By BEN BAUGH
Wrigley Tennis was a second home to Rich Vernsey before he could even drive.
He would ride his bicycle from Deep Creek to the store based in Punta Gorda, working for then owner George Wrigley. Vernsey would work at the store while attending Charlotte High School, stringing tennis racquets when he was 15-years-old.
Vernsey comes from a tennis background, with his parents having owned the Port Charlotte Tennis Club.
“I was stringing tennis racquets at a young age, working for the tennis club and then played high school tennis in the area,” said Vernsey.
The sport would remain a presence throughout his life, with Vernsey living in Chicago and Tampa, remaining close with Wrigley.
Wrigley, who was in poor health reached out to Vernsey, who purchased the store, assuming ownership on June 1, 2015.
“He worked for us for about six months, for free, just to show us the way, help us out, and then we took over from there,” said Vernsey. “We’ve since doubled the inventory, brought in apparel, and the stringing ventures have been a huge part.”
Vernsey is part of the Yonex International stringing team, a company who’s done most of the tournaments in Asia and Australia, including the Australian Open and the last several Olympics.
“I got the call last year to string for the Rakuten Open, which is an ATP top level tournament that’s in Tokyo,” said Vernsey. “So, we flew over there and strung for the team, and strung for some of the top 10 players in the world.”
The Yonex USA headquarters is in California, and they have a close relationship with the company in Japan, said Vernsey. The stringers who are part of the team at professional tournaments work at a frenetic pace.
“They usually take a couple of guys from the U.S., and they’ll take a couple of guys from the region. We went over there and worked about 10 days in a row, strung 100 frames. It was a really good opportunity.”
However, Vernsey isn’t just working tournaments in the Pacific Rim, he just recently spent a week in Denver at a Ladies ITF tournament.
“The WTA is the highest level,” said Vernsey. “The ITF is kind of like the minor leagues, they’re still pros and they’re still making money. It keeps them competitive. Many players come through the ITF and into the pros. Nowadays, people don’t go into the pros at 17-years-old and win majors like they used to. Players go to college and then they go into the ITF and they come out, so you see some really good players. It’s so physical now, the game. Denver was great and we’re looking forward to potentially getting a call for Tokyo; the Australian Open and the one that I’m really working toward is the 2020 Olympics.”
What variables separate a novice stringer from a professional stringer?
Experience and knowledge are primary factors, with professionals having the depth of understanding about the differences and subtleties in racquets, recognizing how it needs to be strung, and have the ability to string it rapidly and accurately, said Vernsey.
Professionals often play with older racquets that are painted to look newer, and at times the numbers on the racquets don’t match up the way they’re supposed to, but that’s where experience plays a large role in being able to quickly assess and determine what needs to be done, said Vernsey.
“Speed is also another factor, the early stages of a major tournament like in Tokyo, I’ve worked 15 hour days, where I probably strung 30-plus racquets with very little break,” said Vernsey. “It’s just one after another. They’re bringing you five, 10 at a time, you have a whole rack and you’re just going to town. You have to be able to be very fast. When you’re stringing, you need to be able to string four racquets an hour at the pro level.”
Professional players will usually stay with the same stringer throughout the tournament because of the consistency, said Vernsey. Every stringer strings a bit differently, and even though the machines are high end, every machine is a little different, the player wants the consistency of the same stringer and same machine.
At the recreational level, stringing racquets accurately is just as important, said Vernsey.
“People want to get what they’re paying for and what they’re asking for,” said Vernsey. “If they want a racquet at x-tension, than that’s what they want. You want consistency. We do have players here that I string for every week or two, and they want that string job to be similar every time. The same practice that we learned abroad, we use in the store.”
Wrigley Tennis also has a Babolat RDC machine, a racquet Diagnostic center, which measures string tension, frame flexibility and the overall inertia of the racquet.