The Stringer’s File: Lucien Nogues
One of Babolat’s top stringing experts and racquet technician trainers talks with RSI about the business of strings.
By Greg Raven
Lucien Nogues is one of Babolat’s top stringing experts. He has worked as a stringer on the pro tour for many years, with a résumé that currently encompasses 55 major tournaments. In addition to his other duties, he trains Babolat personnel, including members of the Babolat tour team. Recently, RSI Associate Editor Greg Raven had a chance to interview Nogues about stringing technique and the business of stringing.
Q: Do you recommend one-piece or two-piece stringing?
A: I recommend two-piece stringing for three reasons:
1) You achieve a more consistent and therefore a better final result as there is less wear and tear on the strings: The cross strings are not pulled through half the racquet while stringing the mains.
2) It is easier for the stringer to deal with two shorter lengths of string than it is to deal with one long piece of string.
3) It allows you to string the crosses from top to bottom on any racquet.
Q: What is the difference between bottom-up and top-down cross stringing?
A: There is more stress on the frame when stringing the crosses from bottom up rather than top down. The frame is weakest near to the top at the 11 and 1 o’clock positions, so stringing the crosses from the bottom up increases the stress on the frame. Installing the crosses from the bottom up effectively focuses pressure and stress into the weakest section of the frame.
Q: Isn’t it also possible to avoid this stress using an Around-the-World (ATW) or box pattern stringing technique?
A: This gets back to your first question. With either of these methods, the string receives a lot more wear and tear as the second half of the string must be pulled through the main string grommets before it’s time to install the crosses. Then if you have a blocked hole to pass the string through (especially near the top of the frame when you still have the most amount of string un-threaded), the entire length of the cross string will be rubbing on the blocking string as you pull it through. From there it just gets worse due to the normal friction of weaving the cross strings and pulling the string through the mains, especially farther down when there’s a hard weave.
Q: Do you have a good trick to help to remember to reset the tension between the mains and crosses on split-tension string jobs?
A: I always loop an elastic band around the top of the frame at the second or third open grommet so I see it when I start the crosses. I have to move the elastic band out of the way, which reminds me to change the tension.
Q: Are there any problems that might arise from using a starting clamp outside of the frame when pulling the first main, compared to the traditional Babolat method of clamping inside the frame?
A: You increase the possibility of premature breakage.
Q: Does today’s modern natural gut still need to be pre-stretched?
A: Natural gut never did need to be pre-stretched. Natural gut was, and is, easy to install, making a stringer’s job easier.
Q: What is the role of power pads, and are they still needed considering today’s strings and racquets?
A: Power pads can increase the radius angle and protect the lack of elongation and resistance of polyester strings.
Q: Should the racquet technician straighten the cross strings during installation, after installation, or both?
A: Both. The racquet technician should straighten the cross strings as much as possible during installation and then once complete. The strings will not be completely straight until the restring is complete. Make sure the angles are square. This will produce a far more consistent string-bed tension and earn you respect with your customer — this is your signature.
Q: What is the most important aspect of servicing player racquets from the technician’s point of view?
A: Increase your technical image and create loyalty.
Q: What tips would you have for someone who wants to break into tournament stringing?
A: Be consistent and pay attention to details.
I would recommend watching a stringer at a tournament, whether is it a local tournament or, if possible, an ATP/WTA or Grand Slam event. You might think you are competent enough to string at a tournament when in your shop or club, but there is a completely different pressure and atmosphere when stringing at a tournament.
Q: What is the best way for the typical stringer to improve the quality of the finished racquet?
A: Simplify your methods and personal technique.
Q: What is the best way to reduce stringing time without compromising quality?
A: Repetition. When you string a racquet, you do exactly the same thing every time. Over a period of time you will get quicker without compromising quality. It is also quicker and easier to string in a two-piece pattern rather than one-piece as you are dealing with less string at a time.
Q: What tips do you have for someone looking to buy his first stringing machine?
A: Key considerations are ergonomics, after-sales service, and precision.
Q: What tips do you have for someone looking to upgrade his stringing machine?
A: I would suggest looking at the reason why they want to upgrade. Is it that they want a similar machine again or are they looking to go from a lock-out machine to an electric one? Also, have a budget in mind and then do research to find the best machine that meets your requirements as well as budget.
Q: What tips would you have for a technician who wants to get started in customizing racquets?
A: Be humble. When you’re just starting, don’t be afraid to make mistakes — learn from them. It’s also very important to work on one parameter at a time (static mass, balance, dynamic mass). Write down everything you do. It’s important, too, that a racquet technician has a racquet diagnostic center (such as the Babolat RDC) to be able to measure the swing weight accurately.
Q: What tips do you have for someone looking to buy a new racquet or try a different string in his existing racquet?
A: When testing a new product, change only one parameter at a time. When looking at racquets, ensure that each new racquet is strung with the same strings and tension that you use in your current racquet. Also, be sure to find the right balance of power, control, and maneuverability so you can compare the advantages and drawbacks on each parameter.
