Your Serve: Blast from the Past
A veteran stringer helps his customer link his tennis past with a path to the future.
Like many of us, I run a small pro shop at the heart of a busy multi-court facility. I’ve been stringing racquets for 25 years, and have repaired many different frames on my stringing machine over that time. Even after this long in the tennis industry, I still appreciate being the one to help bring a great tennis experience to the people I serve.
A recent Monday, however, was a challenging day. My “to-do” list was growing by the minute, we were short-staffed, and racquets were coming in faster than we could queue them up.
In the midst of all this, an older gentleman came in with his racquet — in a wooden press! As he removed the press and unzipped the canvas cover, a thin layer of dust shook off and revealed a wooden TAD Davis Olympyan with broken strings. Sure enough, he was looking for a restring.
Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the crusty, whitened natural gut strings were about a decade older than I was — this was confirmed by the browned, worn sticker on the butt cap: “Strung May 22, 1958, Delmer Israel Palo Alto, Calif.” The string was broken in three places, and there were eight tie-offs, indicating multiple patch jobs during the racquet’s active days.
I asked why we were going to embark on stringing this racquet — was it for decoration? No, the man indicated, he intended to play with it. He hadn’t picked up his racquet since the 1960s, he said, when he had been an active player in the Bay Area and was taking lessons with the legendary Dick Gould. “It’s from a time when tennis was more art than science,” he said, then needing to be on his way, he left me there with his frame.
Although my day was already overloaded, I was intrigued. I chose to string this racquet right away, in an effort to reset my day. As I prepped it, I felt like an art historian: Examining the grip’s condition and the laminated wood layers, removing the strings through smooth wooden holes (no brittle plastic grommets!).
I removed the leather power pads, remembering how I used to trim leather grips to create these pads back in the day. I looked at the frame’s graphics: a diamond-shaped TAD logo on one side, the Davis crest on the other, a ribbon with the words “Duce Comite Virtute Fortuna” rippling atop the crest.
The clear finish over the wood had darkened over time, and exhibited a uniform, desert-like cracking pattern over the surface. Midway between the grip and strings, where the non-dominant hand would have supported the racquet in between shots, the finish was worn away completely, exposing the smooth wood — but just on one side! Clearly, my customer didn’t like spinning his racquet, and hit forehands off one side of the string bed and backhands off the other (“spinning the racquet is for sissies,” he later told me).
I tried to glean more information about his game from the frame: The wood was not worn down too much at the top, which indicated pretty good footwork, and the half-century-old scrapes were pretty evenly divided between green and red. A serve-and-volleyer, perhaps?
The racquet strung beautifully, the grooves at the top perfectly sized and the tie-off holes very accommodating. I opted for a nice multifilament instead of natural gut, because I wasn’t certain how the frame was going to react to the restring nor did I know how long this new phase of my customer’s tennis life would last.
I lingered on the string job, going slowly and letting this conversation with the TAD Davis re-invigorate my passion for stringing racquets, a passion that had occasionally been clouded by goofy frames, cheaply made plastic grommet sets, and painful polyester strings. As I thought about the pile of racquets still to be done, I wondered if I could coax stories out of them. I might not be wondering if Dick Gould was the prior stringer of the frame, but there might be some interesting tales nonetheless.
I tied and trimmed down the final knots, and logged the racquet in our database, an island among the sea of EX0s and BLXs and Graphenes. I set it on the “repaired” rack and went about my day. When its owner came in to pick it up, we chatted for a while longer, recognizing that the racquet was both a link to his past and a path to his future.
Oddly enough, we ended up thanking each other for the restring. I hoped that his TAD Davis would re-ignite his passion for tennis again, but I insisted that he take one of our new Head demos — just in case.
Hunter Lipscomb is the director of tennis operations at the Timberhill Tennis Club in Corvallis, Ore.
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