Tennis rackets were not used until the 14th century when a game called Real or Royal Tennis was introduced. At the time, a tennis racket was basically a wooden frame made with strings of gut. Although many credit Italy for the invention of the tennis racket but in reality, it was Northern France where the game actually began.
Plus, real tennis was played indoors and shared the same rules with lawn tennis but played quite differently. Tennis rackets are one of the most evolved sporting equipment and this is why we are going to discuss where it all began and stands today. Let’s begin.
Where did it start?
According to historians, Tennis was invented by the monks. Back in the day, they came up with a game that was very similar to tennis but used their hands instead of rackets. The ball was hit back and forth over the net using their bare hands but soon the monks shifted to wearing leather gloves. Once the monks started getting injured, they shifted to paddles.
Players used solid wooden paddles until the invention or introduction of what we today call a racked in the 14th century. These rackets featured a teardrop shape with a long wooden handle. These rackets were used to hit the ball over a net-type structure.
The very first racket was made by Major Walter C. Wingfield in London in 1874. This racket was entirely made of wood, which made it heavy and hard. It also meant that the racket could do some heavy damage. Then, wooden rackets started gaining some popularity when lawn tennis was introduced in the middle of the 19th century. During this period, the wooden rackets made featured a wide head, which made using the ball easier but the rackets were also heavy.
However, the rackets were also flexible, which allowed a fair playing field for anyone who joined the game. As a result, the wooden rackets did not feature any major changes for the next 100 years. The year 1947 saw the introduction of laminated wooden rackets. These rackets were a game-changer for many.
Wilson, Dunlop, and Slazenger survived the competition and became the three biggest manufacturers of tennis rackets at the time. On the other hand, their competitors were simply washed away due to a lack of innovation and failing to keep up with the competition.
While the wooden rackets had settled well amongst the players and fans, metal rackets also tried to gain popularity but without any success. It should be mentioned that metal rackets were not new at the time. Instead, they were introduced in 1889 but failed to gain any popularity since then.
However, it was Jimmy Connors in the 1970s who for the first time used powerful metal rackets to show off what they can do against wooden rackets. Connors destroyed his opponent Ken Rosewell and officially marked the metal tennis racket industry takeoff. The heads of these metal rackets were twice the size of the traditional racket heads used.
The year 1957 saw metal rackets gaining immense popularity when Rene Lacoste invented and patented the first usable metal tennis racket. Later on, Wilson bought the rights to it and in 1969, the first metal racket was featured in a Wilson catalog. Wilson’s first metal racket the T2000 was quite different than any wooden racket at the time. It featured a 67 square inch head, allowing for maximum power.
Even though aluminum rackets started gaining popularity during Connor’s time but soon the players became frustrated with the flexibility these rackets featured. Hard-hitting shots created flexibility in the aluminum frame, changing the direction of the string plane. As a result, the string bed would send the ball in an unintended direction.
The manufacturing companies also noticed this behavior and to counter the unpredictability introduced graphite rackets that featured less flexibility. These rackets were relatively lightweight, could be easily welded, and featured more room for each swing.
Arthur Ashe was the first individual to use 100% graphite racket. However, the popular players at the time did not use these rackets. It was 1980 when the first graphite rackets were used by Steffi Graf and John McEnroe. At the time, the graphite rackets weighed about 12.5 ounces. Considering the changes made to tennis rackets today, they weigh as little as 7 ounces.
Since the introduction and evolution of graphite rackets, not many changes have been made to them. Almost all tennis rackets are made of graphite to ensure stability and flexibility while maintaining great power for hard shots. Even though many manufacturers have tried using titanium and Kevlar to improve the rackets but nothing significant has been achieved.
Power rackets are made of hyper carbon, titanium, air carbon titanium mesh, and other special materials. As a result, they are available in a huge variety considering the weights, head shape, and different levels of vibration dampening. In addition to that, these rackets are more versatile and feature large sweet spots.
Ultimate Control Rackets
Ultimate control rackets as compared to power rackets are intended for experienced players and are comparatively harder to use. Once you get used to playing with them, they prove to be insanely beneficial. Furthermore, the ultimate control rackets feature thin beams and smaller heads. As a result, these rackets offer the highest level of control as compared to the other types available in the market.
Mid Power or Mid Control Rackets
The Mid Power or Mid Control Rackets lie in the middle of power and ultimate control rackets. These rackets are great for players who wish to play with medium power and control. All tennis racket manufacturers make these types today and vary interms of sizing and price.
Sizing Throughout History
Over the years, the size of tennis rackets has changed and the fluctuation continues even today. While most players prefer to use rackets with wider heads and light and sloping frames, others prefer to stick with heavier and more powerful rackets. Back in the day, the average wooden racket was 67 square inches. It remained the norm for many years until Howard Head popularized the 100 square inches rackets in the 1970s.
The Future of Tennis Rackets
Like many other sporting equipments such as football, manufacturers are struggling to come up with new designs and innovations. Back in the day, the rules and regulations were quite lenient, allowing the players to use whatever type of racket they preferred. However, things have changed today. Tennis is considered one of the most disciplined sports and is governed by strict rules and regulations.
This means that the manufacturers today have to keep in view certain limitations, impeding the innovation and use of certain materials. The aim of these rules and regulations is to provide a fair playing ground. Therefore, even though players still use a slightly different type of rackets but not without the approval of the watchdogs.
The history and evolution of tennis rackets is as interesting as it gets. Back in the day, nothing controlled or restricted the use of wooden or aluminum rackets. However, today from Roger Federer to Serena Williams, every tennis player has to abide by the rules and regulations regarding tennis rackets. With the sport continuously changing and being updated to match the needs and demands of the changing time, only time can tell whether tennis rackets receive a makeover.