Evolution of Tennis Rackets

Tennis rackets weren’t used until around the 14th century, in a game called Real or Royal Tennis. You can find out more about the games origin in our piece – The History of Tennis. These very basic rackets were made with strings made of gut, bound together in a wooden frame. It’s not easy to get hard fact but apparently Italy gets credited with this invention, however it was Northern France where the game began.

Real Tennis was an indoor game which used the similar rules and scoring system to lawn tennis but it’s played very differently. The balls are made from cork and rackets are shaped more like a squash racket.

Wooden Lawn Tennis Rackets

The birth of lawn tennis in the 1860’s heralded in a new era for rackets, they increased in size, but for the first 100 years, the technology remained static, rackets were made of wood and of standard size, and strings were of animal gut. It’s not until 1947 that big advances were made, laminating technology ( thin layers of wood bonded together) resulted in the first tennis racket made of laminated wood, this dramatically increased the performance an durability of rackets which was seen as a major advancement.

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The first steel rackets

Early steel racket beside a wooden racket. Credit: Eric Long (Smithsonian Institution)

The first steel racket was launched by Wilson in 1968, the Wilson T2000 was a major advancement in racket evolution. It was much stronger and lighter than the legacy wooden rackets. Jimmy Connors was the first big name to make the transition to steel rackets which helped them become mainstream.

As technology advanced manufacturers started using aluminium and graphite. 1976 was another big step forward and Prince launched the lighter oversized racket, giving players a larger sweet spot for added power. Prince Classic and Prince Pro very quickly became top sellers.

By 1980, wooden rackets became obsolete. Instead, brands like Dunlop and Prince had all switched over to graphite frames, and the cheaper ones were made from aluminium.

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Graphite Racquets

The advancement of technology in the late 70’s was the next major step forward. By using graphite brands were able to produce rackets which were still lightweight but with bigger sweet spots and much stiffer for more powerful shots and better control. In 1980 Dunlop launched the legendary Dunlop Max 200G, this was the most advanced racket at the time and used by both John McEnroe and Steffi Graf which quickly turned it into a best seller.

By 1983, Wilson had caught up with Dunlop and Prince and introduced the classic Pro Staff. The iconic Pro Staff racket became the top choice for American great Pete Sampras and many other professional players.

Modern day tennis rackets

By the late 80’s technology had advanced further and the materials used were and still are, a mix of alloys, ceramics, fiberglass, boron, titanium and Kevlar. And with tennis being one of the most watched and most played sports in the world all the brands got involved. The main difference in rackets in the 90’s until now is the marketing and branding! For example Andre Agassi who switch from Donnay to Head is responsible for selling millions of Head Radical rackets around the world. Or Andy Roddick who help make Babolot mainstream by using the pure Drive at his US Open win in 2003.

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John Isner hitting a 141mph serve at the Wimbledon Semi Final 2018

They developments over the years have helped players hit the ball at huge speeds and helped tennis become one of the fastest sports in the world.

All manufactures cater for everyone these day, from the novice right up to professionals.  Unfortunately these advances are also rising the prices too, good rackets don’t come cheap anymore!

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