Squash Player’s Mike Dale picks the brains of the man who strings for the world’s top stars
Published courtesy of Squash Player magazine. Full details on the latest magazine here.
When the pros want their weapons fine-tuning, they go to Nick Down. He is the most highly qualified squash racket stringer in the world; the first and only holder of the Master Pro Tour Squash Stringer award. He hasn’t just passed all the exams, he wrote the exams.
Having strung rackets since 1987, and been the on-site racket stringer at many top PSA Tour events since 2007, 58-year-old Down has strung many thousands of rackets for professional and amateur players alike. Every single one gives him a sense of pride.
“You know that feeling you get when you do something well? In my job, I get that about every half an hour,” he chuckles. “People who build houses might get that experience once a year, but every time I finish a racket, and I check it to make sure I haven’t made any mistakes – usually I haven’t, fortunately – I get that little feeling of satisfaction.”
Down’s journey to stringing eminence as Squash Education Manager and Certification Examiner for the European Racquet Stringers Association began by reading Squash Player. In it, he saw an advert for a stringing machine for sale in west London. The seller gave him a quick lesson.
At the time, Down was in the Metropolitan Police. Before long he was topping up his wage by stringing for all his mates in the four teams he played for throughout the late 1980s. It wasn’t until years later that he found out about the existence of the UK Racket Stringing Association (UKRSA), run by Liam Nolan, formerly head stringer at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. After getting in touch, Down attended a two-day stringing course and realised he had been “doing it wrong” for years.
Nolan invited his new friend to the 2006 British Open in Nottingham to shadow him as the tournament’s stringer and Down has fulfilled the role himself every year since. He retired from the police in 2012 – “after 30 years and one day, to ensure I got my pension!” – and is now on-site stringer at nearly all the UK-based PSA Tour events, plus the Nationals, juniors, Masters and several top events overseas. Pre-Covid, he was also the contracted stringer at Hurlingham, the UK’s largest tennis club.
Down, who lives in Herefordshire, is responsible for aligning squash’s racket stringing qualifications with tennis and badminton. There are seven levels, culminating in Pro Tour Levels one and two, then Master Pro Tour, for which you must have 10 years’ experience.
As well as being the only holder of squash’s top certificate, Down is in charge of testing all over Europe and is a Pro Tour Level One tennis stringer too.
He has some surprising revelations from the PSA Tour. Mohamed ElShorbagy uses a very thin Tecnifibre DNAMX 1.1mm string which has just been discontinued, giving him more cut on the ball. Gregory Gaultier also uses 1.1mm and has them strung at just over 14 pounds – “ridiculously low” – giving him more power.
“Greg tends to play most of his squash as far up the front of the court as possible and has very little backswing. He tries to volley everything. He can only get his power because his string tension is so low,” Down explains. “However, his strings are so thin that he breaks them in almost every match!”
At the other end of the scale, Down remembers stringing former World No.1 John White’s rackets at 33 pounds with a thin Ashaway Micro gauge string. “For most people that would be almost unplayable,” he says. “But for him as one of the Tour’s hardest hitters, it was all geared towards control and touch.”
Down is critical of factory-strung rackets and has strong views about the “90%” (his estimate) of stringers who have not taken any ERSA qualifications. “I can guarantee some of them aren’t doing as good a job as they think they are,” he states.
“Rackets should always be strung top down,” he says. “Doing it from the bottom up means the sweet spot will be lower down the racket. For top pros and good amateurs who often hit the ball very close to the side walls, they want that sweet spot as high up the racket face as possible.”
Down had a stroke two years ago which still affects his speech but had no severe impact on his physical abilities. “The rackets keep coming back and I’ve had no complaints,” he says. “The big boys and girls on Tour will be seeing me around for a few more years yet!”