Wilson World Stringing Championship

March 4, 2007

At mid-day Saturday, on the plaza of the Darling Tennis Center, competitors made their way toward center court. The Tennis Channel Open was on its seventh day, and the place was packed.

Just before reaching the end of the walkway, all six men turned into a roped-off arena containing six hydraulic [sic] stringing machines on individual pedestals. A time clock was prominently displayed, an officious man was in the center of the ring holding a starter pistol, and a huge crowd gathered, as if awaiting a prize fight.

“When I give you the start, you may step onto the pedestal, open the Wilson “Reaction” string packet, place the K-Factor racquet on the machine, and string!” announced Dave Bone, Executive Director of the United States Racquet Stringer’s Association (USRSA), and Referee of the Wilson World Stringing Championship. Announcer, Wayne Bryan, took over the commentary as the starter shot rang out; TV cameras were everywhere, capturing the techniques that made this group the best there is.

They are a varied group of individuals, hailing from East to West Coast, and collectively representing almost one hundred years of stringing experience. These six finalists cleared several heats to get here, and the $10,000 prize package was only 15 minutes away.

The finalists included Gilbert Gan of Northridge, CA; Rob Cortney of Voorhees, NJ; Jim Downes of Baltimore, MD; Paul Neely of Phoenix, AZ; Bryan Richter of Irvine, CA; and Joseph Heydt, of Omaha, NE.

Top seed entering this final round was Downes with a record-setting heat time of nine minutes and 30 seconds. “Less than TEN minutes?” many passers-by gasped, as they checked out the Leader Board stationed outside the Wilson booth. That time was more than a minute under last year’s winner. Clocked time includes unwrapping the string, mounting the racquet, and using a 16-main, 18-cross pattern using multifilament string, which is not as easy to pull and work with as a synthetic nylon. This was truly the championship for stringing professionals, and they had the admiration of every tennis player who’s had to wait hours to get their racquets strung at a local shop.

Each contestant was feverishly and systematically measuring, pulling, and weaving. Joining the hilariously funny Wayne Bryan was Jon Muir, G.M of Wilson Racquet Sports, and knowledgeable commentator on ‘All Things Stringing.’ As it turned out, Wayne and Jon seemed to have a contest of their own as to who could get more of the crowd laughing and involved in the event. There was no clear winner.

As most of the eyes were on Downes and Neely, side-by-side and trash-talking their way to what should have been a sure victory with their qualifying times, something unexpected happened. A quiet, long and curly-haired hippie, who did his stringing barefoot, was suddenly in the lead and on his last 3 cross strings. All eyes went to Bryan Richter as his slender arms gracefully pulled both ends simultaneously, in such a fashion that he seemed to be leading an orchestra rather than stringing a racquet.

“He’s shattering the record!” shouted Muir and Bryan.

Richter removed the clamps and slammed the racket down to signal completion. “Eight minutes and forty-six seconds,” came the timer’s call. He had won $10,000 of prizes from Wilson and The Tennis Channel, as well as the opportunity to test to string at the U.S. Open, with high income potential and all expenses paid. “I’m stoked!” he cried as he threw his hat to the ground in the center of the ring.

As Richter took a bow, he surprised everyone by taking the microphone and singing a stringing Rap. It turns out he also produces hip hop music under a nonprofit label. Not surprising, he has a B.A. in Philosophy from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. When asked why he has chosen to be a professional stringer, he doesn’t hesitate.

“I work for the greatest guy in the world, Kirk Hybskmann, the owner of Irvine Tennis Shop. I love my job because I get to be around Kirk, we have a great time at the shop, and play (tennis) at the local City of Irvine public courts.”

If you’re Bryan Richter, it’s a great life. Today was just a bit sweeter.

By Annette Broersma, WWSC Tournament Director