Nothing is more important to a tennis player than his racquet. And while players don’t often change racquets, they do experiment with strings for that elusive “perfect feel”.
“Everyone wants the next competitive edge,” says Mark Maslowski, Yonex International Stringing Supervisor. “They’ll play around with the tension, with their grips, and adding more weight to the racquet.”
In addition to getting racquets strung at multiple tensions for varying court and weather conditions (tighter on hot days to maintain control as the strings expand, looser on colder days for more comfort because the balls feel harder), some players are extremely particular. The Yonex team have been asked to pre-stretch strings using clamps in what looks like a game of tug-of-war, step on newly strung racquets to loosen up the strings, or to string racquets upside down because that’s the way a certain player holds it, amongst other unusual requests.
As to the debate on whether strings or racquets have changed the game of tennis the most? Mark says: “Racquets have changed a lot. They offer more speed and are lighter so players can take bigger cuts on the ball. Every couple of years, there’s another generation of technology using materials from Boeing or NASA. But racquets are stiffer now, causing more arm problems.
“In the last 15 years I’d have to say that strings have changed (the game) more because players got bigger, stronger, and are hitting harder. Just look at the 1980 Wimbledon Final (Bjorn Borg v John McEnroe) compared to this year’s (Andy Murray v Milos Raonic).
“Everyone stopped using all natural gut and changed to polyester and hybrid (strings) so they can swing through the ball faster with more control and more spin. There are more and more string brands, more different types of strings, meaning more choice for the players.”
We caught up with the Yonex Stringing Team for some numbers behind their work:
6: Machines and stringers on site working from 8am to 10pm (or until matches end)
9.5 kg: The lowest tension requested by a player (Mikhail Kukushkin at this year’s Wimbledon)
20 minutes: Average time to string a racquet, 15 minutes for a rush job
USD 25: Cost to get a racquet strung at the Shanghai Rolex Masters (but free for fans buying a Yonex racquet on-site!)
30-40: Stencils on hand for various string and racquet brands
600-700 racquets: What they expect to string at this week’s Shanghai Rolex Masters
USD 8,000: Cost of a top-end electronic stringing machine