String Fever: The Busiest Day in the U.S. Open Stringing Center

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In the stringing room in Arthur Ashe Stadium, nestled near the locker rooms and the players’ lounge, 12 stringers worked nonstop yesterday and this morning to prepare for opening day of the U.S. Open. Their state-of-the-art Wilson Baiardo machines adjust to their ergonomic preferences, so they don’t have to hunch over to do their jobs. That’s important, because they’ll be stringing a lot of racquets over the next two weeks. They strung about 425 racquets, four to eight per player, for Day 1. Throughout the tournament, estimates Joel Disbro, the tour stringing manager for Wilson, they’ll string nearly 3,400 racquets.

The stringing team is handpicked from the best in the business. They come from Japan, Croatia, Russia, Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, Australia and Argentina, as well as the United States. The average time it takes them to string a racquet is 20–25 minutes, 18 if it’s a rush job (13 minutes is the record). The team works from before dawn to dark and even beyond if needed.

But it doesn’t stay like that all two weeks. As the draws dwindle, and fewer players or their handlers show up to turn over racquets at the stringing room’s walk-up window, stringers are sent home. On the last day, Disbro figures he’ll be largely kicking back and watching on television, ready to spring back into action if an emergency string job is needed.

Disbro will have an even lighter day should Roger Federer face Andy Murray in the final. Their racquets are strung offsite, near the players’ hotels in Manhattan by the stringing team from Priority One. A dozen players pay Priority One $40,000 a year, which includes racquet customization and stringing at most tournaments.

Priority One has 10 other players in the U.S. Open draw, including four of the Top 5 men’s seeds (Federer, Murray, Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling) and three Americans (Sam Querrey, John Isner and Mardy Fish). “My guys take between eight and 12 sticks with them on court at as many as three different tensions,” says Nate Ferguson, owner of Priority One. Weather is the biggest concern of his clients: If it’s humid strings lose tension quicker and need to be strung tighter.

In the U.S. Open stringing room, each player’s personal preferences, from tension to string type to brand, are contained in a database. The average tension is 56 pounds, around the top of the manufacturers’ recommended ranges, for more control. Some even exceed that: The highest string tension in the tournament belongs to Alexander Peya of Austria. He likes his racquets strung at a board-like 75 pounds.

Just about all the players will use polyester or co-polyester strings that maximize spin potential either as a full set or in a hybrid combination of poly and gut (poly in the mains and gut in the cross strings for durability or the reverse for more touch).

Only about 10 percent of the racquets at the U.S. Open are off-the-shelf models. The rest have been weighted and adjusted to their users’ personal preferences. Eighty percent of the racquets have head-light balances and the average beam size is 20–22 millimeters. The thickest is 24 millimeters and the thinnest is 17 millimeters.

Quality of work is essential, as the pros are trying to peak at the last Grand Slam of the season. Winners on court each day will return to the stringing center, where their strings will be cut out and replaced the night before their next match. Losers go home with the small consolation: They’ll be saving themselves $120 a day, the cost of stringing four racquets at $30 each.

There are a few notable exceptions—Kim Clijsters, Venus Williams and Arnaud Clement still use full gut in their racquets.

The overwhelming brand favorite among the poly users is Luxilon, which is marketed by Wilson, though Babolat RPM Blast, which debuted at this year’s Australian Open with Nadal, is rapidly gaining ground on Luxilon.

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