History of Tennis Rackets
It is believed that tennis was first played by monks in France in the eleventh century. They first played with their hands, the sport was similar to what we consider handball. Eventually they began using gloves, which evolved into gloves with webbed fingers. Then players began using hard, solid wooden paddles resembling large ping pong paddles.
By the sixteenth century, players across the world were using the tools that looked much like our modern day rackets. They were frames made of wood with gut strung through them. Gut is a chord derived from the natural fibers of the intestinal walls of animals. The rackets had long handles and a tiny head shaped like a tear drop.
In 1874 the game and equipment changed forever. Major Walter C. Wingfield was able to register his patent for an outdoor lawn game that most consider the earliest form of the modern game we play today. He also patented his equipment. His rackets had a wider, flatter head, but for the most part were similar to the wooden rackets used until the 70’s, Rackets remained the same for nearly a century, the only differences coming in better laminating techniques and higher quality strings.
In 1967 Wilson Sporting Goods came out with the T2000, which turned out to be the first popular metal racket. Jimmy Connors was one of the leading competitors in professional tennis, and his success with this racket started a buzz. In 1976 the Prince Classic was released. This was the first popular racket with an aluminum frame and a head that was 1.5 times larger than the conventional 65 square inch wooden racket used for the last century.
Many amateur players benefited from the larger sweet spot, however many power players found the aluminum frame too flexible. Out of this problem the racket material we know as graphite was invented in the 70’s. Graphite is carbon fibers bound together by a plastic resin. This material is much stiffer and lighter than aluminum, providing professionals with more power and a larger sweet spot. Aluminum rackets were cheaper, but graphite were much higher quality. Wood was no longer a reasonable option.
In 1987 Wilson made a breakthrough with their Profile model. It was the first wide body racket, meant to increase stiffness with the current materials at their disposal.
Modern technology has improved rackets even more. The most desirable traits in a racket are little weight and a stiff frame. In the last two decades the average racket weight has dropped from 12.5 ounces to 10.5 ounces. Some modern rackets weigh even as little as 7 ounces.
Many new materials are being tested, the two most popular being Kevlar and titanium, however they are usually still mixed with graphite to provide stability. Head has invented a new model with a circuit board in the handle which uses piezoelectric technology to convert electrical energy to vibration in order to stiffen the racket even more. Who knows what types of rackets we’ll be playing with next century.
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