manipulates it, running his hands across the fresh stringbed—Luxilon Alu Power, 58 lbs.—double-checking, straightening, seemingly caressing his labor. This is something scarce and precious: One of Juan Martin del Potro’s last four racquets.
“That’s why he doesn’t throw them anymore,” says fellow stringer Ana Garcia, who translates Luis’ Spanish. “The model of the racquet is really old. They don’t have KFactor. And that’s why he doesn’t want to change. He’s trying to change by next year. But he’s used to that frame. It’s just the feel.” Luis grins devilishly. “Ahora hay tres. Uno, dos, tres,” he says. “Number four, [right now in] practice.”
…Wha? That was my reaction—jaw slightly ajar, eyebrows screwed up into confusion. But apparently, Delpo likes these particular racquets too much to switch. They’re four years old, Luis tells me, if not more. Do the math: These sticks won the US Open in 2009. Might that be one reason to keep them around?
“Yes, it could be one of the reasons, but it could be many. Mainly, he just feels comfortable.”
Wish Delpo well. A lost bag, fit of anger, freak accident—catastrophe could strike in many forms.
WATCH: Juan Martin del Potro's racquet gets stencil treatment: