Hong Kong stringer Dickie Lee (left) will string racquets in his ninth n Open this year. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer Stringer Shinji Nakamura, who has been a contractor for the past seven years, re-stringing a racquet. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer
Japanese company Yonex is the new string supplier for this year’s n Open, taking over from Wilson. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer
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When it comes to tennis racquet strings, natural fibres are the duck’s guts. Or rather the cow’s guts, given that’s where many of the strings favoured by the top players at this month’s n Open come from.
While cost and convenience have seen synthetics replace natural fibres in many industries, in tennis the trusty cow intestine, dried and stretched, naturally, is the undisputed king of strings.
Yes, nylon has been the string of choice on suburban courts and in club competitions since the 1940s. But those at the top of the game still prefer a touch of bovine to maintain ball speed and sensitivity.
“The feeling is very good as there is no big shock on the arm,” said stringing supervisor Mark Maslowski. “You have more feeling for hitting shots like drop shots.”
American born, German-based Mr Maslowski will lead a team of 20 Yonex stringers at this month’s n Open, who between them will restring up to 5500 racquets over the three weeks of qualifying and competition.
It’s the first time the Japanese sporting goods company has been the official stringer at a Grand Slam tournament, but Mr Maslowski said their experience at the Beijing and London Olympics would stand them in good stead.
Drawn from across the globe, the Yonex stringers need to work fast, getting a tennis racquet on and off the machine in 15 minutes.
But it’s not all about speed. Consistency is crucial, given players are prone to superstition. Each stringer will work on the same machine throughout the two-week tournament and be assigned to particular players.
Stringing team manager Paul Gerdes said players, who get five free restrings per round, could even request the time of day they wanted their racquet restrung.
“If they had a good game with a racquet that was strung at 5pm the day before their match, then they could decide they want a restring at 5pm the day before each game,” he said. “A lot of them have quirky things they like.”
Expertly weaving the strings through the grommets on the rim of the racquet head, Dickie Lee from Hong Kong will clock up his ninth n Open this summer. And his 22nd Grand Slam tournament.
Even before the Open starts, thick fabric plasters cover the middle and little finger of his right hand. His skin has become so dry from all the threading and weaving it is prone to cracking.
Like a lot of stringers, he has players he works with no matter where in the globe he finds himself. And although his work keeps him indoors, he knows exactly what it is like outside for the players.
“I did Francesca Schiavone’s racquet today at 23 kilograms because of the warmer temperatures here,” he said. “Last week in Hong Kong it was 22 kilograms.”
The first Grand Slam of the season, the n Open runs for a fortnight from January 18 at Melbourne Park.