Sunday, Day 1
The flight was really long and I am tired. I got to my hotel around 12pm. Most everybody speaks some English so my train ride was made easy. My room is no bigger than my laundry room, bathroom included. Kim, my sales rep and I met at my hotel and basically walked Paris. We went to see a Monet exhibit at the Musée d'Orsay. We ate dinner at a beautiful home. Kim’s friend. I have to work tomorrow. I am exhausted. We may have walked too much. Met the string team, picked up my outfits and went to bed around 11.
Monday, Day 2
Breakfast and off to Roland Garros. We had to leave the hotel by 7:15. 10 stringers today. Now I am really tired but one cup of coffee is all I need...crazy strong. I have 4 rackets waiting for me. I am in row 3 of 4 next to a bunch of "who's who" in European racket stringers. 2 stringers also came from Tokyo. I am confident going in but the situation is over the top. We park in a garage which is located below the stadium and walk to the indoor courts that have been made up to be an interactive stringing setting for the event. We are in a public area for everyone to see. Our area is the size of a tennis court without the doubles lines. These indoor courts are located under a stadium so I see no sunlight except to go to the bathroom. We get back around 11pm. No dinner... off to bed.
Everybody strings fast..but not too fast. I strung less than almost everyone. I feel like a fool. We all get paid the same but I lost a little respect for myself. 17 rackets and 1 mistake. blah.
Tuesday, Day 3
Today we leave the hotel at 7. I have 7 rackets waiting for me. I have my uniform on with an American flag on the arm. Today I am coming out guns blazing. No more screwing around. I kick out 11 by noon and volunteer to do 3 rackets "express." I am on fire.
I have reservations about the infrastructure of the system. It is great during qualies but it may backfire during the main draw. I am next to the Head Stringer of Wimbledon and I get some great pointers. I have been hanging out with 3 Brits.
Got to roam the grounds today and watch about 10 min of tennis. Nice and warm. Gael, the head Babolat machine guy changes about 12 base clamps today...does it in about 4 minutes each without looking including mine. He is a complete machine expert. Even though he doesn't speak English, I always yell his name out and give him a high 5.
My machine is nice and smooth, the best. We got out early tonight, 9:30. I could have kept going except the team goes in together and leaves together; everyone helps everyone.
24 rackets and no mistakes, in less time than yesterday. Middle of the pack today.
Wednesday, Day 4
Leave for RG at 7:10. Takes about 15 min to get to the courts. I sit next to Rafa's stringer...a Spanish guy who is drop dead funny. He seems to know everyone on tour. He did the Barcelona and Madrid tournaments and travels with the Spanish Davis Cup team.
It seems all I eat is bread, cheese and pasta. I have yet to see an overweight person. Everyone smokes, drinks coffee, eats like sh_t and drives cars smaller than a civic.
5 rackets waiting for me. I feel good today; my legs don't hurt from all the standing. Women played today and business was slow. I roamed the grounds which are about 1/3 the size of the US Open. My lunch for the 3rd day in a row consisted of a large piece of bread with a slice of ham and 2 slices of cheese. I guess this is normal??
They told us they were doing our laundry which means I don't have to wear my clothes 2 days in a row anymore. We got out at 9:30. I did 3 "express" rackets and finished the day with 22 with 1 small mistake that I caught...Better than most. It is a lot like the Pilot Pen but much much bigger.
Thursday, Day 5
Ok, today I am tired. Left the hotel at 7. 5.5 hours of sleep per night since I got here. I could have strung forever last night. Today, not so good. I have five rackets waiting for me. I string till about 4 and then walk the grounds again. The head Wimbledon stringer, Roger Dalton kind of takes me under his wing and tells me about all the other stringers in the room. The slowest guy in the room is from Japan...Toru. He is about 65 years old and all the players know him; all of Babolat knows him and all the stringers know him…even the stringers from P1 and RPNY.
Players from Japan ask to take pictures of Toru. He has been stringing around the world his whole life. I get to know him a little. Come to find out he has strung at over 20 slams.
I came here thinking I would be in the mix. I watched Toru string and it was like watching someone create art. Every move and string had a purpose. He never rushed and never, ever made even the littlest mistake. He had his own way. The stringers in the room had over 100 grand slams along with many other tournaments...I have had 4 days.
