Jul 6 2013

The Evolution of the Tennis Racquet

History | Racquets | Technology       Clif Render      

or "In the Beginning was the Wood..."

The tennis racquet is a marvelous invention. Without it, the sport we play today just wouldn't be the same. In its prehistory, it started off as either a bare hand or a glove made of leather or cloth. Before long, however, the first (and longest) age of the racquet would begin: The Wood Age.

Around the 14th century, a frame of wood with strings made of animal intestine (or gut) was first used to play the sport. The use of this type of racquet would continue on and off for the next six hundred years or so. It was made the official standard of the sport (or, at least, the sport's ancestor) in the late 1800s when Major Walter C. Wingfield began registering patents for what he called "The Ancient Game of Tennis". This wood and gut model racquet would continue to be the standard of play until the late 1960s when Jimmy Conners and Wilson Sporting Goods introduced us to the amazing T2000 all steel racquet. The Metal Age of racquet technology was upon us.

Stronger and lighter than many wood racquets, the steel T2000 showed us that the game could be significantly enhanced through the use of stronger, lighter weight materials such as steel and aluminum. These materials were so strong that they allowed for the development of the first oversize racquets as they were no longer limited by the relative weaknesses of the old wood frames. Some believed that this wave of innovation was a fad that would never catch on. Some thought it was cheating and shouldn't be allowed. But in the end it WAS allowed. Tennis had embraced technology and it was an embrace that would continue into the current age, the Composite Age.

In the early 1980's composite materials were first used for producing tennis racquets. These composite materials typically included materials like graphite, fiberglass, ceramics and glass and have enabled racquet manufacturers to continue pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the sport. Players hit harder and with more spin than ever before. Is this because of the racquets they use? Yes. Is that the only reason? No. The fitness level of the modern athlete is also far superior to that of previous generations. Our increased understanding of proper technique and the availability high level training for little or no cost also plays a part. The final factor, I believe, may also be the most significant one: string technology. Advancements in the area of string technology have been absolutely amazing and deserve their own post so I won't elaborate on them too much here.

What I will say is that technology has been a primary driver of performance in our beloved sport for quite some time now and I don't see that changing any time soon. As long as the tennis community continues to embrace technology, tennis will continue to advance.


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