Connors should know. Unlike Lendl, who has kept his rackets strung at 72 pounds ever since Cologne, a fussbudget like Connors switches string tensions not only from match to match but during matches as well. While en route to winning the 1982 U.S. Open, for example, he conferred with Bosworth about an evening match against Arias. Aware that a predicted drop in temperature would reduce the speed of the ball, Bosworth advised, "Be prepared to go down in tension slightly so the ball will be faster off the strings and you won't have to work as hard."
Accordingly, Connors strode onto the court with four pairs of rackets, strung at 60, 61.5, 62.5 and 63 pounds, respectively, and, after a few warmup swipes, decided to start with one strung at 62.5. As the evening chill descended, Arias waxed hot and broke to a 6-0, 3-0 lead. Not to worry. During a changeover, Connors went to his Bosworth bag of tricks and picked up one of the rackets strung at 60. And presto switcho, he came alive and swept 18 of the next 20 games to win 0-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2.
"I liked the rackets Warren strung at 62.5 pounds during the heat of the day," says Connors, "but that night against Arias that ball just wouldn't come off my racket the way I like. So I went with the 60, and instead of just hitting the ball, I really started smacking it. You just never know. For instance, I picked up the racket I beat Arias with the next day, and I wanted to throw it away it felt so bad. It's a question of feel, and Warren understands that. He understands weather conditions. He understands the game. And perhaps best of all, he understands me."
Which is no small feat according to Del Wilber, former president of North American operations for Snauwaert, a racket maker, and now a partner and a managing director at Advantage International, which represents many leading players. "Warren has a unique mentality that lets him deal with the massive egos of world-class athletes. What makes Connors as good as he is is that he's so damn arrogant and egotistical he doesn't think anybody can ever beat him. That makes him a good player, but it also makes him a little tough to handle. And that goes for most of the top players. When you know how much money those guys are making, you can't sit there and listen to them whine and whimper without getting a little cynical. Well, Warren is never cynical. He cuts through all that, and I don't know if you call it patience or understanding or what, but he can listen to those massive egos, and he's not the enemy; he's one of them."
Presumably, given the specifications and training, other artisans could turn out a dozen reasonably uniform rackets. But how does one arrive at those uniquely individual specifications? How does one decipher the vague code words the pros use to describe racket response—dead, mushy, tingly, harsh, solid, sling-shotty—and turn them into formulas that will result in what Tanner mysteriously describes as "a certain satisfying emotion that develops off the strings"? Therein, says Wilber, lies Bosworth's "truly singular gift, an uncanny ability to precisely translate the imprecise."
Wilber, who hired Bosworth as the chief technical consultant for Snauwaert, explains that "the engineers who design sports equipment go by the numbers. Unfortunately, the athletes who use that equipment have a whole different set of perceptions. And there's no chance, none, that they can express what they feel in words that the engineers can understand. So what happens is that a Stan Musial ends up working on his bats with a Coke bottle, and Connors has to slap a ton of lead tape on the T2000. I'm sure that in the aerospace industry, say, there are test pilots who have found a way to communicate with the engineers. But in my experience there's never been anyone in sports who spans the gap between the players and the R & D guys except Warren."
Bosworth was to the manner born. His grandfather was an inventor who gave the world the Bosworth Tipping Machine, a breakthrough in the mass production of those little gizmos on the ends of shoestrings. His father, a man of means and influence in Providence, R.I., operated the Warren M. Bosworth Funeral Home, and Warren Jr., after earning a degree in embalming from the New England Institute of Anatomy, worked as a mortician for four years before taking up investment banking. Raised in a "fairly affluent atmosphere," Bosworth played scratch golf, skippered the family yacht and raced his Jaguar and MG in sportscar rallies. But after he married in 1959, fathered three children and worked for five brokerage houses, the last of which was E.F. Hutton's office in Hartford, sound financial management dictated that he find a more cost-efficient pastime. "So I took up tennis," he says, "basically because I could play for free on the public courts."
Bosworth took tennis lessons—and gave one in self-reliance. When he failed to improve, he concluded that the teaching methods, not he, were "inadequate and probably wrong." So he decided to teach himself through scientific inquiry, beginning with what amounted to the anatomy of the tennis stroke. Convinced that "the only important thing is what happens at the moment of impact with the ball," Bosworth went to the 1968 U.S. Open at Forest Hills, bought a camera and 54 rolls of film and photographed the players hitting forehands and backhands from every conceivable angle. He broadened his investigation to question virtually every axiom in the game. Among others, Bosworth consulted a psychiatrist, an oculist and the NASA physicists who designed the life-support systems for the moon walks. A self-taught engineer with wide-ranging interests, Bosworth also relied on his training in chemistry, architecture, drafting and something called video recall, a skill that enables him to recount, on command, events and conversations in full detail and word for word years after the fact. "Your brain never forgets what it sees and hears," he says. "You just have to learn how to recall it."
Forever asking "why do you do this?" only to be told, "because that's the way it's always been done," Bosworth went to any extreme to get at the facts. To gain more firsthand knowledge about court surfaces, for instance, he formed, and for two years operated, a company that maintained Har-Tru and other surfaces. And, typically, when given a string job that wasn't to his liking, he bought a stringing machine and began tinkering. What he came up with so impressed the Ektelon Corp. that the company asked him to redesign its stringing machine.
Bosworth attended the inaugural Aetna World Cup held in Hartford in 1972, and by 1976 he was the tournament's Floor General. He oversaw the stringing operation, the ball boys and the courts, and he relished the opportunity to attend every practice session and "just sit there for hours taking pictures and watching the best players in the world hit tennis balls." The players also had taken note of the ubiquitous shutterbug, and before long he became the personal stringer for such luminaries as Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe and Stan Smith.