Daily dispatches on gear from the U.S. Open.
cábala [f] [from Hebrew qabbalah 'tradition’] A token of luck, a ritual action that must be performed or a thing that must be carried or worn to bring good luck to a person or group. Especially used of some gestures in football matches (where, for example, some players might cross themselves on entering the field)…The cábala is a thing to be repeated each time; this traditional repetition is what makes it a cábala and not a single meaningless gesture.
“No quiere que le toque nadie el grip. Solamente—”
Argentine stringer Luis Pianelli grins that same devilish grin and points a finger toward his chest with his right hand. With his left, he steadies the throat of one of Juan Martin del Potro’s Wilson KSix-One 95s. I’m back in the U.S. Open Wilson Stringing Lab, surrounded by Baiardo machines that clak and pop as clamps clasp strings. Luis pulls a cross, his glasses glinting in the afternoon light, sporadic fingers wrapped with athletic tape. He continues; Ana Garcia translates as they string.
“He says that nobody else can touch his grip, only him,” she says, gesturing toward Luis. “He says if he sees that somebody’s touched the grip besides him, like anybody else, he changes it right away.”
I look to Del Potro’s palette. The Wilson butt cap says it’s a 4 and 1/2—size four. Running perpendicular is a white overwrap, which has the slightest tan tint to it; it’s wound atop “puero,” leather.
“Como se dice en Argentina, es una cábala,” explains Luis. Ana pauses for a moment, and then shakes her head, puzzled. The word is distinctly Argentine. Luis tries again. “Una costumbre. Es psicológico. La idea, entiendes?”
Amid his words, Ana attempts translation. “It’s psychological, just his thing. He says it’s on his mind. He doesn’t want anyone to touch his grip.”
Except Pianelli, of course, who’s strung racquets for Del Potro going back to when he was a boy. “Del Potro trusts him a lot,” Ana glossses. “He says because he strung for him in 2009, he wants the stringer that can give him the same.”
He ties the final knot, pops the racquet off the machine, and taps it a few times with his palm. For Delpo’s 2012 U.S. Open, it seems, Luis Pianelli is a lucky cábala himself.