Stringer served an ace at Wimbledon

John Sawyer, right, with  Ivan Buffoni, Lia Fafouti, Giancarlo Sparla, Paolo Aramini and Liam Nolan stringing racquets for Wimbledon 2013 players.
John Sawyer, right, with Ivan Buffoni, Lia Fafouti, Giancarlo Sparla, Paolo Aramini and Liam Nolan stringing racquets for Wimbledon 2013 players.

While most of us were glued to our screens during an historic Wimbledon, one Ilkeston man was working hard behind the scenes.

For decades, John Sawyer has been stringing rackets for some of tennis’s greatest players – including Andy Murray, the first British men’s singles Wimbledon winner for 77 years.

But, until this year, he had not joined one of Wimbeldon’s stringing teams for 23 years – and what a year to come back!

“It was very good to be a part of it,” he said. “We had lots of people coming in and talking about what was going on.

“But straight from the start, more or less, people were saying it will be a Murray-Djokovic final.”

Computer programmer John has been a lifelong tennis fan and belongs to the UK Racket Stringing Association.

The head of the organisation Liam Nolan invited him to join a team of Italians close to the Wimbeldon site, who were practicing ahead of the Italian Open later this year.

But disaster struck just weeks before he was due to start when usually fit and healthy John, 64, had a heart attack out of the blue.

“Rushed into hospital and a stent fitted meant that I was out of action at a critical time and my participation in the team was in question,” he said.

Thanks to staff at Ilkeston and Nottingham hospitals he was back on the scene ‘in double quick time’ but forced to take a less hands-on role – certainly not the 20-hour days often expected of stringers.

The tournament started with 128 players, meaning work was very hard. But as players are whittled down it gets a bit easier.

Each player has a specific way in which they want their rackets strung, meaning it can be a highly skilled task.

“One player would actually come and tell us when to start stringing his rackets and would hover around the stringing room waiting for his racquets,” John recalled.