Sunday, November 28, 2021

Paul Skipp, the master of Thwack in Wimbledon

In the shadow of the no. 1-court at the All England Club, the Wimbledon team is ready for a bunch of requests. The day before the tournament starts, the team usually teams about 500 rackets, and they follow the instructions of players on tension levels, button placement, logo color, and rope type. Then the team will return the next day and do another 500 rockets.

“If we do a good job and the player wins the tournament, excellent, great, fantastic, we feel we have done our part,” said Paul Skipp, who has been Wimbledon’s main player since 2014.

Players who rest their rackets, mainly because strings lose tension quickly, and they have to trust that the ball will come off their strings in a certain way. Led by Skipp, the Wimbledon string team works long days, sometimes after midnight. Depending on personal preferences, weather and time spent on the track, players can have their rackets threaded each day. At Wimbledon, players will use freshly stretched rackets for just one game.

Skipp (51) suggests he played rackets for ten players who won Wimbledon titles, including Angelique Kerber of Germany in 2018. When Scottish player Andy Murray made his 2005 debut at Wimbledon, Skipp was there for him to cord. He worked on the rackets of Rafael Nadal at previous Wimbledons. He regularly moves to Alison Riske of the United States. At Wimbledon in 2019, she upset top-seeded Ashleigh Barty and reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time.

“Paul is absolutely my best player at Wimbledon, and I’m so grateful for all the good juju he puts over my rackets,” Riske said in an email. “Paul is good at what he does for many reasons, but I believe it’s his perseverance. Consistent with how he irons and then how my strings feel to me in return. ”

If players do not use Wimbledon’s string service and pay the $ 28 per racket fee, then they pay for a service outside the premises. But over the past decade, the number of rackets deployed by the on-site service has more than doubled, and the Wimbledon team has almost doubled. The 16 team members come from a mix of European countries: Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Britain. “We’re a bit of a family,” Skipp said.

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In 2009, when Jeremy Holt’s company Apollo Leisure took over the string operation at Wimbledon, the team worked on 2,300 rockets. Holt expects the team to string about 5,500 rockets during this year’s tournament.

“The tournament services around the world have improved significantly, so I think the players have more confidence in that,” he said, explaining the increase. “There are people involved who are at the top of their game as racket triggers.”

At Wimbledon, players, or more often coaches, drop off rackets at the service’s reception desk and explain how they want to be stretched. A racket then goes to a team member who puts it on a string machine. The main strings and transverse strings are measured, threaded through the frame, tied to the desired tension of the player and knotted. It is generally believed that lower tension gives players more power; higher voltage gives players more control.

“If I ask for stricter than my average, then I expect it to feel that way, or vice versa,” said Riske, who is ranked 31st in the world. “And this is where a player like Paul is invaluable, because he will nail it every time, and I trust his ability, and so it’s very important to me, which is very important.”

Players can request a certain player. This usually happens if a player has had a previous working relationship or familiarity with a player, as Riske had with Skipp, or if a player did well at a tournament with a player. But generally, a player’s rackets are awarded to a team member based on scheduling considerations. Skipp tries to ensure that all the players’ rackets can be tapped by the same team member throughout the tournament.

Skipp expects a tournament player to easily complete a missile in 20 minutes. If necessary in court, he said: “We turn on the afterburners, and you might watch 10 to 11 minutes.”

“To get it right, to get it consistent, it can be considered a work of art or an art, definitely a skill,” he said. ‘I saw a lot of bad strings. Can we make Rafa Nadal play badly with a bad string work? Yes, for sure. Can we make you play like Rafa Nadal with better string work? No. Can we even turn a lower profession into a Rafa Nadal with a very good string work? No.”


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