Stringing ‘Red Flags’
Amid the pressures of tournament stringing, the Wilson team has identified — and come up with solutions for — potential problem areas.
By Ron Rocchi
This is the last article in a series by Ron Rocchi, RSI’s 2009 Stringer of the Year and the Global Tour Equipment Manager at Wilson Sporting Goods, and the person behind the Wilson/Luxilon tournament stringing team. Rocchi’s, and RSI’s, goal is to share what he’s learned in a way that will help you improve your stringing business.
Problem-solving skills come from experience, and a seasoned stringer can avoid problems by recognizing potential issues and applying an appropriate solution. In the world of tournament stringing, avoiding these problems can be the difference between success and failure.
The most important and critical aspect of this tournament-stringing world happens in only a single moment, when the player picks up the racquet. That moment must go smoothly, with a perfectly finished racquet, delivered on time. It is paramount that the player (or customer) has total confidence in your ability, and in your service as a stringer. This is not the moment to bring up problems, or fail to deliver the racquet.
Remember, players, as well as your customers, will talk about your service more when it is bad, not when it is good.
In a tournament stringing room, up to 350 racquets can pass through for stringing in a single day. This creates a tremendous challenge to keep track of string, tensions, special instructions, and various parts. In addition, up to three or four staff members will touch the racquet from beginning to end of the stringing process. This means that the potential for things to get lost or confused is extremely high.
The Wilson Stringing Team has developed a group of “Red Flags” that we use while stringing at tournaments. By anticipating and recognizing these problem situations, we avoid missing that ever-important delivery time. Here are just some of our solutions:
RED FLAG: Prince EXO3 Black (and other models)
Problem: Yoke grommet has tiny holes that are easy to miss.
Solution: The mere presence of the temporary tape loop mentioned above signals the stringer to double-check the first six main strings.
It is difficult to measure the string and start the stringing process while holding the yoke grommet, clamps and perhaps a starting clamp, and apply tension to the first few main strings. Even some of the finest stringers have made this mistake and failed to correct the error until way too late in the string installation. When someone hands you a Prince EXO3 to string, secure the yoke grommet and double-check your work on the first main strings.
RED FLAG: Prince EXO3 Black (and other models)
Problem: Yoke grommet is held in place with string tension, frequently is removed with old strings and/or falls into trash.
Solution: Prior to removing old strings, wrap a loop of grip finishing tape to hold piece securely in place.
We’ve found that using a color of tape such as red or yellow not only draws the stringers attention to the situation, but also keeps the yoke grommet from being lost. This piece of tape can simply be removed after the first two mains are installed, or at the completion of the stringing process. Once we implemented this solution, stringers saved precious time by not searching for the grommet piece, and we also enhanced our service by not having to chase players down to see if they had an additional replacement part.
RED FLAG: RPM, Red Code, Revenge – soft polys
Problem: String has a tendency to break prematurely due to materials and construction.
Solution: Eliminate starting clamp usage, check pressure of tension-puller head jaws, clamp pressure and consider two-piece stringing.
To provide a sure-fire solution that will keep the string from breaking prematurely, the Wilson team employs multiple techniques to limit string breakage. First, we slow down and take a little extra time; this is the definition of “Red Flag” in my opinion. Second, we typically use a two-piece method, which eliminates the need for an external starting clamp that “flattens” the soft poly. Lastly, check the pressure of the tension head jaws and clamps on a scrap piece of string. This will tell you if you are “over-tightening” and causing damage to the soft poly.
RED FLAG: Power Pads/Tubing
Problem: String has a tendency to break prematurely due to worn or cracked grommets.
Solution: For tubing, remove and inspect the condition. Re-use power pads whenever possible.
Tubing and power pads always give stringers trouble. They slow the stringing down, and frequently get lost or discarded. For power pads, we always try to bond the pad to the grommet strip using double-sided tape or a drop of super glue. In many cases, this will keep the pads from getting lost as well as providing a nice worn groove for the string to rest upon. Right before you apply tension to the string, place one drop of super glue to the pad and let the pulled tension hold it in place.
The presence of tubing is a huge Red Flag for all stringers: This means the grommet is worn to the point of causing string failure. Stringers should always remove and inspect the tubing for wear, and replace if necessary.
RED FLAG: Yonex S-FIT Racquets
Problem: Racquet can be strung two different ways, “Comfort” or “Speed” pattern.
Solution: Stringing instructions now have two elements, tension and pattern.
Racquet manufacturers are continually looking to enhance racquet performance to fit a specific player type, and the Yonex S-FIT system is a great example. As a stringer, it is easy to miss the fact that these racquets can be strung two different ways, based on where and how you start the mains. More importantly, does the player or customer know which way they want? At tournaments we have built an extra field in the tension area of our work orders to ensure that the player gets asked which way they prefer. This extra information ensures we string exactly the way the customer/player wants.
RED FLAG: Worn-Out Overgrips
Problem: The overgrip is severely worn and needs replacing.
Solution: Resist the urge to replace a worn out grip.
Tennis players have a special relationship with their racquets. As a stringer we must respect and understand that what looks like a worn-out grip to us, could actually be a good luck charm for the player. While most customers in your shop would really appreciate a fresh grip with each restring, tournament players do not want you to mess with their grips generally speaking. In one case at the US Open this year, a player had a terribly worn-out grip but had not lost serve since it was installed. He actually believed he would start serving poorly if we changed the overgrip! So the lesson here is, before you make any changes to a player’s racquet, make sure you have a verbal communication with the player directly.
RED FLAG: Mystery String
Problem: Player walks in and hands you an unknown string.
Solution: Ask questions and get a second set.
It never ceases to amaze us how some professional players do not have a better understanding of their equipment needs. During a tournament, there are at least two or three instances where a player has dropped off a mystery set of string for their racquet, usually without packaging and balled up in a tangled coil. Our job is to professionally install the string at the requested tension. We first ask questions about where they got the string, when was it purchased, what type of string is it and so on. Then we always ask for a spare set should something go wrong during the installation process. We simply tell the player that we cannot possibly know how this mystery string will install, or if it will break prematurely. So getting a spare set is really a necessary precaution.