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drakulie 09-06-2012 12:45 PM

Priority One, Stringing & Customizing, and The Hall Of Fame
 
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”.
~ Wizard of Oz

http://p1tennis.com/

On a tennis court somewhere in Tampa, Florida two should be lock-ins for the International Tennis Hall of Fame are having a relaxing hit of doubles with two other colleagues. On-lookers wouldn’t see it from their strokes, or frames they choose, which could be anything from a Babolat to a Kniessl. Nor would one see it in their genius of constructing points to employ a winning strategy. Each one has outstanding attributes on a court, like a killer forehand, or overpowering serve. If power doesn’t do it, then perhaps great hands at the net, or an all-court game. With over 40 major titles, countless master shields, several hundred weeks at number one in the sport and still counting, these weekend warriors aren’t at the top of their trade and building a resume to the Hall for what they have accomplished in tennis between the lines over the last 20+ years, but more for what they have quietly assisted others achieving between the lines during that time behind the scenes. Their path to the Hall of Fame is solidly woven in natural gut, polyesters, hundreds of miles of other synthetics, customizing racquets, and providing confidence, and consistency to a large portion of the greatest players over the last 20 years. So great is the skill-set they have developed over this time, and respect from players, that they rarely “promote” themselves, rather, let their work do their talking. Many players seek them out, and many others refer them to their colleagues. Players like Sampras, Federer, Agassi, Murray, Hewitt, Safin, Djokovic, and many others have gone thru lots of changes during their respective careers from coaches, wives/girlfriends, trainers, diets, entourages, sponsorships, etc. But one thing they certainly haven’t needed to worry about changing during what could be a storm of changes throughout their careers is equipment issues like grip sizes, balance of racquets being out of whack, or tension being off. This is due to the incredible and consistently unrivaled work of Priority One (P1). So who are these guys and what are they like?

Nate Ferguson and Ron Yu of P1 were kind enough to meet me and my wife for dinner earlier this year during the Miami Masters and give me a sneak peek “behind the curtain”.

Little did they know during their humble beginnings they one day would play a vital role in the success of the games greats by leading the way in customization and stringing to these giants of the game, nor did they know their stringing would forever become inter-twined with the greats of the game. Nate learned from Jay at Bosworth (Warren Bosworth) around 1986. Ron also learned around the same time, and in 1989 joined the Babolat Competition Stringing Team. As you all know, Nate became Sampras’ personal stringer, and Ron was for a time, Agassi’s stringer. After the players respective careers ended, they joined forces at Priority One, where they were later joined with Glynn and Mike. Glynn being the best player with a massive overhead and forehand that strikes fear in the other three, and of course an excellent and consistent stringer who has provided the stringing service to many champions, including Wimbledon Champions. Mike being more of a behind the scenes guy, sort of like the Wizard of Oz behind the green curtain who assists in customizing many players frames that come thru the P1 shop. Ironically, Mike, being “behind the curtain” is a reflection of stringers and racquet technicians around the world. So little is known or written about them and the importance of the work they do.

I asked Ron if he still enjoyed stringing and he laughingly stated, “If I won the lottery, I would never string another racquet again, including my own.” But still, one has to keep this comment in perspective and look closely at the moment it was said,,,,,,, after stringing with the others over 500 frames at Indian Wells, and then possibly another 500 at Miami. So it’s easy to understand where the comment comes from. Both do admit to getting tired of the travel and work, but still enjoy it, and enjoy the personal relationships they have established with their clients over the years, which they acknowledge is what makes them so successful; The personal relationships and confidence the players have in their work. Those relationships, and the confidence that results for the players, allow the players to have one less thing to worry about when they go onto the court. “Players knowing everything will always be consistent, and feeling comfortable with the people stringing is what makes it work”, says Nate. “Most players have gone thru their tennis life with a sort of discipline, waking up at certain time, training, eating, working out, physical training,,,,, why not stringing? Sort of a discipline.” Ron states, and I agree “that in many ways, stringing is not an art such as a painting but more of a craft with artistic flavor.” His reasoning being art is always different. Stringers or racquet technicians are at the end of the day craftsmen whose essential role is to provide the same result over and over for a player; taking the guess work out, or uneasiness for a player that doesn’t want to find out when the match has started that his frames all play differently.

