Tennis

Tennis stringers serve to ease player tensions

‘‘It’s a very high-pressure job,’’ says Lay, 43, who expects to work 14 to 18 hours a day in the next two weeks.

Sometimes he has just 12 minutes to re-string one racquet.

Every frame is different: Australian Open stringer Pin Lay hand-threads a polyester string into a racquet frame.

Every frame is different: Australian Open stringer Pin Lay hand-threads a polyester string into a racquet frame.Credit:Simon Schluter

It’s still mostly done by hand because there are so many variables, from the frame shape to the number of rows of string.

The frame is clamped into a Yonex contraption resembling a Victorian-era sewing machine, while Lay removes the old string and threads the new string, made either of polyester or cow gut, through the frame.

The string is adjusted for the tension level specified by each player, then knotted and tested by attaching a mouse-sized measuring device.

Lay says more tension is needed when it’s hot because the ball is lighter and travels faster ‘‘so they need more control’’. When it’s cold, you drop the tension and ‘‘you get more power’’.

Australian Open stringer Pin Lay, right, with top men's player Rafael Nadal pictured at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Australian Open stringer Pin Lay, right, with top men’s player Rafael Nadal pictured at the 2016 Rio Olympics.Credit:Pin Lay

Most players stick to one tension figure for their racquets, but world men’s No. 9 player Kei Nishikori is an exception.

Lay says Nishikori sometimes orders re-strings from set to set, going from, say, a tension of 37 pounds to 41 or back again if he wants to play more defensively or if his opponent is playing in a certain way.

Lay, who is working at his 11th Australian Open, and has strung at two Olympic Games,

started stringing his own badminton racquets by hand in his native East Timor in 1989.

He bought a stringing machine from the closure of a Dili sports store, and sold sporting goods at his own general store.

In 1999, following rising tensions between independence fighters and pro-Indonesians that saw shootings in the streets and – for Lay – his friend’s disappearance, Lay fled to Darwin and then Melbourne with his wife, Lucy and baby Jimmy.

Their Dili shop and house were destroyed in the war.

While learning English in 2000, Lay landed work experience as a racquet stringer at Prelli Tennis store in Collingwood, where he still works.

He loves working at the Open and says stringers listen to matches on TV, and brag when ‘‘their’’ player does well.

‘‘I feel great, like ‘I string for him’. If he can win the final, I’ll feel proud: I say, ‘It’s my player, I did the job for him’.’’

Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.

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