”Tennis is boxing, it’s a violent sport, one against the other and it’s boxing without contact”. So said Andre Agassi – shots come at you and you feel them like a boxer.
The difference is that you have an arm extension in the form of a racket with which to do your hitting. It’s the ball that you hit and not the player – you impart speed, spin and direction to this small round projectile.
So what is this tool of the trade or racket?
It’s made up of a frame, to which is attached flat, crossed strings, and a handle. The racket has undergone 150yrs of technological evolution and in so doing, along with the tennis court surface, has defined the style of play that now becomes possible.
The game that the architect of Lawn Tennis, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, invented in the 1870s, and played on grass , is very different from the ATP final we witnessed in Turin.
This was played out between Novak Djokovic and Casper Ruud and they certainly didn’t use wooden rackets!
The natural material wood has been a part of the game of tennis for about a century – wooden rackets were used from 1874 to the end of the 1970s.
They also changed shape to a regular oval form at the beginning of the twentieth century. The frame was constructed of several strips of wood, mainly Ash, of different quality and elasticity, compressed and glued together.
The strings were made of natural gut and the handle was covered in real leather.
The basic shape and form of the racket didn’t change for a century. One racket, in particular, stood out and became very popular and used by both professionals – Rod Laver, Ilie Nastase, Fred Stolle, Lew Hoad and others – and amateurs.
The Dunlop Maxply Fort which John McEnroe was still using even into the early eighties. Your writer was at the time using the Slazenger equivalent of the Fort – also an excellent racket. The move away from wood was a long time coming.
The search for a more rigid material that was light in weight but also would absorb shock and vibration resulted in the use of aluminium.
Good on weight and rigidity but less so on shock absorption. This was also a material that could be relatively easily made into a racket shape and marketed in large numbers.
Jimmy Connors and also Billie Jean King, used with great success the Wilson T2000. Jimmy, won several slams, including Wimbledon, with this racket.
Next in the technological evolution came the use of graphite – light, rigid and an ability to absorb vibration. This was incorporated into rackets, initially, between layers of wood until Howard Head (Head Ski Company) acquired 1979 the patent for the Pro Kennex Black Ace.
This racket, a complete departure from tradition, was 100% graphite – light, rigid and absorbed a considerable amount of vibration. It allowed the ball to be hit at 150mph and introduced a new power and pace to the game of tennis.
The sports companies had begun to realize they needed R & D (Research and Development) to enter this new era of sports equipment development.
Nasa and the space age were also throwing up materials that could be tried out as possibly suitable for sports rackets – Astroceramics, Kevlar, Carbon and the newer – Noryl, Vectran, Quartzel, Dyneema etc.
Methods of adding comfort in use to a racket and reducing the risk of vibration and hitting injury to the arm are also good marketing ploys.
The racket of today allows for a much greater sweet spot covering almost the entire string bed – you have a much greater chance of making a shot even if you hit it off-center.
The power game of today is certainly a product of the technology vested in the hitting weapon – the racket! It has made getting to the net on a serve to volley much more hazardous – make a mistake and it costs you the point. You may get two volleys but no more!
Consider also the evolution of the player in terms of physicality and style helped by the technology of the racket.
For example Pete Sampras, serve and volleyer compared to John McEnroe.
Then move on to Roger Federer – very capable of serve-volleying but obliged to play all-court against Rafa Nadal – certainly on clay.
Take a look at some all-time favorites:-
Dunlop Maxply Fort – One of the longest lasting and introduced in 1931.
Wilson T2000 – Introduced in 1967 and a big commercial success
thanks to aluminium and Jimmy Connors.
Head Prince Pro – A much larger head and string pattern – good for
volleying and used by non-professionals.
Dunlop Max 200G – Dunlops move from aluminium to graphite in 1980.
Prince Graphite 100 – Prince going for an even larger racket head size.
Yonex R-22 – Japanese brand in graphite and made famous by
Wilson Pro Staff – A very popular racket incorporating Kevlar braided graphite.
Used by Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier,
Jimmy Connors, Steffi Graf and Roger Federer.
Head Radical – Used extensively by Andre Agassi and was the best
selling racket between 1999 and 2004.
Babolat Pure Drive – A company that started in 1875 in France making gut
strings and other products from natural gut.
Introduced the racket in 1994 an international best
seller – Carlos Moya wins Roland Garros in 1998 with
the Pure drive.
Babolat Play – The first racket with built-in sensors that record power,
rotating shots, top spin, point of contact etc. and other
Gives an overview of the game via an app.
Approved by the ITF.
Racket brand used by top 100 ATP players:-
Wilson – 35 players
Head – 22 ”
Babolat – 16 ”
Yonex – 15 ”
Technifibre – 7 ”
Prince – 3 ”
Dunlop – 1 ”
ProKennex – 1 ”
ATP Top Players: Model Head size
1. Carlos Alcaraz – Babolat Pure Aero VS – 98”
2. Rafael Nadal – Babolat Pure Aero Drive – 100”
3. Caspar Ruud – Yonex DR100 Plus – 100”
4. Stefanas Tsitsipas – Wilson Blade 98 – 98”
5. Novak Djokavic – Head Speed Pro – 95”
6. Felix Auger-Aliassime – Babolat Pure Aero – 98”
7. Daniil Medvedev – Technifibre ATP TFight 305XTC – 98”
8. Andrey Rublev – Head Graphene – 98”
9. Taylor Fritz – Head Radical IG – 98”
10. Hubert Hurkacz – Yonex VCore Pro – 97”
11. Holger Rune – Babolat Pure Aero Drive – 100”
12. Alexander Zverev – Head Graphene 360+Gravity Pro – 98”
WTA Top Players Age Country Racket Head size
1. Iga Swiatek 21 Poland Technifibre Tempo 298 Iga 98”
2. Ons Jabeur 28 Tunisia Wilson Pro Staff 97 97”
3. Jessica Pegula 28 USA Yonex Ezone 98 98”
4. Caroline Garcia 29 France Yonex Vcore 100 100”
5. Aryna Sabalenka 24 Russia Wilson Blade 98 V7 98”
6. Maria Sakkari 27 Greece Wilson Ultra 100 100”
7. Coco Gauff 18 USA Head Graphene 360 100”
8. Daria Kasatkina 25 Russia Artengo TR990 Power Pro 100”
9. Veronika Kudermetova 25 Russia Wilson Blade 98 98”
10. Simona Halep 31 Romania Wilson Steam 99 99”
11. Madison Keys 27 USA Wilson Ultra Tour 97”
12. Belinda Bencic 25 Switzerland Yonex Ezone 100 100”