Stringing for the Modern Game
A longtime stringer shares his observations after stringing for the pros at Wimbledon.
This past summer, I joined about 20 other stringers as part of the Bow Brand team, which was the official and exclusive on-site team stringer for the 2006 Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon. I was the only American stringer on the team; my colleagues were from England, Scotland, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Japan, France, Greece, and Australia.
As you would expect, the stringers had a tremendous amount of experience, including the Grand Slams, Olympics, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, Masters Cup, Nasdaq-100, and many other ATP and WTA events. The expertise that these stringers brought to Wimbledon, and the quality of their work for the game’s top professional players, were truly exceptional. With both poly-based and natural gut string, they were simply masterful.
The Bow Brand stringing service used nine Babolat machines (eight Star 3’s and one Sensor). Every day, normally starting at 5 a.m., each machine was serviced by having its clamps and tension jaws cleaned, the clamp sliding track lubricated, and the pulling tension calibrated.
Although I had previously strung at 13 Grand Slams (French, Wimbledon, and US Open) and several other ATP and WTA events, I knew that stringing with polyester-based strings would be a physical challenge. As a stringer and USPTA teaching pro, I was interested to see how stringing has changed as “the modern game” and string technology has evolved.
Here are some of my observations from working at the Bow Brand stringing cabin at Wimbledon:
- Natural Gut: About 10 percent of the racquets strung were with natural gut main and cross strings. Babolat, Prince, Wilson, Maillot-Savarez, Bow Brand, Klip, and Pacific gut strings were used. About 60 percent of the players who used gut asked that the string be pre-stretched.
- Hybrid Stringing: About 25 percent of the players used some type of hybrid stringing combination. The most common was a poly main with gut cross strings, but some players used gut mains with poly crosses, as well as poly mains with a softer synthetic or poly crosses. I saw only one racquet strung with an aramid fiber (i.e. Kevlar) hybrid string.
- Poly-Based Monofilaments: About 80 percent of the racquets strung were with either all polyester-based string (for mains and crosses) or with a polyester-based string used in a hybrid pattern. Luxilon’s poly-based strings (Alu Power, Alu Power Rough, Big Banger Original, and Big Banger Timo) dominated this category, with about 50 percent of all players using them. Babolat’s poly-based strings (Pro Hurricane and Tour Duralast) were also used by a number of players. Wilson, Kirschbaum, Pacific, and Bow Brand poly-based strings were also strung.
- Traditional Synthetic Gut: We rarely strung racquets using (non-poly based) traditional synthetic strings. These strings do not offer the durability that the modern pro game requires.
If you only string for the pros, then you would think that poly-based and gut strings were the only ones on the market. This is in great contrast to what we see in pro shops and sporting goods stores. But the pros who play with poly-based strings desire durability. Based on today’s power game, poly-based strings are here to stay.
About 80 percent of the players at Wimbledon had their cross strings strung 2 to 4 pounds lower than their main strings. However, most American players used the same string tension for their mains and crosses. Some players requested that their racquets always be strung the morning of their match.
- Lowest tension: One male singles player had his midsize racquets strung at 31 to 33 pounds.
- Highest tension: The highest I saw was 68 pounds.
As the temperature increased, some players slightly increased their string tension 1 to 2 pounds. Grass courts play faster as the tournament progresses because the courts get worn down and become firmer.
The majority of the racquets strung by the Bow Brand stringing service did not have broken strings. The two main reasons for having racquets restrung were that the tension was too low or the playing conditions (i.e. weather and court speed) had changed and a higher or looser string tension was needed.
- Racquets restrung without any broken strings: 55 percent
- Racquets restrung with broken strings: 40 percent
- New racquet frames strung: 5 percent
In addition to offering the placement of the racquet brand stencils (upon request), the Bow Brand service also offered “string” stencil support for Luxilon, Kirschbaum, Isospeed, Pacific, Bow Brand, Babolat, Klip and Head. Black, red, and green ink were available.
A few players did not always use the string brand that corresponded with the string logo marked on their strings. They openly stated that they were not happy with the string brand they were contracted to use, but they felt they had to display the string logo while under contract.
Some players, admitting to being superstitious, had to place the logos on the strings themselves.
We needed to take special care to make certain the racquet logo was placed on the strings in the same direction as the racquet logo on the butt cap.
The Pros’ Racquets
The racquets used by the pros at Wimbledon were nearly the same as what can be purchased in tennis shops. A few players used frames painted to look like later models from their contracted brand, and one woman pro who recently signed with one racquet manufacturer still used her old racquet painted black with the new company’s logo on the strings.
A few players had custom-shaped grips. One very tall player used a size 9 (51/8) grip size. Another pro who uses an extreme Western grip had the two widest sides of his grip made smaller, allowing him to hold his racquet easier using a “frying pan” grip.
Of the players having their racquets strung by the Bow Brand stringing service, about 85 percent of the frames were either midsize or midplus, while 15 percent were oversize.
The players at Wimbledon supplied their own string to the stringing services located at and near the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Most of the stringing labor fees are higher than normally charged in the U.S., but the players rarely complained because they knew that Bow Brand and Wilson/Luxilon had assembled some of the best stringers in the world. The stringing labor fees were:
- Bow Brand Stringing Service (on-site exclusive stringer): $30 (average)
- Wilson/Luxilon Stringing Service (near All England Lawn Tennis Club): $29
- Local Tennis Pro Shop (five-minute walk to All England Lawn Tennis Club): $17
The author (second from right) and his Bow Brand stringing team colleagues, including sales manager Frances Davies (center in blue skirt), at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
See all articles by Jeff Rothstein
About the Author
Jeff Rothstein has wide-ranging experience in tennis, playing competitive tournaments, teaching tennis as a USPTA-certified pro, stringing professionally, and as an industry executive and pro shop manager. He was on the USRSA's advisory staff in the 1980s and contributed to the establishment of the stringer certification program. Since 1979, Rothstein has strung at 13 Grand Slams, including Wimbledon, the French Open, and the US Open. He lives in New Jersey and can be reached at email@example.com or 973-722-7079.
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