If it is possible that a stringer can become a legend in his craft then I am stringing among them. Tough day. Babolat gives us all a pair of shoes tonight but instead of leather the shoes are made up of tennis felt...nice surprise. I doubt I will ever wear them but they are very cool. At the end the boss shows up and tells us what he noticed and broke out some new rules. Quiet van ride home. 21 rackets and 1 small slip but nothing that will cause any problems.
Friday, Day 6
Still tired. Out the door at 7am. 5.5 hrs of sleep. I have 2 rackets waiting for me. Today Eric Babolat shows up with his team. They pose for pictures and then Rafa shows up. He almost always drops off his own rackets and he always uses the "on site" stringers. Since we are in a public place he may send his coach this tournament though. My rep and all the Americans from Babolat USA show up. I am introduced to them all. It is a really slow day. I have had the same breakfast and lunch for the last 5 days. The radio stations literally, play the same 10 songs over and over from morning till we leave. "I can't take no take no more". Try listening to that for 5 days. KC101 (local station) is off limits when I get back.
I roam the grounds and watch some matches, 67 and cloudy. I am psyched because one of the women I strung for in the qualies wins her way into the main draw. Got back to the hotel early...9:15. Tomorrow we get to sleep late; we leave at 7:40. As a group we have strung 950 rackets. Like I said it was slow for all. Total 13 and 1 express. No mistakes today.
Saturday, Day 7
Today is Kid’s Day and we all have to wear the shoes that I thought I would never wear. 2 more stringers added today, one from Greece and the other from Czech Republic, both good guys with a lot of experience. Today I change some of my stringing technique. I don't usually do this during a tournament but I felt I had to conform a little bit more. I change my knot from a "double hitch" to a "pro knot" and i change the way I start the racket. This is a new concept to me but with just a little help from Roger Dalton I am on my way.
Anytime someone slips up a bunch of stringers gather around the racket like a bunch of doctors looking at a patient. There is no problem that hasn't been solved yet. The teamwork is fantastic...we all get paid by the day but everyone wants to do more than they are asked of. The pride everyone has in their work is second to none. I made one bad mistake the first day...I strung a racket with 2 knots instead of 4...the player requested 4. The player probably didn't even notice but I had to alert the desk.
Yesterday there was a woman on court that needed her racket strung quick and I strung it with the butt cap logo the wrong way. Didn't need to alert the desk. The guys comforted me and said it was no big deal but to me it was. I am scared stiff to make another mistake. These are such small, nothing, slips but nobody here goofs and if somebody does then everyone finds out. We have to keep a log.
It was another slow day and we are back at the hotel at 9:15. Tomorrow the sh_t hits the fan....16 main draw matches and Monday the show begins. I strung what they gave me...16 today..about the same as the others. Butt cap mistake. blah!!!
Sunday, Day 8
Tired again. As predicted, today the sh_t did hit the fan. Rackets all over the place and we lost our best stringer to illness...stress. He is exhausted from working Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. 10 stringers and the heat was on all day. The 22 year old on the team who has 2 Wimbledons to his credit strung 38 rackets and went to the bathroom only once. Me, 27 rackets and no mistakes! Babolat interviewed me today for their Facebook page. No notice on that but you can see the result there now.
Monday, Day 9
Out the door at 7. My fingers hurt and I would pay 50 euros to get an extra hour of sleep. My friend from adidas gets me a pass to a stadium suite...nice!! I work hard to get my work done to watch Federer. He destroys Lopez. Two more stringers show up and it really helps. One of the stringers is from Spain and he is faster than anyone I have ever seen. The 22 year old phenom does another 38.
My trip is half over and I would say it is like climbing Mt. Washington [NH] or running a marathon. It is great at the start but about half way through you start to wonder why the hell you are doing it. The team works really well tonight and we get out at 10ish. Our star stringer should be back tomorrow and has 5 Nadal rackets to do. I have 3 for Lucic at the start; she plays Sharapova 2nd on. This would be a real feather in my cap if she won. I won't talk about my breakfast and lunch. Just assume I am eating the same thing every day. Count: 25 today and I had to redo my first racket, but I caught the mistake and just restrung the frame.
