By Cara Newman

Most tennis fans are preparing for one of the biggest tennis tournaments of the year: the 2012 French Open. Fans all over the world are discussing the odds of who will win; they’re examining the pros and cons of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer, but what about the people behind the scenes? The men and women who work hard to make sure the professionals have what they need to play their best. I’m talking about the racquet technicians. After all, nothing happens in a vacuum, not even winning a major tennis tournament.
I was curious to hear about these unsung heroes. These people whose time, talent and effort go into making sure these tournaments go off without a hitch.
Luckily, I live in Baltimore, MD, home of Holabird Sports, a running and racquet specialty store which employs many U.S.R.S.A. Racquet Technicians, including Jim Downes, who recently strung at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Jim Downes has worked at Holabird Sports since 1988. In 1994, he was recognized by the United States Racquet Stringers Association as a “Master Racquet Technician” — the highest level of achievement the U.S.R.S.A offers. Jim is also a member of the prestigious Wilson Stringing Team which comprises the exclusive on-site stringers at the U.S. Open, Australian Open, and Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.
If that wasn’t enough, Jim is recognized as one of the fastest racquet stringers in the world. He finished 2nd in the 2007 Las Vegas Speed Stringing Contest and in 2010 he won the Prince Speed Stringing event in Orlando, Florida. Jim can string a racquet in seven minutes flat.

While speaking to Jim about stringing at the last Sony Ericsson Open, he told me that, “Stringing at a major tournament is an honor and a challenge. Players that have risen to that level require and expect the highest standards for their equipment. After all, a lot of money can be on the line for a single match.”

It follows that qualifying for the Wilson Stringing Team is extremely challenging. According to Jim, “The first requirement is to be able to string a racquet fast (usually under 15 minutes), to achieve this under any circumstance means that the stringer has a lot of experience. The second and most important challenge is to be able to string many racquets fast, all day, with zero mistakes. There are many fast stringers out there and many technically precise stringers. But very few that can be fast and precise at the same time. The current team is composed of some of the best stringers from all over the world. A few of them travel almost full time to service many of the current top 20 ranked men’s and women’s players at international events.”

Hard work and talent are a given in almost every profession. But if you want to become a professional stringer, take Jim’s advice: “Just be passionate about providing the best level of service in every frame you string. The learning never stops no matter how many years or racquets you’ve completed.”

To get your tennis racquet strung by one of the best stringers in the business visit

Photo by Dustin Webb