In February 2009 I began suffering from neck and back pain. The MRI revealed both arthritis and bulging discs in the C5/C6 areas of the upper back and neck. Physical therapy coupled with acupuncture helped to bring it under control within 2 months. In 2010, the pain returned, this time it was much more severe resulting in me having to take heavy pain medications and go through extensive physical therapy complete with home traction. The battle with the pain lasted 6 full months with losing approx. 90% of the strength and functioning of my right arm.
My Physical Therapist believes the ergonomic position used when stringing racquets is likely the cause of the pain. It is more than a coincidence that both onsets occurred during the busiest stringing time of the season for me. A time during which it was not uncommon for me to be stringing 12 – 15 racquets per day. As part of my therapy I stopped stringing for several weeks and gradually reintroduced my body to stringing in a limited capacity. I reduced my total racquet output to no more than 3 per day, all spaced out so that I could limit the amount of time I was in an unhealthy posture.
Because stringing racquets is the part of my job that I love most and because it is the cornerstone upon which my business is built I contacted Wilson to inquire about obtaining a Baiardo. Ron, the principle designer of the machine and racquets for Wilson Sporting Goods, took a personal interest in my story and made it possible for me to secure one of the Baiardo’s that was used for the 2010 US Open. We are both curious to see if I will be able to increase my racquet stringing capacity by taking full advantage of the ergonomic features that only the Wilson Baiardo offers. I enter into the “Baiardo Era” of Guts and Glory Tennis with a great deal of hope and optimism. I will chronicle my experience in this blog.
My Baiardo arrived direct from Flushing Meadow via FedEx this past Friday. I set it up over the weekend and have begun using it. Setup was very easy for such a complex machine. Just tighten a few bolts with an Allen wrench and make a couple electrical connections and I was up and running.
The machine is elegant and extremely well built. I am coming from a Babolat Star 5 and already I can tell a huge difference. The computerized touch screen allows for easy customization. In about 10 minutes I was able to customize the machine for my height getting it to raise and tilt into positions where I am no longer craning my neck to string a racquet. Obviously this is the #1 PRIMO feature for me.
In setting my machine up I was able to calibrate it to my Star 5. This is huge because it means that my remaining loyal customer base will experience no difference in the final result of stringing even though I have changed machines.
In stringing my first few racquets I noted the following advantages over the Star 5. The Baiardo allows for much more customizatiom. For instance, the pull speed is adjustable. I have been able to set it to a slower pull speed which is better for poly-based strings. I have also not noticed the overshoot when pulling tension that occurs with the Star 5.
Here’s a wild feature…the level of pressure that the tension jaws use to pull the string is fully adjustable. This will aid with installing fragile strings and soft poly-based strings that are prone to bruising.
The table lock/brake is vastly superior to the Star 5. No comparison. I also really like the clamps and how well they hold the string. I see less play than with the Star 5 and I have not seen the twisting that sometimes occurs with the Star 5. I also am delighted to note that the Wilson clamps are easier on the strings. When releasing tension on the tie-offs with the Star 5, the string is often left with abrasion marks. No such issue with the Baiardo.
I am still getting used to the clamping action. The Baiardo clamp bases require much more pressure to lock than the Star 5. The releasing action is noisy and still a bit clunky for me, though I am certain it will smooth out as I gain experience with the machine. So far that is the only advantage I see for the Star 5 in comparing the two.
I also am digging the fact that I have not had the string hanging/catching at all. It often would get hung up under the turntable of the Star 5…not an issue at all with the Baiardo. Both machines have small tool trays, BUT the Baiardo includes a slot on the side casing to hold a mobile phone or ipod type device and that is a welcome touch.
The mounting is fast and easy and thus far even flexier sticks like the Head Radical that were prone to getting stuck in the mounting system of the Star 5, have released with no effort whatsoever.
The engineering behind the machine is impressive. It appears to be a smooth workhorse and is a joy to string on. I just hope that as I slowly reintroduce myself to stringing at higher volumes that I will be able to do so without pain. Please stay tuned to this blog as I will post progress updates.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Wilson for giving me hope and optimism for a successful return to the profession I adore.