In this post, we are going to take a tour of the size, shape, material and manufacturing process of tennis rackets throughout history. We will find out how we got to the tennis rackets we see on the courts today, as well as what kinds of tennis rackets we might see in the future.
What is the origin of tennis rackets?
Tennis rackets were invented in the mid-18th century. The monks of France created a game much like tennis, but they did not use rackets. The monks started using their bare hands to hit the ball back and forth over something like a net, but then it was the monks who put on leather gloves.
When the monks began to injure themselves from playing with their hands, they decided to switch to paddles. At first, players used solid wood paddles, and then, in the 14th century, they moved to what we would now call a racket.
This early medieval racket had gut strings and was tied to a large wooden frame. They had a teardrop shape and a long wooden handle. They were used to hit a ball over a net-like structure and not against a wall, as was initially done with a squash ball.
The first tennis racket was manufactured in 1874 in London by Major Walter C. Wingfield. This racket was large, heavy, and made of solid wood, which meant it could withstand some severe damage.
Wooden rackets began to be used in the middle of the 19th century when lawn tennis was invented and began to gain popularity. The wooden rackets used in this era were created with a wide head to facilitate the use of the ball, but the rackets were also relatively heavy.
However, they were flexible and this allowed a fair playing field for everyone who ended up playing. The wooden racket remained practically the same for about 100 years. Not counting the laminated wood rackets, which began to gain popularity in 1947 and changed the game for many players.
Dunlop, Slazenger, Wilson, and Spalding dominated the wooden racket industry. Most of the other competitors died out during this time due to their lack of innovation and large established brands. The two most important tennis rackets of this era were the Dunlop Maxply Fort and the Wilson Jack Kramer.
Throughout the century that wooden rackets were used, metal rackets tried time and again to gain popularity without success. Metal rackets have been around since 1889, but they were never widely used. However, in the 1970s, Jimmy Connors used a now-famous steel racquet that demonstrated just how powerful metal racquets could be versus wooden ones.
Connors’ landslide victory over Ken Rosewell was proof that the metal racquet industry had taken off. The heads were twice the size of the wooden heads traditionally used in the previous century.
Metal rackets began in 1957 when René Lacoste invented and patented the first metal tennis racket for his use. Wilson (the famous tennis racket company) eventually bought the rights to it, so the metal racket made its first appearance in a Wilson catalogue in 1969.
Aluminium rackets had taken off after gaining popularity during the Connors era, but players soon grew weary of the flexibility these rackets presented on the court. Strong blows momentarily created a flex in the aluminium frame, changing the direction of the plane of the strings. The bed of the strings would send the ball in an unwanted direction.
As a result of the unpredictability of aluminium rackets, majors began to put out graphite rackets. These racquets were less flexible than the metal racquets originally produced. They were lighter, which meant they were lighter to use and had more ability to add power to each swing.
Arthur Ashe was the first person to use a 100% graphite tennis racket, although he was not the most popular tennis player to use this style of racket. Probably the first famous graphite rackets were used by John McEnroe and Steffi Graf in 1980.
Tennis rackets today.
Since the evolution to graphite, racquets haven’t changed much in material. All rackets have some graphite to give them flexibility and stability, while still having a lot of power.
Some companies have experimented with the addition of other materials such as titanium and Kevlar to see if the racket improves. Until now, nothing has radically changed in the way racquets are made. Kevlar is similar to graphite, with the only difference being that it is lighter, stiffer, and transmits vibrations more easily. However, beginners find that both kevlar and titanium tennis rackets are difficult to control and hard on the arms after a long time.
Today, most tennis rackets are designed for specific situations with different specifications. Next, we are going to explain a little better these different types of rackets.
Power rackets are available in a huge variety. They can vary in materials (titanium, hypercarbon, triple threat, titanium mesh and air, etc.), as well as in size, head shape, weights and different levels of vibration damping. These rackets have large sweet spots and are generally very versatile.
Ultra control rackets.
These rackets are for more experienced players and are generally more difficult to use (although they are incredibly beneficial once you get the hang of it). They have thin sides and are smaller in terms of tennis racket heads. This offers the highest level of control available in terms of tennis rackets.
Medium power and control rackets.
Between the two extremes mentioned above, there are medium power and medium control tennis rackets. These rackets are ideal for beginners because they offer a compromise between power and control. All companies that produce tennis rackets have a racket that fits into this category today, and they all vary in price and size.
The size of the racket throughout history.
The size of tennis rackets throughout history is an exciting thing to watch as it changes with so many fluctuations and continues to change today. Most players tend to have a wider head but with a light and sloping frame, while others may prefer heavier and more powerful tennis rackets.
The average wooden racket measured 67 inches square. This was the norm for a long time, until Howard Head popularized the first large racket in the 1970s, with an impressive 100 square inches. It was a gigantic racket for the time, and it still is today.
However, it was not the first to take a big route, as the American tennis brand called Weed originally made the first large aluminum tennis racket in 1975. This racket did not make history and was not very successful.
And what will the future of tennis rackets look like?
Tennis racket companies are suffering these days because the quality of their rackets is so high. Someone who owned a graphite racket from 20 years ago could continue to use it today without needing or requiring another racket.
This causes tennis racket companies to innovate widely, with many companies striving to create new and exciting versions of their rackets in order to stay in business. For example, Dunlop was the first company to launch a tennis racket that offers extra length, and all other companies started offering it shortly thereafter.