Originally Published: April 16, 2010 12:06 a.m.
The tennis racquet has radically changed since the late 1960s early 70s with many manufacturing innovations, and with that the character of the game many believe.
Wood tennis racquets and the game itself was pretty widespread by the 16th century.
It was played indoors then.
Most don't know it, but we can most likely thank the Italians for making the first wooden racquets.
Fast forward a few centuries to 1874 when Major Wingfield patented tennis as an outdoor game selling boxed kits of racquets, a net, balls and rules to people all around the world, and this interesting new game for men and women took off in ways no one would have imagined.
This may sound crazy, but from 1874 and through the next 100 years there were but minor changes in racquet technology... .the 65- square inch sweet spot, 27-inch long laminated, oval wood racquets that weighed in the range of 13 to 14 ounces pretty much stayed the same.
White balls, wood racquet presses, cat gut, trim string, grass courts, long trousers, women dressed from head to ankle in long white dresses, and racquets that were shaped with flat heads, tear drops sometimes elongated, but most of the time just oval ruled the world of tennis.
You spun the racquet to see who would make the choice of serve or side with the call of "rough or smooth", which the trim string indicated as the racquet landed.
Many of the old racquet manufacturers are now defunct, but at garage sales you may still run across frames with the names of Wright & Ditson, Franklin, Horsman's, Kent, J.C. Higgins, Lee, Spalding, Wilson, Slazenger, Tad Davis, Bancroft and more recently Prince.
All of them made wood tennis racquets until the new materials of steel, aluminum, graphite and blends of ceramic, fiberglass, boron, titanium, Kevlar, and Twaron were developed.
In 1967 a new steel tennis racquet put out by Wilson called the T-2000 was mass produced and played with by none other than the great Jimmy Connors. It was followed by the T-3000, 4000, 5000 and 6000.
And since there were no rules governing the racquet size, shape or material, it was shortly followed in 1976 by an aluminum racquet patented by Howard Head who introduced the first oversized 110 square inch stick called the Prince Classic.
The game of tennis that was once one of fairly long exchanges, smooth long strokes, serve and approach and definitely a range of control over raw power was about to change.
By 1981 the last wooden racquet won at Wimbledon and the finale was 1983 when Chris Evert and Yannick Noah both won French Open titles using organically grown weapons of ash, maple, hickory, sycamore, beech, mahogany or other types of wood.
By 1997 there were rules that were put in place that required manufacturers to make new racquets not to exceed 29 inches, with a racquet head no larger 135 square inches.
The newer racquets were lighter, stronger, more maneuverable and a greater advantage to use.
What happened to the game it used to be?
Now with Open Tennis a big business, lots of money, magazines, sponsorships, wild colors, Hawkeye, the Tennis Channel, open stances-booming serves, supersonic groundstrokes, and each player with personal coaches and entourage in tow, some would say it's going in the right direction while others question if it's even the same game?"
Could we hold back the improvement of record players to 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, I-pod's, the Wii, PS 3, X-Box360 or any real modern technology?
Life goes on and we make the best of it. But what falls to the wayside becomes near and dear to the heart.
Certainly the wood racquet era will always be a heartfelt memory that all of us who wore tennis whites and ran for a dry spot when it rained to keep our gut strings from being ruined will remember fondly.
The 15th Annual Legends Wood Racquet Doubles Tournament will be held at Yavapai College tennis courts on April 24th from noon to 4 p.m.
Racquets will be provided, along with food, and prizes to the winners. Sign up with a partner by calling 445-1331.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-445-1331 or firstname.lastname@example.org