Peter Figasinski’s leg is bobbing under the small, varnished wood table. That, and his wide open eyes give you the sense that he can’t believe he is here. Not here – in this trendy SoHo coffee shop. But here in New York.
Here to see the US Open.
Late last summer, an anonymous user with the screen name PeterFig – and a profile picture of a computer-illustrated dog named Noodle – posted to the forums of Tennis Warehouse, an emporium dedicated to all things racket and ball. The post included a Photoshopped racket design. The file was just a passion project, the tinkering of a devoted Wilson tennis fan.
Around the same time in Switzerland, Roger Federer was doing some tinkering of his own, working with “racket scientists” at Wilson to engineer a new racket. At 33, with 17 grand slam titles, Federer and his team decided the time was ripe to leave a more permanent mark on the court. He had his clothing line, his trophies, and his endorsements. But one of the classiest men in the game still didn’t have a racket named after him.
Tennis rackets aren’t like basketball shoes. It’s rare for a player’s name to grace the shaft. Wilson only bestowed that honor on two previous greats, Chris Evert and Jack Kramer. Federer would be the third.
Leading that effort was John Lyons, a global product director at Wilson. While fabricating dozens of prototypes from his Chicago office for Federer to test, Lyons stumbled into a Tennis Warehouse forum speculating about Federer’s mystery racket. Between arguments about specifications and general tennis geekery, he found a Photoshopped file of a racket design. It was sleek. Professional. The bright red hoop with clean lines mixed a throwback wood aesthetic with modern design.
When Figasinski received an email from Tennis Warehouse asking if Wilson could contact him about the posted photo, he figured it could be about one of two things. “At most I thought, ‘they like your design so here’s a $15 gift card because you are a fan’,” he says. “At worst I thought maybe I was infringing on some sort of copyright.”
That’s why he apologized immediately when the phone rang and Lyons was on the other end. Except the call wasn’t about copyright infringement, and Wilson didn’t want to give Figasinski a gift card. They wanted him to design Federer’s new racket.
First of course, Lyons needed to figure out if the anonymous “PeterFig” was a 15-year-old writing tennis posts from his mother’s basement.
At 42, Figasinski is a freelance design veteran living in Vancouver, Canada. Professionally, he’s illustrated corporate logos and websites for a wide range of clients. On the side, he’s developed a good enough tennis game to stay competitive on the neighborhood courts.
The one-man shop with a home office beat national firms to design Federer’s signature racket.
“Wilson became my client which was a little weird – a little surreal,” Figasinski says. He says surreal a lot. His leg still bobbing, eyes still wide, with the grin of a man about to watch a tennis legend play in the US Open, holding the latest addition to his design portfolio.
Federer played publicly with a black-framed racket for more than eight months before the official reveal of the Wilson Pro Staff RF97. During that time, Figasinski only told his wife about his newest client. On July 31, Federer tweeted out a photo with the finished product, letting Figasinski go public with his work.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) July 31, 2014
Figasinski first met Federer at a Wilson party in Manhattan before this year’s Open. He approached Figasinski, told him he really like the design, then they immediately started talking shop. What is the public saying about the racket? Where’d the inspiration come from?
From the second row at Arthur Ashe stadium, Figasinski then got to watch his racket advance two rounds in the hands of the tournament’s number-two seed. “It was fantastic, a surreal experience. I spent minutes not watching the points, but watching the racket in his hand as he hit the shots.”
— Peter Figasinski (@peterfig) August 27, 2014
Peter Figasinski can’t really believe he is here. He can’t believe he is going to leave this coffee shop and fly back home to an office full of racket prototypes and paint swatches (Wilson is now his only client). He can’t really believe that in the next few weeks, he’ll walk into tennis stores and onto his local courts and see his racket design – one that a year ago was just a passion project posted to an online forum.