One area of technology that continually affects and changes the game is material science and its application to tennis surfaces and equipment, including strings. Let's couple the material science of string composition with physics, fatigue, elasticity, and an understanding of racquet technology and stringing becomes a specialized field.
Some of the best resources to help sort this science
out are the software tools at
the official site of the United States Racquet Stringers Association (USRSA). The person responsible for the development of these web-based tools is Crawford Lindsey.
Howard Brody, Crawford Lindsey and Rod Cross
First, a little history -- the United States Racquet Stringers Association has been in existence for 27 years. It is an international organization with more than 7000 members. Their mission is to educate racquet technicians, teaching professionals, racquet sports retailers, manufacturers, sales organizations and tennis (racquet sports) enthusiasts "to better understand, service, perform with, and enjoy the technological wonders known as racquets, strings, balls, courts, shoes, and stringing machines." The organization has strategically decided to accomplish this through information technology products: its web site
www.racquettech.com, monthly issues of Racquet Tech Magazine, the annual Stringers Digest, as well as videos, CD ROMs, stringing workshops, and certification education and testing.
Armed with a degree from Princeton, Lindsey has introduced some very original web-based tools.
"I came to the USRSA from within the industry, most recently as a product manager for Head Sports for squash, racquetball, and accessories. The product manager has the overall responsibility of overseeing the design, manufacturing, and marketing of products."
During his 6 year tenure at the United States Racquet Stringers Association, Crawford has seen a lot of changes, but, more importantly, he and the USRSA are leading the way in online string and racquet technology information designed for the tennis community.
"Our philosophy is to make the information accessible 24/7 to the community in a variety of media. The organization is really an intermediary between the consumer and the retailers and manufacturers. We provide lots of technical assistance through our products and tech support phone line," said Crawford. "The manufacturer coupons, free samples (strings, grips, etc.) and exclusive discounts members receive cover the cost of the annual membership."
If you are in the tennis equipment industry, you probably already know about or are a member of the USRSA. There are a lot of benefits for players, teaching professionals and tennis aficionados and enthusiasts. The USRSA's web site,
www.racquettech.com, really has some terrific web-based software tools which help members select strings and racquets, customize racquets and understand the variables which concurrently affect racquets and strings.
The organization and web site is a terrific resource for:
- A player looking for a good racquet stringer.
- An enthusiast who wishes to further understand, explore, improve and enjoy the games of tennis, racquetball, squash and badminton.
- A stringer looking for information on stringing machines, stringing workshops, stringing videos or becoming a certified stringer.
- A teaching professional looking to advise students on choosing the best equipment to help their game.
- A retail professional seeking competitive advantage in equipment knowledge and service.
- A racquet industry insider keen on keeping abreast of the rapidly evolving technology of sport.
"You can also participate in product testing and new product development and gain a valuable edge on your competition," Crawford told me.
I asked Crawford to give us a "tour" of the highlights of the site and walk us all through some of the tools.
Find A Stringer: You can locate a stringer with a simple menu driven database. You can select by city, state, zip code and even certification level (Certified Stringer or Master Racquet Technician). The site provides guidelines on choosing and judging the competence of your racquet stringer. There is a list of basic facts on racquet frames and strings developed by Steve Davis, USRSA Technical Advisor and director of research and development for the Prince Sports Group.
Racquet Selector and Customizer: Have some fun with the Racquet Selector and Customizer. At present, non-members have access only to software that uses discontinued racquet models -- but this is fun and gives you an understanding of the information. You can customize your racquet by power, swingweight, headsize, flex, weight, length, balance and price. You can have the selector search through all the manufacturers or just a select few.
For members the database includes a full sweep of current racquets -- 100's of them. So if you presently play with an XYZ racquet and you want more power but about the same racquet weight, the Selector will recommend a set of alternative racquets. One of the advantages of this racquet selector is that you start with your own racquet. "It gives the player a point of reference. You know what you like or don't like about the characteristics of your current racquet and what you want more or less of.
"Twice a year in January and September we have a major update of new racquets, but racquets are added to the database all year long.