When trying a different string, use the racquet you normally play with. Again, keep the gauge and tension the same with the new string as with your current string. Determine what you prefer in power, comfort, durability, and tension maintenance so you can compare the advantages and drawbacks on each parameter. When changing string, as with racquets, change one parameter at a time (construction, diameter, or tension). And always write down everything you try.
Q: What tips would you have for someone who wants to start experimenting with hybrid string sets?
A: Hybrids allow you to use the characteristics of two different strings in one string bed. Therefore, experimentation is the key. Have a goal in mind of what you are looking for and then try different combinations.
The main strings are the primary string in the string bed; so if you are looking for more durability, install the polyester in the mains and the gut in the crosses. If you are looking for more playability and comfort, install the gut (or nylon) in the mains and the polyester in the crosses.
Another advantage of using hybrid strings, compared to all polyester, is that you can improve the tension maintenance of the string bed overall.
If the player is new to hybrids, I would recommend using a pre-packaged hybrid so as to start with two strings known to work well together.
Q: What tips would you have for someone who wants to have his racquet customized to his playing style?
A: Power/control/maneuverability: make a precise ratio between them with the customer. Consider advantage vs. drawback on every parameter.
Q: What is the most important equipment issue for the typical recreational player?
A: Pay attention! Strings are more reactive and powerful than the frame.
Most recreational players will spend a good amount of money on a racquet and use it maybe a couple of times a week during the summer and then maybe once a week during the winter. They all seem to be really proud of their strings lasting five years! In fact this is bad as the strings will have lost all elasticity and the player will have to work more to get the same result as they did when the strings were new. You service the engine of your car regularly, so why not the engine of your racquet?
The weight of the racquet is also important. Many recreational players want to use the same racquet as their favorite pro players, but these are normally too heavy for the recreational player. For example, Rafael Nadal uses the Babolat Aeropro Drive, but that’s too heavy for most recreational players, so Babolat produces the Aeropro Lite and Aeropro Team for them.
Q: What tips would you give the typical recreational player in terms of optimizing his equipment?
A: Pay attention to the tension loss of your strings, and get into the habit of changing your strings more often. Over 40 percent of the racquet’s playability comes from the strings — so speak to your racquet technician and make certain you have the right strings for you in your racquet.
Q: What tips would you give recreational players who want to preserve and extend the life and playability of their natural gut?
A: If the string does get damp, take the racquet out of the racquet holder and allow it to dry naturally. A good rule for preserving the life of all strings is to not expose them to extreme temperature change. Do not leave your racquet in the car overnight as the temperature can drop dramatically.
Q: Should recreational players worry about straightening strings during play?
Q: How much do geometrically shaped strings contribute to additional spin on the ball?
A: Geometric strings such at Babolat RPM Blast and Pro Hurricane Tour do help with additional spin on the ball but the reason is different than what most people actually think. The additional spin doesn’t come from the strings gripping the ball more, but rather from an octagonal cross section string that allows the main strings to “slide” with less effort over the cross strings, which increases the spin. The spin comes from the movement of the main strings rather than the texture of the string.
Q: Is it correct that modern “player’s” racquets are stiffer than in the past to recover some of the power lost due to the use of polyester strings?
A: No, I wouldn’t say they are using stiffer racquets for this reason. As players are becoming stronger and hitting the ball harder, they are using polyesters to reduce the power and gain control. If they needed more power they would be using natural gut. They are not using polyesters for the durability as a lot of pro players are only using a string for 7 to 9 games!
The big change in the modern game is players becoming physically stronger, and using lighter racquets to give them more maneuverability, which means they increase the racquet-head speed so they can hit with more spin, which increases the control. The stiffer frames help with power even though the racquets are now lighter.
Q: Are the pros really using lower tensions these days, and if so, why?
A: Yes. They’re trying to find power on a type of string (polyester) that was not developed for this characteristic.
Q: Do you think we’re going to see continued gradual improvements in racquets, strings, and stringing equipment or do you foresee the possibility of a “game-changing” improvement in some aspect of the sport?
A: It is difficult to predict the future of the sport, and there is always a possibility that something new will appear, something that doesn’t exist yet. In the meantime, Babolat is constantly working with players on court and with R&D teams to incorporate new designs, shapes, and materials into our new equipment to allow players to improve their performance and enjoy the game more.
Babolat and the French Open
At Roland Garros, Babolat is the official equipment supplier for stringing service and balls. While numbers aren’t yet in for this year’s French Open, during the 2011 tournament, 16 of the world’s top stringers, with experience stringing at several dozens of Grand Slam tournaments, strung more than 3,500 racquets and used more than 42,000 meters of strings. TV displays were also set up to let fans follow the preparation of their favorite champions’ racquets. The Babolat stringing team also offers stringing or repair services at the Roland Garros “racquet clinic” all year long.
See all articles by Greg Raven
About the Author
Greg Raven is an associate editor for RSI magazine and technical writer. He is certified as a Master Racquet Technician by the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. He plays tennis five days a week, and is turning into an avid cyclist.