Have you ever wondered who the people are that are stringing tennis racquets of the ATP and WTA tennis players? Professional tennis players are constantly restringing their tennis racquets, sometimes players even send a tennis racquet to be restrung during a tennis match!
These professionals require their equipment to perform consistently and reliably for them to play their best tennis.
Enter the professional tennis racquet stringer…a group of people who are often hidden in the bowels of the tennis stadiums. Waiting patiently for tennis racquets to show up for a restring, at the tennis players tension specifications and time requirements.
I was fortunate enough to spend 2 weeks with the most elite stringing teams on the planet, Wilson Stringing Team. This team is made up of people from all corners of the planet, some coming as far from Sydney and Melbourne; while others came from Eastern Europe, Taiwan, Japan, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Canada, and the United States. Some have been on the team for well over a decade and some on their first year. But you wouldn’t pick up on that. In addition there are several other staff members, like myself, to help out in the stringing room; from receiving the tennis racquets, removing the old strings, labeling the racquets, and delivering them to the stringers. Beyond that, the staff organizes the tennis strings, and tennis racquets for the players to pick up later.
In total there are 21 tennis stringers who are on site from well before any tennis matches start and stay until after the last match finishes. Which can run very late into the evening or even very early in the morning.
The Wilson Stringing Team all use the same type of machine, a Wilson Baiardo. The most technologically advanced tennis racquet stringing machine available. It does all sorts of fancy things, automatic height and tilt feature that adjusts to the stringers preferences. And it also keeps a memory bank of all the stringers preferences, so all you have to do is find your name and the machine adjusts to your specs.
All the stringers are trained with the same method on the same machine, so that if a stringer is unavailable another stringer can do the others’ racquets and will have the same result. At least that’s the theory.
While I consider myself a pretty darn good stringer, I’m an amateur compared to this elite group that Wilson has put together. What they are capable of, I would need to string a tennis racquet every hour for the next year to get the tempo and patience stringing at the highest levels.
This year of the US Open tennis championships, I was in the stringing room, helping out as best I could. I wasn’t stringing any tennis racquets but I was helping with the racquet preparation (cut out the strings, deliver to the stringer, and put the racquet away for pickup).
On day 1 of the main draw, this team processed 515 tennis racquets…515! It was a lot of work, but mostly took my breath away was just calm all the stringers were the entire time. Sure, we finished late, but each stringer never lost his or her cool. Head down and working the strings through the racquet. It was mesmerizing just how efficient these racquet stringers performed.
As the week went on, it was more of the same…players dropping off their (or often times, the players’ coach dropped off frames) tennis racquet with their requests. Some players drop off a few tennis racquets, while others would drop 10-12 tennis racquets to be restrung. This was the scene for the 2 weeks I was there.
Stringing at the 2019 US Open
Did I have an opportunity to string any tennis racquets, you ask? I certainly did, on my last day, not
for any players however. I was continuing my training from Miami earlier in the year.
I was given the task of stringing 26 tennis racquets in 1 day. Which, I thought, “No problem!” Unfortunately for me, it was a problem. The tennis racquets that I had to string were a mix of player types and brands, and some with special string patterns. These were racquets that were designed by Wilson Pro Labs. What this meant for me, was a completely foreign group of frames some of which I had never strung before..
I made plenty of mistakes; misweaves, incorrect holes, wrong skips, getting my starting clamp pulled from the first cross on purpose, etc. It was more than embarrassing, I felt like an absolute failure. But that’s how the training is designed! It’s supposed to break you mentally and push you to the brink of walking away.
I worked my hands to the point I was sure that I had given myself arthritis in each finger. I didn’t stop, I kept pushing myself and ended up finishing 19 of the 26 (I actually did about 28 because I had to start a few over again).
At the end of my last day at the 2019 US Open, I had a chance to reflect back on the previous 2 weeks. It was an incredible 2 weeks. The sound of the Wilson machines pulling tension and hearing the team just work. Just being amongst them was a learning experience in it of itself. I learned so much from the stringers, their techniques were ways I’ve never thought to do.
I learned a lot about myself as well; while I’m not a good enough stringer to be on the Wilson Stringing Team, I am good enough to have been invited to the tryout in Miami and again in New York. So that has to say something about my ability, right? I think so.
Also, you will have to be able to take in a tennis racquet, remove the old strings, install the new tennis string, straighten strings, and stencil the racquet all in 17 minutes or less. In the final count, Wilson did over 150 “on court” racquets with an average time of 16min 31sec. Amazing! That’s what is considered an “On-Court” racquet. This is when a tennis player is actively playing a match and a ball person runs the tennis racquet to be strung.
It was really interesting how the entire room fell silent. All eyes on the stringer doing the on-court racquet. You could feel the support in the room, nobody said a word and made sure they were out of the way of the stringer rushing to get the tennis racquet done.
After the on-court racquet was done, the ball kid would rush out to deliver the tennis racquet to the player. The room went right back to stringing and chatting. It was if the rushed tennis racquet never happened.
If you have not noticed, it is a very fast paced room and not for the faint of heart. The elite tennis players of the world expect the best and you are there to provide that level of perfection, over and over again.
So, if you want to become an ATP/WTA level tennis stringer, you have to be on point on every tennis racquet, every time. Even after getting only a few hours of sleep and being on your feet for 18 hours. There is no way to “coast” with professional level tennis stringing. You are accountable for every single detail of the tennis racquet you’re stringing.