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It's no racket, but his business pulls a lot of strings

By CHRISTINA K. COSDON, Times Staff Writer
Published January 5, 2008


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You probably didn't see Vince Chiarelli on TV at the U.S. Open back in August. ¶ He was there, but behind the scenes, working. Chiarelli is among a fairly small and elite group of technicians who string rackets for the top professional tennis players at tournaments around the world. He was one of 14 stringers at the U.S. Open, stringing up to 30 rackets a day. ¶ The 62-year-old Brooklyn native has been a Largo resident since 1960. He and his wife, Peggi, own and operate String Along with Vince, a full-service tennis store with clothing, shoes, bags, gifts, tennis rackets and balls. ¶ The heart of the business is the custom racket service that includes stringing, regripping, repairs, bumper and grommet replacement, cleaning and conditioning. The shop at 13824 Walsingham Road also features a racket collection that ranges from 1890s wood to today's graphite.

How long have you been a racket technician?

"I started the business in 1989 at home as a pickup and delivery service," Chiarelli said. He worked for 12 years on the space shuttle main engine program at Honeywell. When the project ended, he and Peggi, who worked in data processing for GE, decided to start a business.

Can you make a living stringing?

"You can't make a living stringing," he said. "You have to have a retail business. But it's so competitive with the Internet that it's almost impossible to have a business without some other supplement. I teach tennis and travel the world doing this." Chiarelli also writes a monthly column for Florida Tennis magazine.

Who are some of the pros you have strung for?

Chiarelli named Venus and Serena Williams, Tommy Haas of Germany, Max Myrni of Belarus who lives in Bradenton, Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal of Spain.

What types of string are on the market today?

"There's natural gut made from cattle and some sheep intestines that gives the player the best feel," he said. "Polyester is very popular and doesn't break as easily as nylon. Also, polyurethane, which is a very stretchy material made to approximate the feel of natural gut. Kevlar is the strongest string but is stiff feeling. Zyex is another synthetic."

If you break a string do you have to restring the entire racket?

"Yes," Chiarelli said. "It's all one string unless you use two strings." Most rackets are strung in a crisscross horizontal-vertical pattern. Top-ranked Federeruses main-gut and cross-poly. The Williams sisters, Chiarelli said, use gut exclusively.

"Gut has a very unusual property," said Peggi Chiarelli. "When the string is pulled slowly it doesn't stretch much, but when it's hit quickly, it has more give."

It doesn't last in humidity, is very expensive and is never sold as a durable string, she said. It costs $70 to string a racket with natural gut, she said, compared with $18 plus tax for basic nylon.

How many pounds of pressure or tension is commonly used in securing the string to the racket frame?

The pounds of pressure ranges from 50 to 70 pounds, depending on the racket and the player's strength, Vince Chiarelli said. Less tension gives a better feel but less control of the ball. A tightly strung racket gives the player less feel of the ball but good control.

"But we have players who have strings as low as 12 pounds of pressure on a large racket," he said.

Christina K. Cosdon can be reached at cosdon@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4154.

IF YOU GO

String Along with Vince

13824 Walsingham Road, Largo - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday - (727) 595-7068 - www.string-along.com.

[Last modified January 4, 2008, 21:20:26]


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