The Wilson/Luxilon Stringing Team brings together some of the world’s best stirngers.
By Mitch Rustad
Huge pro tournaments like the US Open in New York and the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami feature plenty of on-court tension, intensity and drama, thanks to the racquet wizardry of stars like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.
But the tour’s top pros aren’t the only ones performing magic with a racquet during these events. Well within earshot of the buzz of stadium court, the Wilson/Luxilon Stringing Team — an elite group of highly skilled and internationally diverse stringing professionals — work each frame like a violin, albeit with far less fanfare, anonymously shut away from the eyes of the public.
Mixing myriad combinations of string and tension, along with any special customization requests — sometimes for up to 20 hours at a stretch — is the order of the day. It all adds up to an often exhausting yet intensely fulfilling and even exhilarating day.
“Everything we do is thought out to the last detail,” says Roman Prokes of RPNY Tennis, which partnered with Wilson on the Stringing Team. Prokes oversees and administers the training of team members.
“We’ve standardized absolutely everything,” he says. “There are a lot of good stringers out there and a lot of good ways to do things. We set out to hire the best people available and, with Wilson, to create manuals and procedures covering everything from special patterns, to a code of conduct, to a dress code. When stringers join the team, they have to basically agree with our philosophy. That means everyone is going to work the same.”
The 15 or so team members undergo training through RPNY. “Everything is kept to a high standard,” says Prokes.
Wilson created special software for the Stringing Team that makes it easy for players to drop off a racquet. “We have it timed,” says Prokes. “The first time you drop off a racquet, you won’t spend more than two minutes with us. Then, every other time, not more than 30 seconds.”
When a racquet comes in, the software creates an information label, really an individual work order, based on what the player wants done. After the stringer reads the work order that comes with each racquet, they begin by cutting out the old string. Then they thoroughly inspect each frame before it’s mounted on the machine. They string the frame, remove it, straighten the strings, stencil the strings, and place the racquet in a plastic bag, then grab the next frame and repeat. Each frame should be completed in about 25 minutes — 15 minutes for a mid-match emergency job.
“Once you get moving and get a few racquets under your belt, you get in the zone and just go,” says Tim Strawn of Baseline Racquet Sports in Roanoke, Va., a Wilson/Luxilon Stringing Team member since 2006.
The Wilson team’s statistical output is impressive. A whopping 2,726 racquets were strung by the team during the 2007 US Open (including the qualifying tournament). During opening day at this year’s Sony Ericsson in Miami, the team cranked out more than 150 frames in one day, with a team of eight stringers. And the day before the 2007 US Open main draw got under way, the Wilson team (with all 12 team members) doubled that output to 300 frames in a single day.
“That’s a lot of racquets,” agrees Brian Laumeyer, assistant product manager for Strings and Grips at Wilson. “In the beginning of the tournament the stringing room is a very popular place to be, because pretty much everyone comes by every day to drop off racquets. The first couple of days of any tournament are crazy.”
As the tournament heats up, the Wilson/Luxilon team must operate as a well-oiled machine. To handle the overwhelming demand, harmony and cohesiveness are non-negotiable. Having an even temperament is part of the screening process.
Ron Rocchi, global tour equipment manager of Racquet Sports for Wilson, founded the Wilson/Luxilon Stringing Team in 2004. He says the team does about 15 tournaments a year (the US Open and Sony Ericsson are the largest events), and the number of stringers varies with the size of the event. Rocchi selects and supervises the team, comprised of top stringers from around the world, including Japan, Croatia, China, Russia, the U.S. and Australia. The team’s training sessions are intense and absolutely essential, says Rocchi.
“All the stringers follow an extremely standardized format on every racquet,” he says. “It is this standardization process that ensures quality and consistency in every string job. This is critical to the overall success of the event.”
Regular “customers” run the rankings gamut, from the Williams sisters, Rafael Nadal, James Blake and David Ferrer right down to doubles specialists and qualifiers. In fact, most players at these events use the Wilson/Luxilon Stringing Team (a handful of players such as Roger Federer use their own private stringers), often personally dropping off their racquets.
“The majority of the players are using our service at these events,” says Laumeyer. “The myth might be out there that all the top players are using their own personal stringers, but that’s not necessarily true.”
Though virtually every ATP and WTA tournament offers on-site stringing services, the Wilson team’s operation is mammoth. Every player who’s ever used the Wilson team’s services — they’re not required to be a Wilson player or even use Wilson products — has their stringing history entered into a database, which includes everything from type of string, tension, hybrid information, any customization requests, etc. When players walk up to the reception desk, they simply scan their badge and all their stringing data pops up on the screen.
Prioritization is essential, says Joel Disbro, Wilson’s tour stringing manager. “Every player is assigned to one stringer, so for the duration of the tournament, that player’s racquets are being strung on the same machine, by the same stringer,” he says.
“The stringers need to prioritize their frames based on the schedule of play for the day. You don’t want to be working on the racquet of a player whose match is at 5 p.m. when another player is scheduled at noon.”
The hours are long and the workload always challenging, but the team’s efforts pay comprehensive dividends, says Rocchi.
“Stringing at a tournament showcases our total brand strength and tour position,” he says, “as well as offering the highest quality products and service to touring professionals.”
US Open Stringing Log
Here are what some of the top players are using in their racquets. (Information provided by Wilson, from the 2007 US Open.)
|Player||Racquet||Main String||Cross String||Tension|
|Roger Federer||Wilson [K] 6.1 Tour||Wilson Natural Gut||Luxilon Alu Power Rough||46/43 lbs.|
|James Blake||Dunlop AeroGel 200||Luxilon Alu Power||Luxilon Alu Power||68 lbs.|
|Rafael Nadal||Babolat Aero Pro Drive Cortex||Babolat Duralast||Babolat Duralast||55 lbs.|
|Jo-Wilfred Tsonga||Wilson [K] Blade Tour||Luxilon Alu Power||Luxilon Alu Power||57 lbs.|
|Paul-Henri Mathieu||Wilson [K] Blade 98||Luxilon Alu Power||Luxilon Alu Power||63 lbs.|
|Serena Williams||Wilson [K] Blade Team||Wilson Natural Gut||Wilson Natural Gut||64 lbs.|
|Venus Williams||Wilson [K] Blade Team||Wilson Natural Gut||Wilson Natural Gut||68 lbs.|
|Dinara Safina||Babolat Aero Storm||Luxilon Alu Power Rough||Luxilon Alu Power Rough||62 lbs.|
|Svetlana Kuznetsova||HEAD Extreme Pro||Luxilon Supersense||Luxilon Alu Power||57/55 lbs.|
|Jelena Jankovic||Prince Speedport White||Luxilon Alu Power||Natural Gut||70/68 lbs.|
See all articles by Mitch Rustad
About the Author
Mitch Rustad has been a long-time freelance writer based in New York City.