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Wed, Jan. 29

Column: Oldies become equipment goodies over the years

Do you remember when racquets were made of wood? When tennis shoes or sneakers were used for just about every sport you played? When tennis clothes meant a white heavy T-shirt with white cotton shorts? When the tennis championships were played and umpires had the final say on if a ball was in or out?Boy how have times changed.The last wood racquets manufactured in any quantity was in the late 1980s, and since that time there have been many advances in technology that have made tennis, and sports in general, a different animal.Bjorn Borg tried to make a comeback in 1991 using one of his signature wood racquets and if nothing else, he proved once and for all that equipment does make a difference. He got killed by a so-so player using a graphite racquet.Wood racquets weighed around 14 ounces, had leather grips, a hitting surface of about 75-85 square inches (a small sweet spot), twisted in a major way on mis-hits and with heads of racquets that wore down every time you dug out a low shot scrapping the court.The graphite racquets of today weigh from 7-10 ounces, have rubber grips, a hitting surface up to 137 square inches, are up to three times stiffer than a wood racquet and 30 percent lighter. Today's racquets have replaceable grommet/bumper strips, vibration dampeners, and even computer chips that help its dynamics as the ball is being struck. They are much more accurate than their old counterparts.In the old days, you had your racquets strung with gut, sheep or cattle intestines. When it rained you quickly put your racquet under your shirt and headed off the court to find shelter. This would help protect the somewhat untreated strings in your racquet to last longer.Can you say synthetic? That's what most of the strings manufactured today are. In fact, they are made so well that you can hardly tell the difference between a synthetic gut and the real McCoy in looks or playability. But unlike yesteryear, you don't have to throw your racquet in a wooden press or worry if it gets wet.Racquet strings come in every gauge, color, texture, strength and softness. Every scientific measure you can imagine has been, and is being, tried.If you're a string breaker, touch and spin artist, power player, tech-geek etc., there are strings made for every possible situation and type of game. There are so many different racquets and strings on the market it's almost impossible to keep up with it all.Tennis shoes/sneakers have come a long way in the last 40 years. Your feet can make or break you. In the old days you pretty much got a fairly heavy tennis shoe that you played in all day but not any more. There's a sports shoe for everything you decide to tackle and every little aspect is taken into account.The weight, cushion, support, traction, durability, cosmetics, safety, comfort, venting, lacing, cost ... no rock is left unturned in making sure total performance is assured.Remember when tennis players wore long trousers and skirts in the 1920s? How uncomfortable, hot and restricting that must have been. Fast-forward to 2009 and you'll see sports clothes that are light and flexible, soft and breathable, durable and absorbent, from Spandex to Microfibre to Calico.Who would ever have thought 50 years ago that the results of a game, a point or a match could be analyzed in mere seconds? Calls today that can be replayed or challenged once might have gone to an undeserving player or team. The Hawk-Eye computer system of computing through triangulation using cameras is a great advancement and is a Godsend to helping refs make the right calls in difficult situations.It's all just simply amazing.(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 445-1331 or
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