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The Evolution of the Tennis Racquet

Most accounts suggest that tennis was begun by a group of French months somewhere in the 11th or 12th century. Racquets didn’t exist in the early days, so what they played was more closely akin to handball than tennis, as they used their hands to toss the ball back and forth over a crude net. As it turned out, hitting a ball repeatedly with your hand could start to hurt after a while, so some people began wearing gloves or wooden paddles to bounce the ball back and forth.

These could be considered the first tennis racquets, rough as they were. Still, the invention of the legitimate tennis racquet wouldn’t come about until the 14th century, where Italians were said to have crafted them with strings made of guts and a sturdy, bound wooden frame. By the 1500s these were used widespread, albeit with a smaller, more oval-shaped head. The closest ascendant of the modern racquet didn’t come about until 1874 when Major Walter C. Wingfield patented tennis equipment and rules to bring the sport outdoors. During this transition, racquet heads grew closer to the size of those made in the 1970s. However, it remained heavy and on the smaller side despite the developments to better the gear over the years.

Metal-headed tennis racquets, though around since 1886, blew up in popularity in 1967, to the point where then-famous tennis players like Jimmy Connors used it during their career in the sport. Nearly ten years later, the first oversized racquet gained popularity among the masses, this one made of aluminium. The lightweight metal alternatives to what was used in the years beforehand, in addition to the broader surface area, made tennis easier for newcomers to the game to play and enjoy, while giving advanced tennis players an unbelievable amount of power behind their swings.

Unfortunately, despite the power these new racquets provided, they were unpredictable. The aluminium would warp and distort in such a way that they would send the balls off in an entirely different direction than originally intended. The need for sturdier framework in the big leagues led to a mixture of carbon fibres and plastic resin, which was called “graphite” (with no relation to the actual mineral). In 1987, Wilson Sporting Goods created the widebody frame, which increased the width of the racquet head while maintaining the light weight and stiffness that was desired for the game.

Tennis racquet makers suffer from their success. The durability and reliability of racquets made today leave customers so satisfied with their products that they can enjoy the same one they purchased ten years down the line, making replacements not necessary so long as it’s cared for properly. Quality products are hard to come by these days, though, and with society ever-advancing, who knows where the tennis racquet may lead us next?

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