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String Therapy, Jimmy Miller

Before my father died when I was twelve, he taught me to play tennis and string racquets. Forty-seven years and some 80,000 racquets later, I can still remember the smell of heated wood after quickly pulling a small piece of spare string through the rough holes of a wooden racket. “Burning them out,” we called it, the friction smoothing the edges, before we started to string. I can still remember the feel of mounting the racket and easing down the weighted foot pedal on dad’s prized Serrano stringing machine. “Straighten the strings, Jimmy, always” he would patiently remind me. Out in the front of the tennis shop we would carefully brush thick golden shellac onto the natural gut strings, then watch it glisten in the summer sun. Customers today often comment that stringing looks therapeutic. I nod and smile. If they ask how I learned, I tell them about my dad.   

This drawing of The Millers, of me and my Dad, was a surprise gift from Andy Ramirez, a close friend and doubles partner, who owned a small Ad Agency down the street from where I was going to school at Santa Clara University. One day Andy asked if he could borrow a couple of tennis photos of me and my dad, saying he wanted to work on rebuilding his drawing skills. Andy never knew my father, yet he knew how much my father meant to me.

The last string straightened, I hand the racket over to the customer. They can’t wait to play. I feel renewed. Andy used to tell me that with each string job, I was restringing a soul. Maybe each racquet I string is an unspoken thank you to my father for giving me his love of tennis, the art of racquet stringing. Another racquet finished. I hand it over. Restringing a soul, Andy said. My own, I think, and become whole again.

Jimmy Miller Bio:

Jimmy was born and raised in Los Gatos, California, played on the tennis teams at Los Gatos High School and Santa Clara University, where he earned his degree in Psychology. His father, Greg Miller, was the head tennis pro at the Los Gatos Swim and Racquet Club. Jimmy has worked at four different tennis shops over the past forty-plus years, the last twenty-five at Swetka’s Tennis Shop in Mountain View, Ca. Jimmy taught tennis through the 1990’s, and as a player, reached a high of USA #2, Men’s 30-&-Over Doubles, in 1996. With more than 80,000 racquets woven to date, he still loves to string and has passed down the craft to his son, Zach, who has become an excellent stringer in his own right. (His Grandpa Greg would be proud.) Jimmy and his wife, Gina, also have an amazing daughter, Carly, and reside in San Jose, Ca. You can follow Jimmy and his great Tennis Twitter account @Racquettechie

Note on the Origin of This Piece: This piece started when I saw Jimmy post this drawing of The Millers, of he and his father, on Twitter. Sensing a great story about friends giving gifts of art and of fathers passing down traditions (such as tennis), I asked Jimmy if I might use this artwork for a piece of writing. As I began to explore this work and emailed back and forth with Jimmy about it, I soon realized that he had a beautiful piece of writing on everything this drawing might mean. This is that writing. Thank you, Jimmy, for sharing it with us.

Happy to announce that this blog has been named one of Feedspot’s top tennis blogs, websites & influencers of 2021.

2 replies on “String Therapy, Jimmy Miller”

Father son tennis is one of those special relationships, when your son wants to play with you! I grew up playing, my father played, not necessarily with us until later, high school, but we had the rackets and balls and God provided me with an identical twin, so I had someone to play with.

We had a one car garage and a brick home, where we hit on the wall and developed the hand eye coordination. Being a twin we were equally talented or untalented in most things we did. Everything was competitive, blowing bubbles with gum, running, jumping, even holding your breath.

We had one of our older brothers, Bill, (3 years) that played tennis, more or less coach us one summer. At our school which was all 12 grades, each summer, they gave some junior high and high school athletes summer jobs. I remember Bill, and 2 friends, Stan and Jack, all tennis players, did the tennis program one summer, teaching grips, stokes, serves. We spent hours a day hitting on the backboard and chasing balls, especially over the backboard and wild shots. I think this learning process filters out the less determined to play. We went weeks without ever hitting over the net or attempting a tennis point or game.

We were probably 10-11 at that time, we lived in the country about 2 1/2 miles from town. We were independent with our bikes, which we rode daily to town, tennis at 8:00 am and then baseball. Our grandparents lived in town, so we had a place to go, eat, rest and then go back out. Mayberry.

Seems like everything evolved around the school, go pickup some sort of game, or to friends homes. Parents always told you to go outside and play.
Playing we did, small school, most people did all sports, football, basketball, track, baseball were the big ones, then tennis.

Our school had 2 tennis courts, and built a third one about the time we were getting serious about playing. Our little town was pretty dominant in tennis. A lot of credit to my father on the school board was an avid player, really promoted tennis and summer sports programs. We player a lot of tennis with my father, father son.

I was thinking back at what age I started dominating my father, then comparing my son and myself. As a father you look forward to that day when the student becomes the master. What makes it special is when he still wants to play with you!!

Mississippi Delta, 1960’s as a child, hot, humid, we didn’t know, it was home!

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