‘I’ve got lovely hands’
Originally published on 28/11/15
It’s a job that Dalton knows inside out. He was the head stringer at Wimbledon until two years ago and he rates stringing for Rafael Nadal as one of the biggest achievements of his career. He strung exclusively for Nadal during both of his Championship wins in 2008 and 2010.
To help him with his task he has bought two Babolat electronic machines with him for the final. “I don't always have that luxury when I go to away ties, but this was easy to get to overland," he explains. He has one machine set up at the team hotel and one at Flanders Expo.
Dalton anticipates working extra hard at the final, in part due to the surface. “This clay is very harsh on strings, it’s like sand paper between the strings,” he explains, “so as the strings move the grit gets between them, so they wear out a lot quicker.”
On practice days Dalton was up early to start stringing and then working at the end of the day in preparation for the next.
“A match day is a little bit different,” he said, “I will probably string six or seven for each player and maybe some more during the matches if they think the conditions change.
“I’ve had a situation where they practice all week with the tension perfect, come the match day when the temperature really rocketed up I had to string all six again." A change in temperature, particularly noticeable in indoor venues once the spectators have arrived, can result in a change in tension of a few pounds.
In Ghent Dalton has his own room in which to string the rackets, often he is in the team room. “Because the team are generally messing around, kicking footballs, sometimes there are tennis balls flying around, plenty of jokes and banter, with my own room I can actually concentrate a bit easier."
It takes Dalton about half an hour to string a racket. “I generally don’t rush unless it is a real emergency on court. It takes probably about 15 minutes to string the racket, then there is the cutting out, the stenciling and labeling, I have to put a little label in the racket to say when it was strung and what tension, just in case the players mix them up in their bag.
“I have had times when I had to rush when a player wants another tension immediately," he said. “In America I had Andy’s rackets when he wanted two or three done at a much higher tension, just because, I don't know he got it into his head that he needed that in the situation, perhaps he was returning Isner’s serve, where you need a bit more control.”
Dalton hopes to be courtside, through the rubbers of the final. If the matches are three sets that is very likely, if they extend over five sets he may need to do some stringing.
Dalton has been the team stringer ever since Leon Smith took over as captain. ”I think I got the job by recommendation,” he said, “and because I was head stringer at Wimbledon. I must have had some credentials to do the job!
“But it’s more than just being able to string. You’ve got to actually fit in with the team."
In terms of the off-court activities Dalton’s forte is bowling, and he reckons he is not bad at darts either. He is also good at taking the banter he says, when many a time the team have joked about his stringing and told him they still have time to fly in another stringer.
“I have seen it all,” said Dalton “But in the last tie, there was a particular moment where Andy broke a string and I got a death stare from Leon – it’s always my fault as well, it’s not the player’s fault, the way they hit it or the string which had an unseen fault in it –it was me!”
“It did not bother me at all. Andy got another racket out the bag, won the game and we won the match."