Stringers around the world who haven’t been able to provide consistent string jobs are one reason they are so sought out and eventually hired. One day Nate, while working in his garage at home received a phone call from a player who had problems with the stringing service at an event overseas. The player realized if he was worried about his stringing, he wouldn’t be able to focus on playing matches, much less chasing history. He didn’t call for a new coach or trainer. That player was looking for someone to provide racquet customization and stringing consistently throughout the entire year. That player was Roger Federer, and has since that day been a P1 customer. More importantly, has been able to achieve his dream of not only chasing history, but single-handedly re-writing the record books without having to worry about his equipment.

When John Isner a few years back was having problems with strings consistently prematurely snapping in his Prince racquet during matches, he finally contacted P1. Isner’s racquet was worked on by Ron to stop the strings from consistently prematurely, breaking. “Tubing and a little work on the O Ports did the trick”, said Ron. “After I worked on them, I dropped off the frames for John where he was practicing in Tampa. John asked if it would work, and I said, ‘probably not’, and walked away. Later that day, John contacted me to tell me he didn’t break any strings, then the next day, and next, and that is how he signed up with us”. Voila, once again a happy customer. So good was the “trick” Ron came up with, that during the 183 game, 11 hour Isner/Mahut classic marathon at Wimbledon, which would be the longest match in tennis history, P1 only needed to string 3 frames for the final set and 12 in total, which is a very low count considering how much pros re-string racquets during tournaments.

So good is the consistency and trust clients have in their work, that P1 also replaces over grips for the match and practice racquets during tournaments; Something most players prefer to do on their own for fear that someone else re-gripping their frame will not feel the same in their hand. When adding leather grips to a players frames that are sent to the shop for customizing, all of the grips in the shop are sorted out and matched so that each racquet’s grip is identical in color, weight, length, thickness, and ultimately, feel.

When traveling to tournaments, P1 ships a lot of equipment, including 3 Babolat Star 4 machines, player racquets, strings, grips, and over grips, in addition to tools to assist them in customizing in the case it is needed on site. A Prince Tuning Center is used to travel in place of the heavier Babolat RDC that stays back in the shop. These tools come in handy for players who are not Gold Clients but may run into balance and swing weight issues on the road, such as many women players who don’t use P1’s full service because they simply don’t re-string enough during tournaments, unlike the men who re-string nearly every day and sometimes twice a day. However, many of the women, like men, seek out P1 for their expertise in customizing, and getting their racquets perfectly “tuned up”.

When asked about racquet specs in order of importance, Nate and Ron agree that most important is the swing weight, followed by the weight and ultimately balance, although length of a racquet plays a vital role that can’t be overlooked and could at times drastically change all of these. Of course, there is also flex and lastly the feel of a racquet, which is personal to each player and how they perceive it.

drakulie 09-06-2012 12:47 PM

continued:

In regards to strings and stringing, Ron prefers one piece over two whenever possible, simply because of loss of tension on tie offs. Being that the use of hybrids has become ever-more popular among pro players, two piece stringing which typically consists of a poly and natural gut strings, resulting in the need to use 4 knots, which then results in quicker tension loss in a shorter amount of time. In our discussion about hybrids and gut, Ron and Nate turned the tables and asked me a question. Where I liked the gut and why? I stated I felt using natural in the crosses is a waste, simply because any other less expensive multi will do the same thing, which is to soften the string bed. Gut in the mains is where one gets the advantage and performance of using natural guts. Nate agreed, and Ron jokingly added they should pass this advice onto yet another one of their clients, Andy Murray, who uses gut in the crosses. Still, many of their clients prefer the gut in mains with a poly in the crosses, such as Federer, Djokovic, Fish, and Tsonga to name a few, all claiming they get much better performance from the string in regards to tension maintenance, power, spin, comfort and control.