Tuesday, Day 10
I nail Lucic's rackets. 29k, prestretch, 2 piece and 17ga soft string. She gets destroyed...It is another beautiful day, 75 and sunny. Nothing but nice weather since I arrived. 16 stringers today...very low stress. Each stringer here has an average of 8 slams to their credit plus other tournaments. The stringers here are all consistent and it has taken me a while to figure out how everyone is stringing. By the time I leave I should be rock solid.
Nadal had a 5 setter today. Babolat and the Spanish stringers were freaking out...I was the only American so I kept my mouth shut. Nadal had 3 rackets run in and the press followed. Xavie strung 2 rackets in 15 minutes...the fastest I have ever seen.
With the exception of Arnold's affair and the death of the "Macho Man" Randy Savage I have no idea what is going on in the States. Slow day. Some other people had some bad slips today but I was good. 13 rackets no mistakes.
Thursday, Day 11
Work has been slow and people are working the system to try to get rackets. 3 rackets were given to me for Kirilenko. It was 11:25 and they were due by 12. Easy rackets 16/18 string pattern and a 2 piece string job. I could have got 2 done and sent the other up to the court...all good. It would have been the same person/same machine which is what we always try to do.
There is a Spanish stringer behind me who said he was doing her rackets at the last 2 tournaments and that he had already strung a racket for her. He had a racket on the press and another to go on after. I am a little apprehensive since I am the freshman here so I tell him he can do them and remind him that the time given is 12. It infuriates me to no end that he is taking my rackets but I keep to myself. He tells me "no problem" and that the time they are due is wrong because she doesn't play until 2nd match on at 12:05. Then the coach he claims he knows so well comes in and asks for the rackets...None were done and the coach was pissed.
The woman at the desk comes over and she asked if just 1 was done and he replied "no". He is very fast..so he put one on his press and gave another to his buddy...which is a no, no. The coach is growing very impatient and talks to the people at the desk. Bottom line...all rackets were late and he goofed on the 3rd and had to re-do it. I give him a couple of nasty looks and he knows I am pissed. He doesn't talk to me the rest of the day. He reminds me of a guy that smokes too much pot and lives with his parents.
We had to wait till the Simon/Chardy 5 set match finishes and then the entire team goes out for dinner together. It is 9:30 by the time we get out of here...still light out. We walk to the restaurant. Great time. We are all presented a book about the history of Babolat..I have Toru sign it as do a lot of people. I sat at the bar and looked around and realize that the end is coming near and that I probably will never see these people again. Good food, lots of beer and finally a team picture. The happy night ends.
13 rackets no mistakes.
Friday, Day 12
It was my turn to sleep in. We arrive at RG at 11. Xavie does my 2 rackets for the morning. My girl Garcia had Sharapova but lost a close one. I knew the day would be slow and it didn't disappoint...everybody is sitting around.
Over 200 people around the world applied for this job and I figure I should watch others string today. There is soooo much more to technique that I have learned. I have become a new stringer over the last week. It is a little cold but still sunny, about 65. I would go watch matches except the place is jam packed. We have a big screen tv to watch and no crowds to fight in the stringers area.
Today we ate lunch in a new area...under Lenglen Stadium. There is a whole city under the RG grounds that you can't see. I bumped into a bunch of players I knew from the Pilot Pen...nice that they remember me. 2 of the Spanish stringers are taking all the rackets and are really fast but not as good as you would think. I got in late, strung 6 rackets, went to lunch and then 6 of us headed back to the hotel. Nice easy day. I headed out with the Brits tonight to get dinner.
Saturday, Day 13
8 hours of sleep...yeah!! We left at 7:40 this morning and there is no traffic. everyone in the minivan puts their seatbelts on. It is a 90 euro fine if you are caught without one. I can see why there is a law because everyone drives crazy. I often look at the buildings on the way to RG and they are really small for a major city. You can feel that history is all around you.
