Julien Klein pulls strings at the U.S. Open.
No, he’s not in the business of getting prime seats for the finals, or grabbing a vacant suite, or lining up a quick rally with Roger Federer. But he could be one of Federer’s allies during the Open. Klein strings rackets at the Open, part of a team of stringers who prepare rackets for the lowest qualifiers and the greatest players in the world.
Klein, of Huntington, is the owner of Solow Sports, which specializes in tennis and handles all racket sports. He has a store in Huntington and another facility in Glen Cove, but for the two weeks of the Open you will find him mostly in the stringing room at the National Tennis Center trying to fine-tune a racket to whatever specifications a player requests.
“I’ve been very fortunate with what I’ve done in the tennis industry,” Klein said. “I used to work for a gentleman who created what has been called ‘tour stringing,’ he trained me and after that I started my own company. I knew the right people and it’s kind of a one-of-a-kind skills set I’m working on that allows me to apply for [stringing at the Open].”
Let’s just say there’s a lot of tension involved in what Klein does. First and foremost are the specific pounds of tension a player wants his or her strings to perform at. With a warmup in the morning and a match during the day or night, a player could ask for at least a dozen different rackets with various tensions to cope with the conditions and the opponent.
“They might want to start the day off with something looser for more power, then something tighter for more precision,” Klein said. “They may want their strings to be pre-stressed by hand, pre-stressed by machine, and that’s a process of simulating the wear and tear. Pre-stressed strings hold tension longer.”
There is so much more, and stringers are under constant tension to get it right and get it done, in fewer than 20 minutes for one racket. There are many particulars, some of which are specific to a player’s racket company. Klein reeled off the details.
“Where you place the knot when you are tying off the strings, the pressure of the strings, the style of the strings, the gauge of the strings, how rackets are placed in the bag,” Klein said. “Every racket gets put in a bag. You eliminate air in the bag since some strings are temperature and moisture sensitive. Make sure logos are visible. Players have very specific requests for their stencils, for their logo placement. If they are (a Wilson player), they will want their logo to appear between the fifth and sixth string, perfectly centered in red. We use like a giant marker with a specific ink to adhere to the string.”
Racket stringing tensions really get taut when a player requests a restring during a match, called an “on-court.”
“The chair umpire will call ahead to notify you,” Klein said. “A ball kid runs the racket to you. You are looking at the score and it’s say, 5-4, you realize that they might lose, 6-4. If they had this racket in their possession it could mean so much. If you can’t get the racket back on a changeover, you’ve missed an opportunity.”
Time for an “on-court” stringing is expected to be under 18 minutes.
Klein grew up in Flushing, where he played high school tennis and where, from necessity, he learned how to string his own racket.
“I didn’t start playing until 14 and I don’t come from a big financial background,” Klein said. “When you pop your strings, you have to figure out how to string your own racket. Now that skill applies to others.”
As a perk of the job, Klein got to rally Friday with Wilson racket players Gael Monfils, Feliciano Lopez and Madison Keys.
His strings were making music.