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At the U.S. Open, tennis stringers enjoy their racket

Adam Hunter, of Smithtown, replaces tennis racquet strings

Adam Hunter, of Smithtown, replaces tennis racquet strings at the US Open in Flushing with team Wilson. Credit: Chris Ware

Adam Hunter's calloused fingers glide the string into the small holes of the tennis racket, which he places in the sleek stringing machine, adjusting the tension just so.

Then the weaving begins. Standing, Hunter leans forward, focused and exacting. He clamps the string -- natural gut, made from cow intestine and the most expensive. Then he knots and snips. He repeats the steps. Some 15 minutes later, the tennis racket has been strung.

Hunter, 31, of Smithtown, raises it above his head as if to swiftly strike a ball and declares: "That's one down, two more to go."

Hunter is one of 16 on the elite stringing team at the U.S. Open this year who feverishly and carefully string rackets for some of the world's best tennis players. This year is Hunter's first at the U.S. Open as a stringer -- a role he's perfected in the 15 years he's worked on and off at Grand Slam Tennis in Commack, where he's still employed.

"It's a passion of mine, it was something I've wanted to do for a great time," Hunter said. "It's incredibly busy. It's a lot of hard work. There's not that much time for excitement."

The men -- and one woman -- who make up the team, which is sponsored by sports retailer Wilson, are from the United States, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Russia, Hong Kong and Uzbekistan. They work in a small, ground-level room in Arthur Ashe Stadium, overlooking an outdoor players' lounge, each stringing anywhere from 30 to 50 rackets daily.

Hunter's spot on the team is the fulfillment of a dream. He played tennis for the Smithtown middle school and then high school teams.

As a teen, he said, "I was breaking strings all the time. That's how I got into it."

He also played tennis at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., where he studied business and professional tennis management, and graduated in 2004. Hunter's father, David Hunter, 66, of Smithtown, said he's proud of his son's success.

"He eats, sleeps and breathes tennis," David Hunter said. "He knows more about rackets and stringing than [all but] maybe 10 other people on the planet." Hunter received a stringing certification last year at an annual symposium put on by the International Alliance of Racquet Technicians. A Wilson official there saw him string and offered him the opportunity to string at a Miami tournament in the spring, which led to him working this year in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens.

Hunter said he enjoys the work -- the pace, the attention to detail, the high stakes.

"If that tension is a little bit off, that can throw off their game," he said.

The lion's share of players at the tournament use the in-house stringers, who are assigned to specific players, said Roman Prokes, of RPNY Tennis, who helped design Wilson's tennis-stringing program.

Prokes said players such as Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal use the in-house stringers. Players pay $30 per racket strung.

"They are just comfortable with it," said Prokes, who has three stores, including one in Glen Cove.

"These [stringers] are the elite guys from all over the world."

About the biggest name Hunter's strung for -- at a prior event -- is Maria Kirilenko of Russia.

"I'm not stringing the big names yet," he said. "I'm OK with that. I'm just happy to be with the team."

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