The Djokovic/DelPotro match has to continue early this afternoon because of darkness. I am going to try to sneak out and watch some. All the machines are in use this morning and it is quite an amazing sight. I have one of the desk girls take a picture...then others follow. The head stringing machine technician is here today taking notes about their machines. Since my shop [at home] is $20,000 deep in Babolat machines, I give them an ear-full. I figure in about 2 years Babolat will have the best machine ever......
Why are these 2 Spanish guys who came 5 days later than everyone else taking all the rackets? With the exception of 2 rackets I have strung everything I have been given. The Juniors and Seniors came in today and we get a small rush in the afternoon. Back at the hotel at 9:30. 15 rackets but I felt like I could have gone all night. About 2700 rackets for the tournament so far. Reminder to everyone...you don't pronounce the "t" in Babolat.
Sunday, Day 14
We arrive at RG at 8:15...the place is empty. I have 2 to start the day but the day was slow. It is obvious that as a 1st year stringer of RG, Babolat wanted to overstaff just to make sure everything is ok. 16 stringers is a good number but we just need to be spaced out more efficiently. Without the work from delPotro and Davydenko things are starting to slow down. The rule of same machine/same stringer is out the window. Things are going real well considering this is a learning process for everyone.
McEnroe came in with a racket. Roger got to string it. I was jealous until I saw that the gut he gave; looked like it was as old as his last Wimbledon trophy. Very old, dry and brittle string.
Almost all the ushers are women and absolutely beautiful...but they are tough as nails. Actually all the women employees are beautiful. If Paris has unattractive women they are not working at RG. At the US Open you get a bunch of grouchy old men who you can't even talk to much less look at.
The guys start talking about tennis stringing nightmare stories...the worst I heard was at the Athens Olympics. I have had some bad nights but nothing like this. Today I strung for Fognini who won in 5 tough sets and Hantuchova who was playing Kuznetsova...not sure who won that.
When a player is on court and needs a racket strung a special phone rings and giant light goes off...kind of like the "bat phone" but brighter. Gasquet ran a racket in during the match but it didn't help. As of 5:00 today we got the word that the team has strung over 3,000 rackets.
We leave RG at 9:15. I ate dinner at a local restaurant around 10 pm, I bump into Hiro the other Japanese guy and we eat together. There have been some years Hiro has spent up to 200 days on the road stringing professionally. He is not great at English but I manage to get some good stringing tips from him. Only 12 rackets for me today...all good. Slept great.
Just getting used to the time change.
Monday, Day 15
We have to get to RG early because Jamie (the 3rd Brit) has 4 rackets due for the Bryan's at 9am. The coach is very polite but demanding...up a pound, down a pound, etc. 4 people went home this morning...my 2 British friends and 2 Frenchmen. There are 11 of us left. The Spanish guy next to me is doing 3 for Ferrer who couldn't finish his match with Monfils because of darkness. I could hear the noise from that match from the underground indoor courts. We didn't get out until 10pm tonight because we had to wait for the Murray match to end...darkness again. Today was a half day for me...12 rackets and one minor slip. I went to watch tennis on the outside courts for about 2 hrs.
I leave tomorrow morning and feel like I am at mile 25...Almost to the top of the mountain. I am no longer intimidated by who is around me. I know everyone by their first name and now feel like I belong. I even had a beer and a few laughs with the Spanish guy who I had issues with. Maybe he is alright after all. Babolat treated us better than I could have ever imagined. We are a vital part to every professional tournament and here at RG we were treated as such.
I am a little sad leaving. I have made lots of new friends over the last 2 1/2 weeks. As my amazing experience comes to an end I look around at all the experience around me. I wonder...why would all these people fly in from all over the world (some at their own expense), leave their families, work 14hr days, standing in one place, hardly seeing any sun, sleeping 5-6 hours a night, eating like sh_t, stringing with string that is tough as nails, for up to 3 weeks for very little money? I guess the reason is different for everyone here. as for me...i can't wait to come back.
*Chris Gaudreau is a Master Racquet Technician (MRT), USRSA certified racquet stringer and USPTA certified teaching pro. He owns and operates Racket Koop in New Haven, CT (close to the Yale Bowl). He has worked with and strung for some of the the world's top-level tennis players at many world class tennis events. Roland Garros was his first Grand Slam event.