In the 11th century it was the French monks who were known to play the game of tennis originally. But these monks instead of racquets, used bare hands to hit the ball which resembled modern day handball. As time progressed, they began using webbed gloves.
The fabrication of large wooden paddles that were ping pong racquet lookalikes took place. In the 16th century, the shape of the racquet began to change. The handles became longer, the head was smaller and gut strings were passed through the racquet.
The first major breakthrough though, came in the year 1874. Major Walter C. Wingfield made a drastic improvement not only in the racquets, but also in the game which laid the foundation of modern tennis. These racquets that were conceptualized by Wingfield in London, were made of solid wood which increased the strength of the racquet. Further modifications were made as laminated wood replaced solid wood in 1947.
In 1948, Wilson came up with its first breakthrough with the Jack Kramer Autograph, which went on to become the most popular wooden tennis racquet. Slazenger and Donnay Allwood were two companies that fabricated wooden racquets that were used by many legends like Margaret Court, Chris Evert and Bjorn Borg. In 1983, Yannick Noah became the last person to win a grand slam, using a wooden racquet. Though use of the wooden racquets did not diminish until 1991.
RACQUET OF STEEL
In 1968, Wilson came up with yet another epoch making event. They introduced the first steel racquet, Wilson T2000. The racquet rose to fame when it was popularized by the legendary Jimmy Connors. “Everybody thought I hit the ball hard — I didn’t hit the ball hard,” he says, with a nod to the T-2000.
In 1975 and 1976, tennis racquets saw yet another development. This time, they increased the size of the head of the racquet which was made out of aluminum. Though the Aluminum Weed never became popular, the Prince model by Howard Head became popular amongst the players as its large surface area gave better efficacy while hitting the shots.
Graphite frames were introduced in the 1980s by Dunlop and Prince. These racquets were widely used by John McEnroe and Steffi Graff who used the Dunlop Max200G.
WILSON RETURNS, TO START AN ERA
With Dunlop racquets gaining wide publicity, Wilson had to come up with something special. As a result, the first Wilson Pro Staff was introduced in 1983. Pete Sampras took up this racquet until his retirement and while he was dictating the court, Wilson increased the width of the beam of the racquet and introduced the Wilson Profile in 1987. Three years later, Wilson introduced the Hammer racquet, which as the name suggests, had a heavier head, capable of hitting powerful shots.
ENTER: YONEX & HEAD
In 1990, the Japanese brand Yonex came into light. Its biggest brand ambassador at that time was Monica Seles, who gained the No.1 ranking by using Yonex racquets. Andre Agassi chose to use the radical racquets developed by Head in 1993. Agassi won 37 titles with that racquet. In 2012, Head came up with composite tennis racquets (Head Youtek) which is currently being used by Novak Djokovic. Recently, Head has invented a new model with a circuit board in the handle which uses piezoelectric technology to convert electrical energy to vibration in order to stabilize the racquet more when a high speed ball makes an impact.
BABOLAT STEPS UP
A key feature was added to tennis racquets in 2003 by Babolat. They made lighter tennis racquets which were capable of generating tremendous power. Andy Roddick’s monstrous serves came out of this racquet! Babolat went on to dominate the scene in 2005 by adding an aerodynamic design to the racquet which was popularised by Rafael Nadal. Babolat racquets are known for their Woofer system wherein as the all contacts the racquet, all strings get strengthened at that particular sweet spot leading to an increased longevity of the racquet along with faster stroke making.
RETURN OF THE PRINCE
Apart from the trend of aerodynamic racquets that had begun, Prince added yet another feature by adding the O3 technology. The Prince O3, introduced in 2005, had much larger holes instead of the conventional pin-sized holes and was capable of generating more powerful strokes.