Derek Robinson: String Maven
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
As anyone who reads this magazine knows, competition among the world's Top 10-ranked male racquetball players is pretty fierce, and players do everything they (ethically) can to gain the smallest advantage over one another. Even so, #6-ranked Derek Robinson isn't concerned if Numbers 1 through 5 and 7 through 10 know exactly how he's setting up his racquet. Derek knows he's the only guy in the world with his particular combination of size, strength, speed, agility, strategy, tactics, and racquet sponsor. He'd be only too happy if his opponents were to copy his choices exactly, and end up with setups that aren't so well suited to their personal needs.
What can be copied by other players, however, is not the specifics of Derek's setup, but the thought process that goes into it. Derek puts a lot of time and energy into getting it right. Here's how he proceeds.
Derek has his racquets strung by Bruce Bell of Bell Racquet Sports, in Penfield, NY (a suburb of Rochester). Even though Derek lives in Washington state, he can do this because Wilson provides him with four or five dozen identical racquets. So even if the stringer has 12 or 18 of his racquets in the shop, and more are in transit, Derek still has plenty of sticks to play with.
"I used to like stringing my own racquets, but that was before I realized the benefits a professional stringer like Bruce can provide," Derek says. "I'd go to Japan if I had to, to find someone to take care of my racquets properly, because that's how I make my living."
When Derek gets a new set of racquets, he initially sends several to Bruce, who strings them up with a variety of string types and gauges, at different tensions. Derek tries them all and identifies the setup that's closest to his preferences, then he and Bruce discuss fine-tuning. Even after they've found the right setup through careful trial-and-error testing, Derek confers with Bruce regularly.
"I used to keep the tension as low as possible, to generate as much power as I could consistent with some minimal level of control," says Derek. "But since Wilson introduced the Power Hole design, I've changed my approach. (Power Holes™ are a design feature in some Wilson racquets that increases the effective length of the strings a bit. Ed.) Now I'm able to string up tighter for better control, and I still get all the power I want because of the longer string length." Derek had his "pre-Power Hole" racquets strung at 28-30 lb., compared to the 31-32 lb. he uses now in his Wilson® Hyper Air Hammer™. He's considering bumping it up even further, to 33-34 lb., but this still isn't considered tight; some players go up to about 45 lb.
Derek has been using the same 17-gauge, Ashaway SuperKill® 17 string for almost four years, and remains happy with it. "I like to play with the thinnest gauge possible," he continues. "I'm a big individual, and a lot of players try to hit into me all the time. Thinner strings give me a better feel for the ball-better "touch" if I'm blocking the ball.
"I'd play with even thinner strings if I could keep them in the racquet. But I like using a racquet with an open string pattern, and I'd break an 18 gauge string in about five shots. The 17 gauge string gives me good durability, with plenty of power and control.
Derek brings eight to ten racquets to a typical four-day tournament, and as many as 15 to longer events. Every one of them is set up identically, so that if he breaks a string, or feels that one is losing tension, he can pick up a new racquet and know exactly how it's going to feel. A racquet usually lasts Derek from six to ten games before he feels the string has gotten too soft-assuming that he hasn't broken the string before that.
"I tell everyone that when they buy a new racquet, the first thing to do is get it re-strung," he says. "You need someone to set it up with the right string, gauge, and tension for the way you play. A professional stringer can do a lot to make your racquet play better for you."
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.