During some of the bigger events, many of the top players opt to use off-site private stringers. One such company that has become a staple on the pro tours is Priority One. Watch any tournament and you’re likely to see players pull a racquet from their bags with the distinctive red-blue, yin-yang style P1 logo on the cellophane wrapping.
At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last month, Priority One handled the stringing services for more than ten players and their coaches. One of our racquet testers, Julian Li, also happens to be an experienced tour-level stringer based in California. He was hired by Priority One to assist with the stringing operations at the BNP. We thought it would be interesting to quiz Julian about his experience during the tournament, and how the pros strung their racquets.
What was your typical day like?
JULIAN LI: For a period of two weeks, my day usually started somewhere between 5:00-6:00 am. I would string up about 6-8 racquets for our client who requested his racquets be strung before his match or practice. Including stringing, new overgrip, logo stencil, tension label and bagging, everything needs to be done by around 8:30 am. After that we're off to the courts or player's hotel to drop them off. We hang out at the courts throughout the day, dropping off and picking up racquets, before heading back to our house to string another 15-20 racquets to get them ready for the next day.
How many racquets did you string?
JL: Being best-of-three sets, our players asked for 6-8 racquets for each match and 3-4 more if they played doubles. I was assigned to 3-4 players and their coaches, so at the end of the tournament, I strung about 185 racquets.
What was the pecking order in terms of preference: Gut, Poly, Hybrids.
JL: Most of our players used hybrids, usually with gut on the mains and poly crosses. Some did play with a stiffer polyester with high tensions, or softer poly for lower tension.
What was the variance in string tensions? Did you find that the pros strung tighter, looser, or pretty much what you expected?
JL: Tensions will vary depending on the playing conditions and surfaces; during the first couple of days the players will zone in on an ideal tension for their matches. Being in the desert, the temperature would fluctuate by around 20 degrees, so they would typically string about one kilo (2.2 lbs) less for night matches. Some players have great control and played with tensions in the low 30's (pounds).
How much customization do pros have done to their frames?
JL: About 90 percent of the players will have their racquets customized to their playing style by the manufacturers or racquet specialists. Custom molded and extended handles, weight, balance and swingweight are all highly sought after by touring pros to fine-tune their games.
What was the oddest stringing request, if any, you received during the tournament?
JL: Nothing too unusual during these two weeks. Thinking back to other tournaments, the oddest request was a player asking for his racquets to be strung only at night and, depending on how he was feeling, it was to be placed in either a plastic or paper bag and sealed with either a rubber band or left opened for the gut strings to breathe.
Is there ever a time during a busy tournament (like this one) to enjoy yourself? Or is just a total grind?
JL: At the end of the day, it's about passion and love of the game. I'm lucky to have learned and continue to build on my craft, and I'm grateful for the friends I work with. A lot of people would like to have my job; I'm very fortunate to do what I do.