A poll of tennis players from professional to recreational would cite racket strings, stringing and performance of the string as one of the more important facets of their game.
In the 1800’s the first lawn tennis rackets were strung with serosa (natural gut), the outer skin of sheep intestines. The tissue is pliable and strong.The elasticity and tinsile strength allows for strings to be stretched to very high tensions without breaking, yet also still maintaining a degree of softness.
Experimentation showed that cow intestines were more suitable for a practical reason; cow gut is longer than sheep gut. It meant fewer animals produced a greater quantity of longer string. Longer string facilitates quicker stringing.
Fortunately, serosa is a byproduct obtained from slaughter houses. Animals were not raised strictly for the harvest of gut. Had that been the case, animal rights activist would have gone ballistic. Any such operation would have come under an immediate cease-and-desist order.
Still, there were two major drawbacks to natural gut. The cost was high, while durability was low. Also, moist conditions decreased string efficiency.
Necessity is the mother of invention, hence the birth of man-made materials for stringing rackets. First, a synthetic gut emerged and from that point on, advances began coming in leaps and bounds. Over the last decade or so, the technology has advanced exponentially.
There is now a dizzying array of synthetic strings available. Makers of these “super strings” all proclaim to have the magic product that will pump your game up to a new level.
Interestingly, there is a fair amount of truth to some of these proclamations. As racket frames have evolved via nano-technology, strings have followed suit.
There are racket/string combinations now that allow players to generate more power, spin and accuracy than ever before.
In addition to her considerable talents as a stringer, I have it on good authority that Mary was quite an accomplished player during her competitive youth. I’ve been unable to get her to elaborate much about her on-court exploits. It’s just not in her nature to draw attention to herself.
For more than twenty five years, I’ve used this quiet, unfailingly affable, rather petite woman’s stringing services exclusively. I’ve never been disappointed.
During a recent practice session, I struck a ball, heard the all-too-familiar pop of a broken string and watched as the ball jettisoned away at an unintended trajectory as though propelled by some unnatural force. It landed on an adjacent court several feet behind the baseline.
A single broken string causes instant loss of control.
“Time for a trip to my SIP” (string installation professional) I thought, as Mary’s face appeared in my mind.
While the broken string scenario had played out countless times before, on this occasion I found myself wondering just how many times I’d taken a wounded racket to Mary for restoration. And then I wondered about the hundreds (or more) of others for whom she’d strung and how many rackets she had strung for them over the years.
The more I thought about it, the more curious I became. The more curious I became, the more I thought about it.
It could be a fascinating bit of information. The number of rackets she’d strung at this point in her career, even if only a rough estimate, could be staggering. And here I’d just brought another which would further up the tally.
So, I decided to ask Mary about her career. She works from her home. Here’s how the conversation went.
“Hi Mary, how are you?”
“Oh I’m just fine Marty, How are you?”
“Great, thanks. I’ve got a severely disabled stick here that needs your attention.”
“Oh, well let’s see it.” Mary took the racket tenderly, looked to see which string had popped and where in the string bed it had occurred. She always does that. The analysis I’d witnessed so many times before suddenly seemed more interesting.
“Hey Mary, how long have you been stringing?”
“Oh Marty, a very long time.”
“Well, you’ve been stringing my rackets for over 25 years. When did you start?”
“Oh, so long ago that I really can’t remember.”
“How did you get started?”
“Oh Jesus, I began working at Racketeer in Webster Groves.”
“When was that?”
“Oh Lord, so long ago I hate to even think about it.”
A pattern was developing. Mary is a woman of few words and I definitely was getting very few on this topic. Now desperate, I went straight for the jugular.
“How many rackets do you think you’ve strung? You know, just an estimate?”
“Oh dear Lord, I have no idea. It’s been a lot.” Her voice trailed off a little as she again studied the string bed of my racket. “It’s really been a lot.”
I studied her for a moment and thought about asking the obvious dumb question, “You think it’s been more than a million?” But I didn’t. I felt that I had gotten about all I was going to get on the subject.
Mary Breyer is an accredited stringer. She’s a professional.
And Mary is not just a stringer. She’s my stringer and the regular stringer of countless others all of whom have been fortunate enough to have discovered her.
An interesting sidebar to this story is that, regardless of where in St. Louis I go to practice, play, or teach, It’s a strong possibility that I’m hitting with someone using a Mary Breyer-strung racket.
In fact, if I happen to be hitting at Heman Park with one of the “Heathens,” then it’s not only possible but highly probable that I’m hitting with someone with a Breyer-strung racket.
Mary Breyer is “The Stringer.” And I know she has been stringing, “A very long time and really a lot of rackets.”
Who knows, maybe she’s strung a million. How ever many it’s been, mine have been part of the lot.
Mary Breyer, “The Stringer.” She’s good, damn good. For my money, she’s the best.