Ever since they came up through the ranks in Juniors, FURI Sport co-founder and CEO Erick Mathelier has been friends with Gerald Sarmiento. Now a Master Racket Technician (along with a lot of other stuff), Sarmiento chatted with us about what he actually does all day. Tennis nerds, rejoice!
THE F WORD: What exactly is a Master Racket Technician?
SARMIENTO: Well, for starters, there are only about 560 of us in the world. And basically we’re like an encyclopedia for tennis. We specialize in the racket sports industry, and you have to have a pretty large knowledge of all of them—tennis, racquetball, badminton, and basically our job is to try to outfit the consumer with the proper equipment.
THE F WORD: So you have a business for this?
SARMIENTO: No, it’s a certification from the U.S. Racket & Stringers Association, also known as the RSA.
THE F WORD: Where’s that based?
SARMIENTO: Right now it’s based in Alabama.
THE F WORD: So you did your certification online?
SARMIENTO: No, no. You take a test. I’m also a Certification Tester, and it’s a five-part test. There’s a hands-on part, which shows your competency as a stringer. In other words, how well do you string a tennis racket? Or any racket, for that matter. Then you replace the bumper guards - again, this is all about the maintenance of the racket. Stringing, building the grip up, replacing the grip.
And then there’s a written portion. It’s 100 questions, and it asks you about everything from string technology, racket technology. It’s multiple choice and you have to answer every question. Eighty-five out of 100 is a passing grade.
The RSA, they’re also part of the European Stringers Association, and it’s like a network for people in the tennis industry. We’re the elite corps of people that know a lot about rackets, strings, technology…
THE F WORD: So where did you get your training on all this? Did you go to some type of school?
SARMIENTO: No. I actually learned how to string when I was younger, and I got pretty proficient at it by working at Spiegel Sporting Goods in New York City, in downtown Manhattan. I got really good at it, and I also worked the floor and learned the rackets.
And I was just really passionate about it. So I thought, ‘Let me really learn this.’ Everything I did, I wanted to be really good at. So I studied, and learned the ins and outs of strings and rackets. And as the years go on, you accumulate more knowledge.
THE F WORD: So is this something you do as a side hustle? Or is it your main line of work?
SARMIENTO: It’s my main line of work. I own two stores—Tao Tennis Shops in New Jersey, and I also string on the tour. I was in charge of the Connecticut Open until they lost their title sponsorship. And I’m also in charge of the International Hall of Fame, up in Newport, Rhode Island in July.
THE F WORD: So that must be fun, hanging out with all the pro players?
SARMIENTO: Exactly. You gain their trust, and they become your client. And the work goes into the customization end, not just working with someone to get the right tennis racket for them, and strings. When you’re working with a player at a higher level, they want a specific racket at a specific weight and a specific balance. So you have to try to create those rackets for them.
THE F WORD: What if a player is sponsored by a particular racket brand? Are you able to step in and work with that racket brand to get the player’s exact specifications?
SARMIENTO: That all depends. With Head, they have in-house customization. Wilson, Babolat, Yonex, they all have in-house customization, too. But then there are people who do stuff independently, outside of the company.
So if Player A is sponsored, and doesn’t want to get the rackets customized in-house, they’ll send it to whoever they’re comfortable with. So if I have that player, I may call up the racket company and say, ‘Hey, So-And-So is going to need X frame, we need this amount shipped over, these are the target specs.’
And then I finish off with whatever the player needs, whether it’s a grip or something else. Some players have specific grips, molded handles, length of the racket, balance, weight, etcetera etcetera. I step in and do all that stuff.
THE F WORD: Do you sell a lot of different racket brands at Tao?
SARMIENTO: Yes, every major brand. We’re a full pro shop here in New Jersey. One’s located in Warren, and the other is closer to Princeton.
THE F WORD: Do you think becoming a Master Racket Technician is a field young people even think of going into these days.
SARMIENTO: Is it a career? No. Because it’s monotonous. You have to really like doing the same thing over and over and over—that’s the stringing portion. But the other portion is more business. So if you’re passionate about the sport, there is a school that has tennis management. But it isn’t about stringing. Because again, who wants to stand in the same place all day, doing the same thing over and over?
I’ve done over 69,000 rackets in my career. So you’re basically just repeating that process.
THE F WORD: So when I see the backstage TV footage at the U.S. Open, the stringing room, where they’ve got all those guys, I never really see girls...
SARMIENTO: There are a handful of girls, but yes, it’s mostly guys.
THE F WORD: Anyway, do you think that’s something they’re doing just to get close to the players at the U.S. Open?
SARMIENTO: Well, you have to like doing it, and you have to also like high stress. If you’re working on the tour, especially at a Grand Slam event, you start at 7 in the morning and you don’t finish until midnight or 1 am some nights. You have breaks during the day, but you’re going straight.
Is it an exhausting job? Yes. Is it good for older people? No. I’d say you could do it up until about your 40s.
THE F WORD: Do you need a fair amount of physical strength?
SARMIENTO: It’s more about endurance, because you’re standing all day. Your fingers do start to get sore doing 45 rackets a day. Not everyone can do 45 rackets a day, but it’s about how fast you are. The average tour-stringer gets a racket done in between 15 to 20 minutes.
I get a racket done between 10 and 15 minutes, so I’m one of the fastest on the tour. And most people will vouch that I string very tight. When you go fast, you lose tension on your strings because you’re cutting corners. I don’t cut corners. When you see me weave through the racket face, you’ll see my hands shoot straight across, over under, over under.
When I race somebody, we’ll be exactly the same with the main strings and then I leave them in the dust with the cross strings.WORDS: Dana Wood
PICTURES: Stefen Pompee