gb davis cup 2010

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With the GB side failing to win at Braehead, they had to face the Israeli side in Eastbourne in July. Jeremy Bates had chosen Devonshire Park as the battleground as the opposition had enjoyed too much success at Nottingham. The winers of this encounter would remain where they were, the losers would have to travel to Kiev in September to face the Ukraine in a relegation match.

I had asked to be considered for any more Davis Cup work and so I was pleased when I got a call from the LTA, asking me to travel down to Eastbourne for a 9am start on the Tuesday. Jackie Vaughan kindly stepped in at very short notice to take over from me at a mixed grass tournament in Frinton and after loading everything up, travelling back to Norwich, doing two emergency rackets at the club, collecting the Babolat RDC and other specialist customising equipment, I headed south down the A11 at around 11pm, deciding to drive whilst I was still buzzing and maybe catch some sleep along the way. I suppose I know every good Costa coffee place on every major road by now. Such is the sad life of a tournament stringer.

However, by 8am I was chatting with the security staff at Devonshire Park and once again dragging my stringing equipment up stairs and into a large suite of changing rooms. I had a choice of where to work and so I chose an area at the top of the stairs where I could see everyone approaching and also see the players rooms to my right. Behind me I had a spare room where I stored the spare equipment and also the racket customising gear. 27 years in the Prison Service does that to you!

I like to arrive early at tournaments so that I can make sure that I have everything set up just right before anyone hands in a racket. For me preparation is 90% of good racket servicing.
Due to the heightened state of security alert for this Tie, there was more security awareness at all times. Apart from the very capable routine security work on entry points, with the building being swept every 20 minutes or so, there was also a distinct higher level of personal close protection work for the players and it was interesting to see them work. Part of the attraction for the spectators at Devonshire Park is that the players walk through the crowds as they go to and from the courts. This presented a nightmare for the security staff and they certainly earned their wages. I got used to apologising to the kids as the players were escorted quickly and without interruption between the changing rooms and the Centre Court.

My first work on the Tuesday came in at around 10am as the Israeli Team arrived for practice. Most of the rackets were Wilson Ncode six-ones. The Israeli number one, Noam Okun, had one Wilson racket for stringing and three for balancing. His strings were Pacific Poly for the mains at 55lbs and crosses were Pacific Natural Gut at 56lbs.
Andy Ram had his Wilson strung with Babolat VS Natural Gut at 55lbs for the mains (yes, mains) and Big Banger Rough in the crosses at 55lbs.
Enil Voltzer had his Wilson strung with all Kirschbaum Super Smash, at 60 lbs and presumably he had a very strong right arm and shoulder.
Johnathan Erlich also chose Babolat VS gut in the mains and Big Banger in the crosses, both at 53lbs.
Robert Inbar used a Head Prestige with Gamma Poly in the mains at 59lbs and TF Xtra in the crosses at 57lbs.
There were other rackets coming through from the Israeli team but these were the main rackets used for matches. Rackets were strung fresh each morning.

My daily routine was as follows;

  • 6.30am - Drive from Cooksbridge, near Lewes to Beachy Head, one mile from the grounds.
  • 7.20am - In absoluely glorious sunshine each morning, I had a 30 mins workout whilst enjoying the breathtaking scenery of the Sussex Downs on one side and the sea on the other.
  • 8.15am - Light breakfast, morning paper and good coffee at local cafe.
  • 9am - Arrive at grounds, shower etc and start working.
  • 10am - Team arrive for 10.30am practice.

After stringing rackets I would go out to the courts and take any feedback on tensions so that the team would feel a link between the stringing work and their efforts.
Lunch was taken when possible, lots of water every hour due to the heat, caterers bringing in trays of fresh fruit, pasta, cheeses, bread, confectionery and drinks. I had decided not to store my bacon sandwiches and pork pies in their fridge.

There were two daily practice sessions, morning and afternoon, with the GB side using a different part of the grounds. Everyone looked fit and fast on both sides. I noticed that Andy Murray was not present for the first few days. Ron Yu was looking after their stringing as he was at Braehead and as the GB hotel was just around the corner, he later chose to work from there instead, not a bad idea if you want to receive rackets late in the evening.

My machine was the usual Babolat Star 4 and it was pulling exactly right. By good fortune, the players did not have to make any changes to their tensions throughout the week and were really pleased to have just one stringer doiung things the way they wanted. Any one-piece was RTW pattern, with a slight modification that I have added to get both mains matched exactly right for tension. Johnathan Erlich was the only player to request prestretching of gut.

Customising - Noam asked for three rackets to be matched up to his favourite and luckily the spare ones were lighter. He had 10 grams of lead inserted under the bumper strip at 10 and 2 oclock and as the rackets to be matched were all new, I was easily able to remove the strips and add the lead. Some fine adjustment was needed after checking swingweight on the RDC, but as the Wilson Ncodes were so well matched for overall weight and balance anyway, the work was pretty easy. I even managed to replace his original bumper strip afterwards. I used RAB lead on the sides of the rims and this went on without any problems.

Robert Inbars Head Prestiges were a different story. He required the same work as Noam, but I found up to 15 grams difference in weight between some rackets. Apparently Head is in the transition between Austrian and Taiwanese manufacture and the variance arises there. I ended up putting some lead under the grips and I used some lead sent over by Tim Strawn of Grand Slam Stringers. This proved very easy to cut and apply and looked neat. Two more products sent over by Tim were the special black tubing and the teflon swab for ensuring the clamps ran smoothly. I hate to use oil, so the Teflon swab worked excellently, using it on the rails after about every 4 rackets. No messy dirty oil streaks. Inbar at one stage asked for some 5 grams of lead tape applied at the 12 oclock position to be removed as he felt it did not look right! I explained about the consequences but he still wanted it removed, so that was that. I am just the poor stringer and the player is always right.

The actual matches that took place were exciting to watch. I had no broken strings on court and I made sure that every player had some fresh frames in their bag.
Noam Okun ran short of nayural gut and I got a good deal on 16 gauge Wilson natural gut - looks like it came from a factory in Lyons, France, and an even better deal on some 17 gauge gut from Bow Brand who are doing a special deal for a pack of four sets, left over from Wimbledon.

The results show that the Israeli side won overall and as I was on their payroll, I was pleased to cheer for them. They were a really good bunch of people anyway, but my heart went out to the GB side, especially Jamie Delgado in his match against Noam Okun. Jamie had been thrown in to replace Andy Murray who had played 10 sets over the first two days and then withdrew with a neck problem. Everyone thought that Noam would easily overcome the lower ranked GB player and were surprised when it seemed that Jamie had not read the script and was leading 4/1 in the 5th set, one point off a 5/1 lead, when Noam fought back, got his breaks back and came though to win. If only every GB player worked as hard as Jamie Delgado ....

So, a good week of stringing and customising for me, some great matches, new friendships made, managed to actually lose a few lbs in weight and retained my 100% Davis Cup success!
When I went round to collect payment from the Israeli Team Captain, Eyal Ran in their hotel just before I left, I found them all having their hair completely cut off by Johnathan Erlich, apparently the result of a pre-tournament agreement should they win. I was lucky to escape with my hair intact. I left Eastbourne around 10pm, got into Norwich at around 1am and next morning had a Club Stringer course starting at 9.30am!!

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