Cloughmills man swaps Windsor for Wimbledon

Roger Henry
Roger Henry

Although he’s the first to admit the adjectives don’t apply to himself, local man Roger Henry will soon be mixing with the rich and famous at Wimbledon.

He is on first name terms with most of the stellar names in world tennis and he holds the rare distinction of making an acquaintance with Rory McIlroy’s ex-fiancée, Caroline Wozniacki before the Holywood man had even met her.

The Cloughmills man’s passion for the sport does not end with him playing on the courts at Windsor Tennis Club in Belfast but he also gets to work with the top players in the world as a professional racquet stringer.

Over the years he has got up close and personal with some of the sport’s biggest names, including Raphael Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Anna Sharapova, the Williams sisters, along with Wozniacki to name but a few.

He has also rubbed shoulders with the man the media dubbed ‘superbrat,’ in his heyday, none other than the legendary John McEnroe.

Roger has been stringing rackets for around 10 years now and he has gained valuable experience at local tournaments, stringing for players at all levels and in this short time, 2014 will see him work for the second year in a row at The Aegon Championships at Queens Club followed by his seventh Wimbledon.

He is also the official stringer for the Ireland Davis Cup team, who recently beat a strong Egyptian team to gain promotion.

Although this will be his seventh year at SW23, Roger knows that when he walks through those famous gates of the All England Lawn Tennis Club in a few weeks time, the feeling will still be one of sheer excitement.

“Being part of the stringing team at the Championships, Wimbledon is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of any stringer’s career.” he says.

“There is still a massive ‘wow’ factor when you walk through those famous gates before getting down to work.”

Roger is part of an experienced team, who provide the only on site stringing service at the Championships.

“As racquet stringers we have a very important role to play and take our job very seriously. We will become an integral part of a players team during the tournament.” he adds.

A typical day in the Wimbledon Stringing Room starts at around 7am, sometimes earlier on busy days when the machines are checked and calibrated to ensure correct tensions.

Players and their coaches will start arriving for practice an hour later and rackets will be collected and dropped off throughout the day with the stringing room open up to 30 minutes after play finishes in the evening.

Roger says that, almost without exception, the players are courteous and friendly when they deliver their rackets and he has several interesting anecdotes to relate.

“I have known Caroline Wozniacki for quite some time now and she is an absolutely lovely girl and very friendly.” explains Roger who works for Triangle Housing Association in Ballymena.

“I remember last year I was chatting to her and I caught sight of this mop of dark hair in the distance after she had been practicing.

“I said to Caroline: ‘is that Rory?’ and she answered in the affirmative and asked would I like to meet him.

“So she introduced me and we had quite a long chat about back home, Ulster Rugby and golf, of course.

“I supposed it’s a bit ironic that I’d never met my fellow Ulster man before but I knew his (then) girlfriend before he did !”

Roger also regularly meets Federer and Nadal, both of whom he describes as real gentlemen while, contrary to his reputation in his Grand Slam playing days, the same applies to Mr McEnroe.

“I first met him at the seniors tour event at the Odyssey in Belfast a few years ago and he couldn’t have been nicer to me.” Roger recalls.

“I’d see him the odd time at Wimbeldon when he has a break between his television commitments and he always would make a point of saying ‘hello.’

One of Roger’s all time favourites is three-times Grand Slam winner, Belgium’s Kim Clijsters, who has now retired from the sport.

“She is an absolutely lovely person, one of the nicest you could wish to meet, and I remember one day after we had finished work the (stringing) team were sitting down on a grassy bank eating pizza and she came along and joined us.” he went on.

“Then there was another night when we had just eaten a meal at a Thai restaurant and when we went to pay the bill we were told it had been looked after.

“It turned out that one of the leading doubles players, Liezel Hilber, who was born in South Africa but is based in the USA, had paid for it to say thanks to us - it was a lovely gesture.”

Defending Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and Roger are also on first name terms and he says the ‘dour Scot’ image no longer applies.

“Maybe earlier in his career he was a bit offhand with the media at times but once you get to know him he’s a very nice guy with a great, dry sense of humour.” he says.

However Roger doesn’t think Murray, who has been dogged by injury lately, will be able to win back to back titles this year for that reason.

Instead he plumps for Roger Federer with Serena Williams his tip for the ladies singles title - helped, of course, by racquets expertly strung by a man from County Antrim !