"In the Racquet Customizer, you enter the specs (e.g., weight, balance, swingweight) of your current racquet and the specs that you would prefer it to be, and then it provides all the information needed to customize your existing racquet to your specifications. It provides exact locations on the racquet to add weight to achieve the swingweight, weight and balance that you desire. Racquet Customizer calculates the amount and locations to add weight to a racquet to match any desired specifications."
Tour and Demo: The site has a tour and demonstration of many of the other software tools available.
There are selected articles on the site from Racquet Tech, the USRSA's monthly magazine. What I enjoy most about these articles is the technical accuracy. The USRSA has assembled a group of some of the best and most respected researchers in the field, including Professors Howard Brody and Rod Cross, as well as industry experts like Po-Jen Cheng, manager of R & D from Wilson, and Steve Davis, director of R & D from Prince, to serve as technical advisors.
Members have access to the Stringers Digest Online, a very comprehensive listing of stringing patterns -- even unpublished patterns. It's available 24/7 and what's nice about this is that you don't have to know the exact sequence of words for the name of your racquet. Is it Hyper Carbon Pro Staff 6.5 Stretch Oversize 110 or is it the Pro Staff 6.5
Oversize 110 with Hyper Carbon? It doesn't matter -- the online database will locate it.
There is an interactive library of string playtest information with comprehensive reviews and comments. There is a playtest report for each string the 35-40 USRSA playtesters (with NTRP ratings from 3.5 to 6.0) tested.
The site also provides "traditional" web services such as a bulletin board for web members to ask questions and assistance in using the site via email.
When I think of the money invested in equipment, clothing, accessories, books and other training aids, membership is a good deal. The information educates us and allows us to make more informed decisions regarding our equipment and stringing.
While we were talking, I asked Crawford, "In a nutshell what's the latest in string technology?"
"Strings have gotten softer and there are more multi-filament strings now. Polyester strings have become popular. These are actually two trends that are in opposite directions, because polyester is quite stiff. Polyester strings are durable, but in the past the complaint was that they lose tension rapidly. More recent fabrication processes have been introduced creating a polyester string that maintains tension better. These strings are cheap and durable, good for anyone who doesn't want to get their racquet restrung frequently. It could be a good choice for high school, collegian, recreational and weekend players. The polyester strings caught on in Europe a few years ago. Granted, the Europeans have to deal with differences in the court surface -- the clay and grit are picked up on the ball and transferred to the strings."
Finally, I asked Crawford about his new book, "The Physics and Technology of Tennis", which the USRSA will publish and should be available in the fall. Along with co-authors Howard Brody and Rod Cross, this volume may quickly become THE classic text and reference on tennis technology.
"Well, it started with my call to Rod Cross suggesting we bundle several of the articles that have been developed for Racquet Tech. I thought we'd be done in a month. Four hundred pages and a year and a half later, we're now ready. Although some of the materials are based on the authors' previous work in Racquet Tech and for the USPTR, I'd estimate 60-70% of the content is new information -- never published before.
"The book is divided into 4 major sections: racquets, strokes, strings and balls. As the title suggests, there is material on physics and technology in each section. The physics portions cover areas such as collisions and energy transfer while the technology aspects deal with topics like racquet and string materials, string construction, and balls.
"One of the things I like most about it is that there is 'science for everyone' in this book. By that I mean sections are aimed at different levels of science to appeal to a variety of readers. There are in-depth discussions which use equations and mathematics as well as carefully distilled content for the general reader. The arrangement of the book allows the reader to skip right past the equations and math if they choose without losing any continuity in the content. The book is heavily visual with lots of photos, graphics and illustrations."
I asked Crawford to highlight some of the chapters. There are
43 chapters including:
- Choosing A Racquet
- Racquet Materials
- Measuring Racquet Stability
- Racquet Feel
- Racquet Power
- Power And Strings
- Energy and Energy Return in Tennis Collisions
- Serve Speed Strategy
- Strokes and Spin
- String Tension
- Spin and Bounce off the Court
- Spin and Bounce off the Racquet
I know I'm looking forward to the release of this work.
I'd like to thank Crawford Lindsey for his time and expertise.
If you have the opportunity to meet Crawford, I encourage you to--he's
one of the most innovative and nicest gentlemen in the business.
Until Next Month ... Jani
Photograph and Graphics Courtesy The United States Racquet Stringers