A lot is debated about string and racquet technology, fitness, court surface, coaches and coaching methods, and how it has changed the game and their importance, but very little is talked about in regards to how personal service and customization to the top players has changed the way they approach the game. More importantly, about the persons who are directly responsible for that service, so it’s surprising that when a player receives their championship trophy, they don’t forget to thank sponsors, umps, coaches, wives, ball boys, fans and a list of all sorts of others, resulting in the warm embrace and cheers of the fans, but rarely if ever give thanks to those who provide one of, if not the most important functions in today’s game, the tuning and caring of ultimately the only thing that makes contact with the tennis ball, the players racquet and strings.

Perhaps one day the Hall of Fame will recognize Ron and Nate’s importance and contributions to the game; preparing and customizing the most essential tool a pro needs to win the countless matches, titles and majors they have been directly responsible for. If the greatest players the game has seen over the last 20 years who are in or on their way into the Hall of Fame have searched them out, why not the Hall with No Strings Attached? Perhaps when this happens, the work, sometimes brutal such as stringing all day and night, and working countless and tireless hours during tournaments, will be more appreciated and respected by the tennis community as a whole; From home stringers, to shop stringer, to tournament stringer. Perhaps when this happens, racquet technicians will come out from behind the Green Curtain in Oz to a front and center stage embrace of the tennis community for a long overdue curtain call. Hopefully, if one day Priority One is recognized, it will lead to the rest us “racquet wizards” in the stringing community to also be recognized, and our work justified and respected.

As many of you may or may not know, I was lucky enough to get a call from P1 this year. The call was to ask if I would be interested in joining them at the Cincinnati Masters 1000 Western & Southern Open. After meeting these legends earlier this year, not only did I feel lucky to be asked to string at such a prestigious event, I felt honored I would have my day Behind the Curtain and have the chance to be stringing side-by side with the very best racquet technicians and stringers in the world.

From left to right, the P1 2012 Cincy String team:
(Chuck, Julian, Ron, Drakulie (Rick), Glynn, Mark, Doug, and Casey (kneeling))



Nate Ferguson:



Casey, practicing his rowing skills:


cluckcluck 09-06-2012 12:49 PM

Nice Drak! Interesting bit on Isner's string breaking.

drakulie 09-06-2012 12:51 PM

Sam Querrey frames in P1 bags:



Ron Yu taking a break:



Glynn, stringing Federer's frames:


drakulie 09-06-2012 12:52 PM

Drak, stringing Dimitrov frame:



Roger Federer's frames:



Doug's master piece..... about 8 thousand tireless Serena frames:


gmatheis 09-06-2012 01:15 PM

Great post Drak!

Love the pics .. without someone like you us average folks would never get this glimpse "behind the curtain".

P1 Has my vote for the Hall of fame (unfortunately that doesn't carry much weight).

Thanks !

seekay 09-06-2012 01:19 PM

Great stuff, thanks for sharing it!

mikeler 09-06-2012 01:22 PM

Don't have time to read this now but I can't wait to sit down and read it later. Thanks for sharing.

Roger Wawrinka 09-06-2012 01:23 PM

Wow, I love this Drakulie! Can I ask a few questions. Was Casey stretching Nautral gut? And if he was what did he have it wraped around? Last question, why was the starting clamp on the outside of the frame for? Is that a way of starting mains, If so could you explain it to me? Would it be okay if I shoot you an email sometime? If you do not want to give your email away I understand.

Great Story and Great pictures, Thanks!:)

Roger Wawrinka

MAX PLY 09-06-2012 01:35 PM

I hope you liked working with Chuck--a good guy and friend of mine here in the ATL. Thanks for all of the great posts.

