Head stringer ready for action

Updated: July 1, 2009, 12:25 PM ET
Reuters

WIMBLEDON, England -- After supervising around 3,000 re-strings during the Wimbledon fortnight, one might think Roger Dalton could put his feet up with a bowl of strawberries on Sunday and watch the men's singles final in peace.

But that's not the case. The Grand Slam tournament's head racket stringer will be poised next to his machine, fingers twitching, primed for action.

Last year when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal contested arguably the best final ever witnessed at Wimbledon, Dalton was the man keeping the Spaniard supplied with rackets.

"I was Nadal's stringer in last year's final," Dalton said from his busy office next to the practice courts. "I did six for him in the morning, then after practice he sent some back again to be re-strung and during the match I did three for him.

"I was probably more stressed than he was," he said. "You're under pressure, the whole thing is going on out there and I was the only one working. Rafa has a habit of sending stuff back during the match, which can be quite stressful."

Dalton and his large team of stringers can turn around a racket in about 15 minutes when pushed.

"Unless we have to we don't re-string rackets fast because we go for quality and a quick re-string is not generally a good re-string," he said while putting the finishing touches to a shiny white frame belonging to Serbia's Novak Djokovic.

During the first week of the tournament 12 machines are in permanent use from 7 a.m. until long after the crowds have left the All England Club.

"We look after around 500 players during a Grand Slam," said Dalton, who has been stringing during Wimbledon for 12 years. "If you're not used to that workload it can be tough on the hands."

Getting the tension just right is vital, although players can also be particular about having the racket manufacturer's logo stenciled in exactly the right place on each racket.

The Williams sisters, and he certainly does not want to upset them, hate having their new grips soiled by the sweating hands of the stringers.

"We have a team assigned to Venus and Serena, as soon as we see them put a racket down we are ready," he said. "We keep a machine free for them while they're on court.

"We wrap polythene round their grips so the guys don't get their grubby hands on them. The last thing they want is finding somebody's egg sandwich all over their grip!" he said.

He also recalls 1992 runner-up Monica Seles asking for a frame-busting tension of 92 pounds (the average is just below 60) in her big-headed Yonex racket.

"That was pretty scary doing that one," he said.

Of his current customers American Vince Spadea has the highest tensions while Federer, who takes a dozen rackets on court, likes a mixture.

"Roger tends to like them fairly low, although he will have a range so that he can go up and down," he said.

The vast majority of players now use synthetic gut, although some have a mixture or use different quality strings in the mains for greater spin or power.

Natural gut is still requested, however, because it retains its tension longer, although with the innards of up to 15 cows needed to make enough high-quality string for one racket it does not come cheap.