“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.