By Connor Beach
Huntington resident Julien Klein said he was a late bloomer when it comes to his appreciation for tennis, but he has since turned his love for the sport into a career.
“I started playing tennis when I was 14 or 15 years old, and I just got hooked,” said Klein, who has owned and operated Solow Sports, a retail shop on Main Street in Huntington village that specializes in all racket sports, for just over four years.
Growing up as a young tennis player Klein learned how to string his own rackets. He continued to develop his racket stringing skills as a college tennis player, but it was after college that he truly became a professional.
“After college I met some really great stringers,” Klein said. “If you think of stringing like cooking, it’s like I got to train under some of the best chefs in the world.”
Klein said that he learned to string rackets to the standard of the world’s most elite players, and this unique set of skills earned him a chance to string at the U.S. Open in Flushing, Queens.
“To string rackets at the U.S. Open is an invite-only opportunity; I think the fact that I’m local and have more flexibility helped me,” Klein said.
This year’s U.S. Open marked Klein’s fourth time stringing rackets for the pros. For his last two trips to the Open, he was selected to Wilson’s elite team of stringers.
“There are only between 16 to 18 stringers, and most of them have been doing it for over 20 years,” Klein said. “It can be very demanding; some days you get in at 5 a.m. and don’t leave until the last match is over at 2 a.m. the next morning.”
Klein worked for about 10 days at this year’s tournament, which ran Aug. 28-Sept. 10. The stringer kept a detailed record of the rackets he worked on, averaging about 30 per day. Most players dropped off three to six rackets at once, but the best players in the world would sometimes request that he string 12-15 different rackets for a particular day, he said.
The most exciting part of the job, he added, was the on-site stringings that were done while matches were being played.
“A ball person would run the rackets directly from the player’s hand into the equipment room in the stadium, and you had 18 minutes to string it and get it back on the court before the next change was over,” Klein said.
Performing at such a high level was a difficult but rewarding experience for Klein.
“It’s like running a marathon,” he said. “You finish and you ask why you put yourself through that, but a couple days later I was already excited for the chance to get asked back again next year.”