Same String, Same Tension
What to do during one of the (many) rain delays at Roland Garros? Some fans may consume calories at the food court, while others comb the gift shops for tournament souvenirs. But for the gear aficionados in the group, there’s Babolat’s racquet customization and stringing service area. This is the third year the company is the official tournament provider of racquet services for all the participants. This time around, Babolat is hosting stringing demos at the service area in which fans can ask about the stringing process, what it’s like to string for the players, or any other racquet-related question. Here are a few fun facts from last year’s tournament:
44: Estimated length of strings (in km) used during the two weeks.
60: Number of Babolat Aeropro Drive racquets strung for Rafael Nadal during his title run.
19: Number of stringers, from various countries, working in the stringing facilities.
3702: Number of racquets strung during the entire tournament.
Since I have to spend rain delays stateside on my couch, Babolat put me in touch with Josh Newton, a U.S. stringer working with the tournament team at Roland Garros. He was kind enough indulge a few of my questions.
JL: On a busy day, how many racquets will you end up stringing?
JN: As a team on our busiest day so far this year we did 365 racquets. This was actually the busiest day we have had in the three years of the partnership. I personally had done 24 in a day, but there are some of the team that can do more than 36 depending on the day. Some of the team string at many events, and the players get to know them and request a specific stringer, so they can have a heavier work load at times.
JL: How many freshly strung rackets will a pro typically take to the court with him/her?
JN: It can really vary from player to player. It seems like six to eight is the average. Rafa brings six on court and usually has a couple strung while he is playing as backup. Since the weather has been a little variable, it seems like players are bringing more with them—some strung to their normal specifications, but then a few strung looser to be prepared for the cooler weather.
JL: What's currently the pecking order in terms of preference for the pros: Polys/Luxilon? Gut? Nylons? Hybrids?
JN: Poly is about 50 percent of what we string. Hybrids make up the majority of the rest. There are only a handful of racquets that are strung with all gut or all nylon. If we are stringing a hybrid, it is typically a poly mixed with gut.
JL: What's the variance in string tensions? Do you find pros typically string tighter or looser at Roland Garros?
JN: I came in to this experience thinking that string tensions would be lower because of the slower surface and I figured that the players would want more power. However, what I have found is that the players don’t vary their tensions from tournament to tournament and between the surfaces. What is more typical is to vary tension based on the conditions such as temperature or altitude. It seems that the courts from tourney to tourney are playing more similarly, so it is more an adjustment for the conditions on court that particular day. Since it has been cooler the first week at the French Open a player is doing less tension to give more power through the heavier, cooler air and slower court conditions. But, we are only talking 1-2 lbs. of tension that they are dropping so it is not very extreme. Rafa is at about 55 lbs.
JL: What's the oddest stringing request, if any, you've received during a tournament?
JN: There are a few poly/poly hybrids, but that is pretty unusual. A few players occasionally will request how or where a stringer ties off a knot because of the way they hold the racquet in the throat so it won’t poke them when they have a hand on the throat.