Great article!!

stringwalla 09-06-2012 02:16 PM

Saw the P1 crew quite a bit hanging/waiting outside of Ashe to transfer rax to players. Must of been a logistical problem during qualies week though, because a few top P1 clients were using the on site services even though P1 stringers were in the city.

monkey-ranch 09-06-2012 02:20 PM

:eek: :eek: :o :o

You my friend, deserve a prize. It's great to see that you are rubbing elbows with the big guys (and I don't mean you aren't!) I feel happy for you and hopefully some day you'll become a P1 full time member! Great post, thanks for sharing and hope to see you soon!

andtapes 09-06-2012 02:52 PM

Thank for that amazing report!

RJYU 09-06-2012 04:48 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stringwalla (Post 6872388)
Saw the P1 crew quite a bit hanging/waiting outside of Ashe to transfer rax to players. Must of been a logistical problem during qualies week though, because a few top P1 clients were using the on site services even though P1 stringers were in the city.

Probably not "logistical problems", and may have been the fact that we don't start stringing until Wednesday or Thursday of the week before the start of the main draw.

If you saw us, you should have stopped to say hello!

Roger Wawrinka 09-06-2012 05:48 PM

RJYU, This might sound like a weird question but are you allowed to tell me what finishing knot you use? Also, I know you tie-off on the cross when you are stringing natural gut but in the mains, but when you are stringing for someone like Wawrinka, Nadal, or Tipsarevic, who use full sets of poly, when you are stringing the crosses, do you start the crosses from the bottom? I always thought that this was bad for the racquet (I could be wrong) but is there a way you can string from top to bottom while doing one piece?


Thanks, Roger Wawrinka

stringwalla 09-06-2012 06:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by RJYU (Post 6872944)
If you saw us, you should have stopped to say hello!

Gave you a "smile and a nod" Ron. My next stop is Australia, if I see you there, I'll introduce myself for sure-

drakulie 09-06-2012 06:17 PM

Glad to read you have all enjoyed the read. Thanks!

I'll try to post a few more photos when I get a chance.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Roger Wawrinka (Post 6872257)
Wow, I love this Drakulie! Can I ask a few questions. Was Casey stretching Nautral gut? And if he was what did he have it wraped around? Last question, why was the starting clamp on the outside of the frame for? Is that a way of starting mains, If so could you explain it to me? Would it be okay if I shoot you an email sometime? If you do not want to give your email away I understand.

Great Story and Great pictures, Thanks!:)

Roger Wawrinka

Roger, we used a door handle with a towel wrapped around it to protect the strings when pre-stretching. In reference to the starting clamp, I believe you are speaking about the photo with Doug. If so, I believe this is how he starts his mains, but not sure of his exact procedure.

Here is my email: drakulie@aol.com


Quote:

Originally Posted by MAX PLY (Post 6872287)
I hope you liked working with Chuck--a good guy and friend of mine here in the ATL. Thanks for all of the great posts.

(update--I posted the above before I read the article--very nice--one nit--shouldn't the reference in the third paragraph be to "Warren" (not Norman) Bosworth? I thought the late, great Warren Bosworth was Jay's dad?)

Max, working with Chuck, along with all the other guys was a great pleasure. Chuck is a real nice guy and great resource with a lot of knowledge. Hopefully, will have the pleasure of working with him again in the future.

PS: Thanks for pointing out the error. I corrected it.

Davis Cup Fan 09-06-2012 08:05 PM

@ roger wawrinka
You use a starting clamp on the mains with the yusuki method i believe.

Radicalized 09-07-2012 02:50 AM

Great post as usual, Drakulie.
--
I see Glynn, for example, is using a tabletop model. I'm guessing machines with bases aren't always preferred.

Irvin 09-07-2012 03:15 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Roger Wawrinka (Post 6873165)
RJYU, This might sound like a weird question but are you allowed to tell me what finishing knot you use? Also, I know you tie-off on the cross when you are stringing natural gut but when you are stringing for someone like Wawrinka, Nadal, or Tipsarevic, who use full sets of poly, do you use a starting knot or do you use a starting clamp to start the crosses?


Thanks, Roger Wawrinka

That does sound like a weird question. You want to know what finishing knot is used to start the crosses when stringing one piece? That's Ron's main reason for stringing one piece two fewer knots.


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