A quick trip to Granddad’s closet will reveal that tennis racquets were once quite different, surprisingly it’s evolved even further than the good ole’ wooden rackets of the past. This article will look at the evolution of tennis rackets throughout the ages ever since the sports inception back in the 11th to 12th century.
So starting our journey almost a millennium ago, was when the first elements of tennis racquets began to take shape. The first ‘tennis’ played by 11th-century monks was more like a game of handball, and the racket, in this case, was their hand!
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Clearly, string tension wasn’t on the mind of these early tennis players, however, after a few sore hands or two, they did progress to using gloves. Around the 12th to 13th century this progressed to a wooden paddle, so don’t let anyone tell you innovation didn’t exist back in the medieval days!
Then came the 14th century where an unknown Italian invented the first true tennis racket. This consisted of strings made out of gut, a feature still similarly used even up until now, with these strings bound by a timber frame.
Even though the game of tennis was still being played indoors at this time, rackets became widespread use, with hands and gloves a thing of the past!By the time 1874 came around, Major Walter C. Wingfield had just registered his patent for the rules and equipment of his newly formed outdoor tennis, similar to the game we now know of today.
He sold wooden racquets globally and within only a couple of years had started to popularise the game in new areas of the globe. For nearly 100 years the wooden racquet changed very slightly, however, player’s overall performance did.
The slight changes that were made during this period saw improvements in the laminate of the timber being stuck together to make the frame, and again improvements with the strings, however, the rackets remained heavy and cumbersome compared to the rackets of today. The racket heads remained at around 65 square inches depending on the racket manufacturer.
Then came the metal racket popularised by Wilson in 1967 under their T2000. Jimmy Connors jumped on board in the 1970’s with the metal rackets and played with the stronger and lighter racket compared with the traditional wooden frame.
Although oversized frames were introduced in the mid-1970’s first by Weed USA and then by Prince, they never took off with advanced players since their power and increased sweet-spot would send off-center shots in different directions.
By the 1980’s advanced players were using frames made out of carbon fiber and glued together with a plastic resin, or otherwise known as graphite. This provided increased stiffness in the racket for advanced players allowing for greater precision on their shots.Today graphite is still the number one choice for advanced players and professionals.
Racket manufacturers are constantly trying to innovate and come up with the next best thing, including mixing titanium, ceramics or fiberglass materials (just to name a few) into their rackets as a graphite/material blend. Head has just brought out their Graphene series of rackets that uses ultra-lightweight Graphene material that is used in other areas such as Formula 1 to bring increased stiffness, yet lightweight-play into their rackets.
About the Author: Peter Deer is a contributing author of Tennis Lessons Sydney. He has moments of nostalgia every time wooden rackets are mentioned. He’d still play with a wooden racket if he could win a point with one!