As His Pay Shrinks within the Absence of Tennis, His Heart Grows Fonder


People all through the sports activities world, from athletes to area employees members, inform The New York Times how their lives have modified through the coronavirus pandemic.

Ron Yu fell arduous for tennis when he was an undergraduate at Georgia Tech — so arduous that he by no means accomplished his diploma, leaving after lower than two years.

“I was just spending so much time playing tennis and hanging around the tennis shop where I’d started to work,” Yu mentioned. “Looking at my grades, they were about ready to kick me out anyway, so it wasn’t so difficult a decision at that stage.”

An American who was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States as an toddler along with his Korean mother and father, Yu grew to become one of many world’s premier racket technicians. He strings rackets and likewise customizes them by modifying handles and grips and including weight to the frames. He has performed a job behind the scenes in 23 Grand Slam singles titles for gamers together with Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer.

Yu, 52, has labored on the boutique racket companies firm Priority One since 2001. Founded by Pete Sampras’s former racket technician Nate Ferguson, Priority One works completely for a small group of elite males’s gamers, together with the No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic and Federer, who has been a shopper since 2004. The focus is on offering service on the 4 Grand Slam tournaments and top-tier occasions on the ATP Tour.

But like everybody else who works on the tennis circuit, Yu has had his worldwide life grounded by the coronavirus pandemic. The skilled excursions are on a hiatus that started in early March and that may final a minimum of 4 months, maybe considerably longer.

Priority One has laid off one among its three technicians, Glynn Roberts, who has been the first stringer for Djokovic and Andy Murray. Yu remained with the corporate, and he mentioned he was nonetheless customizing rackets and stringing one or two a day for non-professional shoppers. That is a precipitous drop from the 25 to 30 he would possibly string each day at a match.

“The way our contracts work with the players, they pay us for the stringing and the customizing when they are playing and traveling and when we are at tournaments,” Yu mentioned. “So currently now revenue has gone to basically zero.”

Yu mentioned he had taken a pay reduce at Priority One and moved right into a part-time data-entry job near his home in Tampa, Fla., to assist compensate for the misplaced earnings.

Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

This interview has been condensed and evenly edited for readability.

Q: How many weeks are you normally on the highway throughout a standard 12 months?

Yu: It was as excessive as 33 weeks through the heyday, however it’s now all the way down to 26, and I’ve been completely happy to be all the way down to 26.

What is it prefer to be off the highway for the foreseeable future?

I take pleasure in being home with my spouse. I really like with the ability to have dinner along with her each night time sitting out on the patio within the night. But I miss the travel. I miss being at tournaments, and I miss the chums I’ve made on tour, as a result of the tour is sort of a little village that goes all over the world. Even although you might be in a brand new metropolis you see the identical individuals.

Working a part-time job outdoors of tennis has actually proven to me how a lot I nonetheless love tennis. Not that this new job is horrible, however typically after being on the highway for 4 or 5 weeks, I’d be like, ‘Oh man, I’m simply bored with tennis.’ But this has clarified much more for me how nice a sport it’s.

What has been the impression of this tour stoppage on the racket service neighborhood?

I’ve made a whole lot of pals who string at Grand Slams as a part of the on-site stringing service, and most of those individuals have their very own tennis outlets or work in a tennis store, and people outlets are both closed or have most likely misplaced 80 to 90 % of their income. Even in regular occasions, you aren’t going to get rich doing this. You might lead a really good comfy center class life, however that is actually devastating for the tennis neighborhood, for stringers and the store homeowners.

Have you tried to assist one another financially or emotionally?

Everyone is in the identical boat. I don’t need to say that tennis stringers are hermit-like, however they are often pretty introverted. You is likely to be in a room filled with 10 different stringers at a match, and yeah, you’ll joke round somewhat bit and discuss, however if you end up actually working arduous and hustling you may not say a phrase to anybody for hours.

I’m unsure tennis stringers open up as a lot as lots of people, and possibly they don’t ask for assist as a lot. Maybe they need to.

Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

When you watch a match, together with your data of racket expertise and strings, do you watch it otherwise from the typical fan?

Probably once I see a shot and I say that shot couldn’t have occurred 20 years in the past. In the previous days when most guys performed with pure intestine strings, you couldn’t simply swing out as arduous as you wished on a regular basis as a result of after 5, six pictures you’re simply going to lose management doing that. Gut is simply so lively, for essentially the most half.

Nowadays they should put somewhat extra topspin on it, however they’re swinging almost full pace. Even when there may be actually a tense level and a whole lot of strain, you see guys returning and they’re able to swing as arduous as they need. Or when a man involves the web and someone on a stretch can pull it crosscourt for a clear passing shot winner, I’m like, “That shot would not happen 25 years ago.”

You’ve mentioned that your loved ones didn’t approve of your determination to go away Georgia Tech and work as a stringer. How do they really feel about it now?

My mother loves the very fact she will inform her pals in Korea that “my son is friends and works with Roger Federer.” So that has eased the ache.