History of Tennis Strings

The history of tennis strings takes us back over a hundred years when the first ever outdoor lawn tennis rackets, strung with the outer skin of sheep intestine known as serosa, were used in 1874. Sheep gut provides outstanding elasticity, flexibility and retention of tension; making it the perfect material for the game. Though by the 14th century, the Italians are credited to have already used what could legitimately be called a racket – wooden frame bound with strings from animal gut; the equipment and rules generally considered as the first version of how tennis is known and played today was patented in London by Major Walter C. Wingfield.

In 1875, Major Walter C. Wingfield visited Pierre Babolat to discuss strings for wooden rackets for the newly patented game which was then called “sphairistike” (a Greek term for “ball game”). Babolat who lived in Lyon was making and supplying natural gut strings for musical instruments and on that same year, the very first set of natural gut tennis string was manufactured in the original building where the company is still based. Today, the family-run firm continues to supply the world with one of the most recognized brands of natural gut strings.

Following World War II, the shortage of sheep gut led manufacturers to eventually adopt cow serosa which luckily offers more length and tensile strength. Raw materials from animal innards are collected as a by-product and animals are not reared specifically for their serosa, making the cost of natural gut very high. Another drawback was moisture resistance, which was a great concern for tennis players living in places with humid climate. The moisture in air penetrates natural gut tennis strings, negatively affecting the racket’s playability. Back in the day, these drawbacks encouraged the invention of synthetic tennis strings.

The nylon-based “synthetic gut” strings were initially developed as an economical alternative to natural gut in the 1970’s. Just like natural gut, ribbons of nylon are twisted and bonded together to produce a comparatively cheaper (generally the least expensive), more durable, tennis string set that offers good playability. As the popularity of synthetic gut flourished, manufacturers came up with new developments in the multi-stranded nylon technology that increased tension stability compared to the traditional monofilament version. Affordable and durable, the synthetic type of strings became the leading choice for recreational tennis players in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

As more and more people took a fancy to learning and enjoying what was once an elite sport, the tennis boom of the eighties spread like wildfire and so the tennis string market progressed. Aside from nylon; materials such as Kevlar, Zyex, Ventran, polyester and polyurethane were used individually or in combination for increased performance. Each material has different characteristics, and manufacturers played with combinations and technology to produce different levels and mix of comfort, durability, power, and spin.

This need for customization also led to the birth of hybrid stringing, where instead of using one type of string on both mains and crosses, different types are incorporated to achieve performance that is in tune with the tennis player’s game. The possible number of string combinations is almost countless and hybrid tennis strings are becoming more and more popular that even major brands offer pre-packaged hybrids.

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